Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

April AD 2008
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

Raising the Chasuble at the Elevation?
Saturday Evening Mass?
New Deadly Sins?



    Question:  I attend a traditional Mass in South Carolina.  At the elevation the altar boys raise the chasuble about as high as they can.  It looks bizarre to me, and the celebrant seems quite oblivious.  I thought the rubric was meant to keep the priest from catching the chasuble when he genuflected.  What is actually supposed to happen here?  A.H.

    Answer:  The rubric says “as the celebrant elevates the Host (after genuflecting) the minister (server at low Mass, deacon at solemn Mass) with his left hand raises the rear fringe of the chasuble so that it does not impede the celebrant in raising his arms; which he does as well at the elevation of the chalice....”[1]  The intent of the rubric is completely practical if the vestments are heavy—as they often were in the centuries before modern fabrics.  Not too many years ago “cloth of gold” or “cloth of silver” meant a “fabric woven wholly or partially of threads of gold,” not the modern stuff made with metallic looking plastic threads.[2]  Embroidery threads were more coarse than their modern equivalents.  And a Pope or bishop might have additional vestments beyond those of the simple priest

    In any event, the rubric is intended to assist the priest, and not to make a display of the vestments underneath the chasuble.  Unless the vestments are truly cumbersome, the server should be content with a symbolic inch or two.[3]

    For the most part, the priest will have no way of knowing how far the chasuble was raised—he is otherwise concerned, with the most sacred moments of the Mass.  This is one reason why it is good to have some other knowledgeable person beside the priest to instruct and supervise the altar servers.


    Question:  What do you say about Saturday evening Masses?  I have seen them scheduled as early as 4 PM!  Is there a hint of Old Law custom at work here?

    Answer:  Until the 1950s any form of evening Mass was unusual.  The 1917 Code of Canon Law allowed the celebration of Mass to begin only from an hour before dawn until an hour after noon; the only canonical exception being the Midnight Mass of Christmas.[4]  Obviously the Last Supper took place in the evening, a practice followed in the early Church.  The Acts of the Apostles describes a Sunday Mass lasting at least until midnight.[5]  (One of the participants fell asleep and fell out a third floor window—perhaps a good reason for Mass at an earlier hour!)  Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians about the factions caused by the contrast in the food eaten by the rich and by the poor—“Have you not houses for your eating and drinking”—may have prompted an earlier time for Mass.[6]  Tertullian wrote (c. 206) “We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist....”[7]  Saint Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) wrote: “we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord in the morning.[8]

    About AD 400, Saint Augustine described the fast before Holy Communion:  “it pleased the Holy Spirit to appoint, for the honor of so great a sacrament, that the body of the Lord should take the precedence of all other food entering the mouth of a Christian; and it is for this reason that the custom referred to is universally observed.”[9]  Consequently Mass is celebrated at an early hour.

    According to the traditional Roman Missal, before the 50s, the Vigils of Easter and Pentecost began after the hour of None—canonically about 3 PM, but often earlier in practice.  It wasn’t until the 50s that the Easter Vigil, with its beautiful references to night and darkness dissipated by fire and the light of the paschal candle, was moved so that Mass might start “around midnight.”  But Easter and Christmas were unusual events.  Hopefully, their special nature inspired a spiritual awe in those who attended.

    The idea of an early evening vigil Mass, satisfying one’s obligation to attend Mass on all Sundays and feast days is a modern innovation.  Yet, even this is based on the Church’s custom of beginning such days with “First Vespers” at sundown on the preceding day.  There may be a touch of the “Old Law” in this, the Jewish day began with sundown—however the canonical observance of Sundays and feasts doesn’t end until midnight, making such days about thirty hours long.  4 PM does sound a bit early for a Mass that is to follow the hour of Vespers which begins at sundown.

    Perhaps the most important question to be asked is whether or not this innovation (and others like it) serve the good of souls.  The early twentieth century was the culmination of a period of significant missionary activity that went back a few centuries.  Even with modern communications and transportation, the Church looked for ways to make the efforts of the missionaries more fruitful.  Perhaps we should allow Mass to be adapted to the cultures of Africa and Asia, so different from Rome and the West?  And what can we do in places where the same priest must offer Mass in several communities served by only by river boat?  What about the Sacraments for people who must go weeks or even months without seeing a priest?

    One can see a certain logic in allowing the priest to offer Mass after First Vespers on Saturday, so he can catch the river boat to the next settlement.  He might even be allowed to give general absolution on those occasions when the boat will visit and leave very quickly.  One might even admit the possibility of having the village catechist—a trusted and well educated layman or religious brother—reserve Holy Communion for the sick who might otherwise die without It, and perform Baptisms and canonical marriages for those unable to wait for the priest’s semi-annual visit.  But the operative idea in all of these possibilities is that they might be justified only if they truly served the good of souls.

    One cannot equate the needs of people living in large modern Western cities with those of the people living along our hypothetical African river.  One simply cannot claim that people growing up in Paris, Buenos Aires, New York, or (a fortiori) Rome have any reason to be alien to the culture of the Roman Rite!  The catechist is rarely or never required to do the sacramental work of the ordained clergy.  The fellow who wants to sleep late or play golf on Sunday morning has nothing like the spiritual need of the people along the river.  The idea of a “get it over Mass” is an abomination which ought not be countenanced.

    Yes, there are people who must work on Sundays.  There number would be considerably smaller if Christians refrained from elective commerce on Sundays—there are six other days on which one can shop, go to the library, or take in a movie.  Traditionally, there is a 5:45 AM Mass, and in modern times, one at 7:00 PM—and, yes, you can come in your work uniform.

    Something is radically wrong when the obituaries can praise someone for being a “staunch Catholic who went to Mass every Saturday.”


    Question:  Did the Church really come up with seven new deadly sins?  Are the old ones still in force?

    Answer:  An interview with The Most Reverend Gianfranco Girotti, of the Sacred Penitentiary, published in L’Osservatore Romano on Sunday, 9 March AD 2008 has been interpreted by the media as a radical change in what the Church considers sinful.  This was more of a media misinterpretation than the work of the Church.  Some writers have suggested that the traditional list of deadly sins: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth has been replaced with Genetic Modification, Experiments on Humans, Polluting the Environment, Causing Social Injustice, Causing Poverty, Becoming Obscenely Wealthy, and Taking Drugs.  (Some lists include Abortion and Pedophilia.)

    The media are, of course, wrong for a number of reasons.  The seven “deadly” or “capital” sins, while sins in themselves, are traditionally identified as “sources of sin.”  That is to say that they lead one to a variety of other sins.  Sloth or laziness, for example might lead me to miss Mass on Sunday, to skip work on weekdays, and to avoid doing necessary chores during my free time, thus leading to a spiritually and physically negative life for me and my family.  These “sources of sin” are attitudes which direct me to sin in any number of ways.  Bishop Girotti, interviewed by L’Osservatore Romano is the number two man in the Penitentiary, a tribunal of the Roman Curia.  As such he is in no position to make doctrinal policy for the Catholic Church.  And even if he were, the Vatican is powerless to alter the deadly sins because they are inherent deficiencies in human nature. The “sins” on the new lists compiled by the media—and some of them may not be sins at all—are far more specific than those which are “sources of sin.”  Indeed, the “sins” on the new lists might each be caused by one or the other of the “sources of sin.”  A man might, for instance “cause social injustice” because is excessively proud, or because he is covetous, or because of his lust, or because is gluttonous.  To be fair, Bishop Girotti's written remarks contain nothing which suggest that he intended to replace the old “capital sins" with new ones.  He might have done better, though, to recognize that modern technology has given us new ways in which to commit old sins.

    Let us take a look at a few of the Bishop's statements in the L’Osservatore Romano interview[10]

In your opinion, what are the “new sins”?
    There are various areas today in which we adopt sinful behavior as with individual and social rights. This is especially so in the field of bioethics where we cannot deny the existence of violations of fundamental rights of human nature – this occurs by way of experiments and genetic modifications whose results we cannot easily predict or control. Another area which indeed pertains to the social spectrum is that of drug use which weakens our minds and reduces our intelligence. As a result many young people are left out of Church circles. Here’s another one: social and economic inequality in the sense that the rich always seem to get richer and the poor poorer. This [phenomenon] feeds off an unsustainable form of social injustice and is related to environmental issues –which currently have much relevant interest.

    Obviously, the Bishop is correct in distinguishing “experiments and genetic modifications whose results we cannot easily predict or control” from those which we can.  Creating a Frankenstein or a Frankenstein food would harm a great number of people, and it would be morally reprehensible to omit proper safeguards in scientific research.  But all scientific progress has some element of risk.  To condemn that risk as always being sinful would be to condemn mankind to live as animals with no fire, no shelter, and little but scraggly vegetables to eat.

    Drug abuse is a terrible thing.  But it is not the only way in which modern people “weaken our minds and reduce our intelligence.”  Marxist education, network news and sports, escape literature, and counter-cultural media also “weaken our minds and reduce our intelligence.”  So does most of what passes for “theology” in the Novus Ordo.  The misuse of drugs and alcohol is more apparent—a pity, really, that you can't tell the Modernismts by looking at their pupils or by observing a stagger.  And Modernism is certainly a significant reason why  “many young [and adults] people are left out of Church circles.”

    Government officials and churchmen rarely understand the relationship between wealth and poverty, and a directed economy.  The former issue laws, and the latter issue encyclicals.  But regulations and statements about what ought to be do not produce wealth for the poor.  They may make a corrupt rich man richer if he knows how to work the system with attorneys and lobbyists, but they add nothing to the stock of goods available to the poor or to the rich.  The politicians' $75.00 minimum wage and the churchmen's “family wage” are likely to raise the unemployment level of the poor and produce less for everyone.  The cliché that “the rich always seem to get richer and the poor poorer” is something of an illusion.  The rich become richer because they fund industry and innovation—the poor also become richer because production makes things available to them on a scale and in a variety never known before—everyone becomes poorer when the “authorities” of Church or state think they can better manage the process better with their bureaucracies, or choose to “transfer" society's wealth to fighting senseless wars, wreckovating beautiful churches and building ugly ones where not needed, and paying out huge sums to the victims of clerical abuse.  None of which were mentioned in the L’Osservatore Romano interview.

Does the attention to sin come from a sensibility to the needs of modern society or from a reference point of a past time?
The reference is always the violation of the covenant with God and with brothers and the social consequences of sin. If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension today it has a value a resonance beyond the individual above all social because of the great phenomenon of globalization. In effect the attention to sin presents itself more urgently today than yesterday because its consequences are wider and more destructive.

    The concept of corporate sin is far more Marxist than Catholic.  An individual may sin against God, or against his neighbors, perhaps even against all of the people throughout the world.  Several individuals may join together to sin in the same ways.  But on Judgment Day they will be judged as individuals.  Nothing in the Gospels speaks about averaging out the rewards of Heaven or the pains of Hell based on the collective merits or demerits of society.[11]  The idea that salvation is “for all” or at least “for all who think happy thoughts” is at the center of universal irresponsibility.  The “organization of society on the international level” or the armed “international authority with competence and power to settle the differences of nations” is an interesting Orwellian fiction;  frightening in theory but Satanic if achieved in fact.[12]  The immoral agenda of the United Nations is bold enough now while they are unarmed and collect no taxes;  it will only get bolder if they ever are and do.

Which questions are drawing your attention?
There are those offenses of which or their gravity the Holy See reserves absolution: the absolution of being complicit in sin against the Sixth Commandment (canon 1378); the sacrilegious profanation o the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist (canon 1367); the direct violation o the sacramental seal (canon 1388 1); the dispensation of irregularity ad recipiendos Ordines contacted to procure an abortion (canon 1041 4); the dispensation of irregularity ad exercendos Ordines (canon 1044 1).

    All of these are the sins of priests or those wanting to become priests.  While it is understandable that the officials at the Sacred Penitentiary have few of the routine sins of the faithful referred to them, the list of clerical sins enumerated by Bishop Girotti is not encouraging.  If we translate it to English from the pontifical Esperanto, the Bishop is saying that in recent years his attention has been drawn to:  priests hearing the confessions of their boyfriends and girlfriends and forgiving them of their mutual sins of fornication and sodomy;  priests who intentionally do something sacrilegious to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament;  priests who hear Confessions and inform others as to what they heard from pennitents in the confessional;  men who want to become priests after having arranged for a woman to murder her child;  and priests and others in Holy Orders who want to exercise those Orders even though they were ordained in violation of Church law.

    Curious, though, that the crimes that have made all the headlines, cost all that money, and so scandalized the faithful are not on the list! (1395 §2)  Pope John Paul's iteration of the Code is a bit more easy to rationalize than the old Code, and no longer requires a penitent to denounce a confessor who solicits him (Cf n.c. 1387 and o.c. 2368 §2), but one would expect such crimes to be on the “hot” list of the Sacred Penitentiary




[1]   Ritus servandus, R. VIII, 6 for the server;  ibid . 8 for the deacon.

[3]   Cf.  William A, O’Brien, How to Serve Low Mass, p. 35; J.B. Oconnell, The Celebration of Mass, p. 427.

[4]   Canon 821.

[5]   Acts xx: 7-12.

[6]   I Corinthians xi: 17-22.

[7]   Tertullian, de Corona, ch. 3

[8]   Episrle to Cæcilius, lxiii (or lxii)

[9]   Letter LIV to Januarius, para.8.

[11]   cf. Matt. xxv

[12]   CCC#1927;  CCC#2308


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