Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Some Information about First Holy Communion

Dear Parishioners,

Last weekend and this weekend we have the privilege of gathering as a parish family at Mass as our children receive their First Holy Communion.  I can recall having made my own First Holy Communion in 1st grade with my classmates at St. Ann’s Church in Wildwood.  It was a separate ceremony back then, on a Saturday morning (if I remember correctly).  Some parishioners have asked me, “Why don’t we do it like we used to do it all together as a class?”

There are a number of reasons for our current practice (which, incidentally, has been in place prior to my arrival as pastor).  Let’s first look at our diocesan guidelines for sacramental preparation:

The preferred option for the celebration of First Eucharist is within the Sunday Liturgy.  It is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates [the liturgy.]  Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is the ‘sacrament of unity’ (SC 26*).  Liturgical services pertain to the whole Church.  Rites are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, and should as far as possible be celebrated in this way rather than by an individual or quasi-privately.  (SC 27*)  Eucharist is the crowning jewel in the sacraments of initiation and should be celebrated within the parish worshipping community.  It is recommended that the celebration take place during the Easter Season when the Church traditionally welcomes her new members.  (Sacramental Guidelines when Sacraments of Initiation are not Celebrated Together, Diocese of Camden, 2005)

It is critical to remember that the two families that should be most important in the children’s lives are their domestic family and their Church family.  The parents are the first (and need to be the best) teachers of their children in the ways of faith.  It is also necessary to consider that we are preparing the children to be a part of the regular worshipping community that we call the Church.  While it may look “nice” or “cute” to have all of the children together in one (or two) ceremonies with their classmates and friends, it is much more essential to emphasize for them the bonds of family and Church.  Essentially, we are not preparing them to be with their current friends (who may not be their friends past next week), but to be regular, practicing members of the Catholic Church as experienced through their local parish family.

Let me again quote our diocesan guidelines:

Children should be made aware that Eucharist is not a “once and done” sacrament.  Therefore, there should be encouragement to the children (and their parents) to form good habits of weekly celebration of the Eucharist.

We all have much to learn from each other and to teach one another.  We should rejoice to see our children share in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church, as lived and experienced in our parish family of St. Joseph.  If the faith is not handed on to, experienced and practiced by our young, then eventually our Church will be nothing but a bunch of empty, lifeless buildings.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

(*SC  Sacrosanctum Concillium 12/4/63, a document of Vatican II

My First Holy Communion, 1967

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shoes to Fill

Dear Parishioners,

When Bishop Dennis Sullivan was here for the Sacrament of Confirmation last week, he remarked to me about how well some of our Confirmation students read at Mass.  He even said, “They should be reading at the Sunday Mass.”

This got me thinking about our parish situation in general.  Yes, our young people should be readers at Mass.  And they should also be our ushers, our choir members, our altar servers, our parish council members, and (when of the proper age) our extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, etc.  They should be our future Knights of Columbus members, St. Vincent de Paul Society members, Rosary Altar Society members, etc.  Perhaps—if they feel “called” by God—they could someday fill the shoes of the priests, deacons and religious who are getting up in years and retiring!

We need people to step up to the plate—continually!

I know that the future of our Church is in our young men and women.  As a priest for almost 26 years, I have spent the vast majority of my priesthood educating the young.  I believe in their goodness and their ability to make a difference in our world.  They may make mistakes.  They will need to learn much and to mature.  But don’t we all need to mature, to study and be educated and to learn from our mistakes?

As for the situation at hand, our parish urgently needs more Readers for Mass.  (I hate having to look out in the congregation on any given Saturday/Sunday trying to see if someone could possibly read because there is no Reader present in the sacristy right before Mass is scheduled to begin.)  If you are a trained Reader, please check before the Mass that you attend to see if we can use your assistance!  Ideally, I would like to see two Readers for every Mass.

In addition, we need ushers, altar servers, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at some Masses.  If you are present and available at a particular Mass, please volunteer your services!  Don’t wait to be asked!  We also need people interested in filling some vacant spots on various committees.  In fact, I am not aware of any parish organization of committee that is not looking for new members.

This is, once again, a request and an invitation from your pastor to become more active and involved in your parish.  In whatever capacity you think that you can assist, please inform a member of the parish/office staff and we’ll see where your talents can be best utilized at this time.

When I begin Mass, I regularly pray that the gifts, talents and abilities that we bring to the altar—all of our service—be for the greater honor and glory of God.

I am certainly grateful (and I think God is pleased) if you attend Mass regularly.  But if you are able to be of service to your parish in some capacity, and can help to strengthen our community through your assistance and talents, I think God (and I) would be even more delighted!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stinky Feet

Dear Parishioners,

There was a bit of controversy for some after Pope Francis broke tradition by not celebrating Mass in a major cathedral or basilica on Holy Thursday and by washing the feet of two females at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  If you read the liturgical instructions for the day (as found in the Roman Missal), it does indicate that the feet of twelve men (vir in Latin) should be washed.

Frankly, I am not usually the type of person to ignore deliberately and knowingly official liturgical guidelines.  At the same time, this particular action of our Holy Father did not really upset me.  It seemed like the natural, pastoral thing to do, given the fact of his surroundings—the Roman reform center for minors, Casal del Marmo.

Here is a portion from our Holy Father’s homily:

It is the Lord’s example: he is the most important, and he washes feet, because with us what is highest must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign, right? Washing feet means: “I am at your service”. And with us too, don’t we have to wash each other’s feet day after day? But what does this mean? That all of us must help one another. Sometimes I am angry with someone or other ... but... let it go, let it go, and if he or she asks you a favour, do it. 

Help one another: this is what Jesus teaches us and this what I am doing, and doing with all my heart, because it is my duty. As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty which comes from my heart: I love it. I love this and I love to do it because that is what the Lord has taught me to do. But you too, help one another: help one another always. One another. In this way, by helping one another, we will do some good.

I thought about what Pope Francis attempted to do—to follow the example of Jesus and to teach others to do the same.  I don’t think that he was making any statement other than service of others.  For those who try to read more into it—that he’s opening the door to women’s ordination or that he has no regard for liturgical guidelines—I think that they will be pretty disappointed.  Like Jesus, when He was accused of curing someone on the Sabbath and breaking Jewish law (see Luke 13:14), I think that our Holy Father simply took this time to show humility and love, and to use a very teachable moment.

If I apply this foot-washing scenario to our own parish, who would be the people whose feet should be washed?  How about those who give their service to the parish regularly:  the ushers, the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the secretaries, the altar servers, my brother priests, etc.  How about those mothers and fathers who sacrifice daily for their children?  How about those who would be seen as outcasts, disenfranchised, immigrants, elderly, or impoverished?  Granted, not all of them may be men.  Would I be seen by some as radical or controversial?  Probably.  Rather, I would hope to be seen as joining company with Jesus (and apparently Pope Francis) who “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 45)

The average observer—inside or outside of the Church—will more than likely see a priest, bishop or even a pope who is willing to be of service to his people as “Christ-like,” humble and self-giving and will probably not be delving into some deeper hidden meaning of this action.

Fr. Ed Namiotka