Tuesday, September 26, 2017

“Father, I’d Like to Buy a Mass” (Masses and Mass Intentions)

Dear Parishioners,

Occasionally, someone will come into the parish office / rectory with the following request:  “Father, I’d like to buy a Mass.”

Quite frankly, I would have to respond, “Sorry, they’re not for sale.”  We are not in the business of buying or selling sacraments or spiritual things.  This is referred to as simony.  We read the following about Simon the Magician (from whom this practice gets its name) in the Acts of the Apostles:

When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money.” (Acts 8: 18-20) 

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God, the Father.  It is the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Jesus, begun at the Last Supper and completed on the Cross.  Each Mass is usually offered with both general and particular intentions.  Members of the faithful can ask to have their particular intention(s) included in a particular Mass—what is commonly referred to as an announced Mass.  The Mass is usually offered for a deceased person or for the intentions of someone still alive.  In our parish, the intention is announced in the church bulletin, at an appropriate point during the Mass itself or both.

Then there is the issue of the Mass stipends

It is the Church's constant practice, as Paul VI wrote in the Motu Proprio Firma in Traditione that "the faithful, desiring in a religious and ecclesial spirit to participate more in intimately in the Eucharistic sacrifice, add to it a form of sacrifice of their own by which they contribute in a particular way to the needs of the Church and especially to the sustenance of her ministers." (Decree on Mass Stipends, Congregation for the Clergy, Feb. 22, 1991)
Mass stipends are intended to support your priests.  At various times and in different cultures, these donations provided entirely the means of support (for the basic necessities) that a priest needed in order to live.  Today, in our society, priests receive a salary.  The stipends, however, are still regarded as an offering (donation) by which the parishioners continue to share in the sustenance of the priests.

Requesting to have a Mass offered is the greatest spiritual gift that we can give to anyone—living or deceased.  It shows our belief in the importance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in Jesus’ saving action.  It joins our particular intention to the greatest, most efficacious, salvific work singularly accomplished by Jesus Himself—His Passion and Death on the Cross.

I encourage you to have a Mass offered regularly for your deceased loved ones and for various special intentions for the living (especially the spiritual well-being of family members and friends).  

As pastor, I remember you in all my Masses and particularly in the pro populo Mass that I offer for you, my parishioners, weekly.

You can’t buy a gift like this!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Some Thoughts on Catholic Funerals

Dear Parishioners,

Catholic parishes generally have their fair number of funerals each year.  The priests are acutely aware of our need to help comfort families and to provide the necessary spiritual guidance at this most difficult time.

There are a few trends in society, however, that seem to be all too frequent today and I think they need to be addressed.  First, the norm for a Catholic funeral is at Mass.  It is important that we focus on the saving action of Christ by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.  The Mass itself is the most perfect prayer and sacrifice that can be offered for our loved ones.  Nothing is more efficacious.  It is a re-presentation of Christ’s Salvific Act.  The funeral rite contains such rich symbolism reminding us of our connection to Baptism.  We also can receive the Body and Blood of Jesus to strengthen us.

Sometimes those who are not familiar with the proper Catholic protocol might encourage having just a funeral service in the funeral home.  While the service may bring some comfort to the family, theologically it is never the same as having a Mass offered for that person. Please think of the eternal soul of the deceased and have their funeral rites take place during a Mass.  It is also important to pray and to have Masses offered for the soul of the deceased.  While flowers are a nice gesture, a Mass offered for the deceased is much more beneficial spiritually.

Second, it specifically stated in the funeral ritual that “there is never to be a eulogy” during the funeral Mass (Order of Christian Funerals, General Introduction #27).  Over time this practice has found its way into our liturgies and become a somewhat “acceptable” practice.  However, the funeral liturgy should be more about the saving action of Christ than a tribute to a deceased person.  The recommended place for such a eulogy is either at the funeral home, graveside (weather permitting) or at the meal usually served after the funeral.  (At a family’s request, I have reluctantly permitted someone to say a few words prior to Mass so that it was not actually part of the liturgy itself.)    

Personally, I have had some bad experiences with eulogies over the years.  These range from a minister of another denomination beginning to “preach” at the funeral Mass and to contradict Catholic teaching; to people being so emotionally distraught that they could not finish what they wanted to say; to someone using biblical references to Jesus Christ and applying them directly to the deceased person.  The bishops, priests or deacons are the only ones “ordained” to speak on behalf of the Church from the pulpit.  We have a duty to bring people to Christ and to worship and adore Him.  The liturgy in not about “praising” and “canonizing” the deceased no matter how good the person was.

Third, the choice of music should always be religious in nature and appropriate for a church funeral.  Secular music (popular or sentimental) is never appropriate during Mass.

Finally, since there are more and more cremations taking place these days, I remind those who choose this option what the Catholic funeral rite tells us about the proper placement of the ashes or cremains:

The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.  (Order of Christian Funerals, #417)

Bishop Sullivan reminded me at my installation Mass of my role as the “chief teacher” of the parish.  I hope that I am being faithful to this task and pastorally sensitive as well.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Ongoing Search for God

Abbey of the Genesee

Dear Parishioners,

I thought that some things would never change.  I am pretty sure that since I have been making a retreat with the Trappist Monks at the Abbey of the Genesee (beginning in 1979), the initial daily prayers (Vigils) began at 2:25 AM.  This past summer, the schedule of prayer changed!  We now begin at 3:30 AMWow!  An extra hour of sleep!  I am still in shock!  Everyone who is relatively sane, however, is probably still in bed comfortably rolling over.

Yes, it is now the middle of the night on my first day of retreat.  I am preparing to join the monks for their initial office of daily prayer, now beginning at 3:30 AM.  People elsewhere have just gotten into bed or have recently fallen asleep at this hour.  Most of the college students down the road at SUNY Geneseo are probably still frolicking out and about as are many of the nocturnal creatures that lurk throughout various college and university campuses. 

Not the monks, however.  They are just starting their day at the monastery.  Pretty early for most of us?  Absolutely!  Yet, they do this each and every day as a matter of routine--freely chosen routine.  Not only are we encouraged to get up early to pray with the monks, but the retreat I am on is silent.  No frivolous talking or conversations are allowed.  No TV or radio in the retreat house.  Obviously, I brought my laptop so that I could write a few reflections such as this throughout the week.  Finding a Wi-Fi connection to post them to the internet is another story.  (Thank God I learned how to set up a mobile hotspot through my phone.)

Granted, the monastic life is certainly not for everyone.  However, it can teach us many valuable lessons.  The monks' radical lifestyle is a profound witness to something beyond this world.  They search for God in silence.  Their serious, intense, deliberate prayer reminds me of how little time I actually give to prayer each day.  Material things that I/we may cling to are just not that important here.  A basic white habit with a black scapular and belt on top of some work clothes is pretty much the norm.  No fashion statement.  Prayer, work, reading, study, self-denial, a personal relationship with God, are apparently what matters.  Simplicity to the extreme.  My room has a chair, desk and bed.  Showers are down the hall.  Certainly not some luxury hotel or spa.  Pope Francis would be proud.

I have found that the spiritual life is filled with paradoxes and mysteries.  Why would anyone deny oneself?  Why give up having a family and home?  Why pick up the cross and be a disciple?  Why bother? 

. . . To learn to love deeply, to open the heart for God, to find peace and joy, to answer the call to discipleship, to know and love Jesus . . . .

My past experiences at the monastery have been some of the most profound, life-changing, rejuvenating times throughout my life.  I keep coming back, since I was 19 years old.  The monks are getting older, as am I.  Some faces change.  Much remains the same.  The abbey chapel was renovated not too long ago and is brighter and more inviting.

What God has in store for me this visit is beyond my limited knowledge or foresight.  Yet, I keep searching.  I keep getting up very early in the middle of the night.  I keep following that mysterious "call" that has led me here once again to seek the Lord in monastic solitude.  Come. Lord Jesus!  Please pray for me.  

Fr. Ed Namiotka

PS, You are remembered in my thoughts, prayers and Masses!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Dunkirk and Harvey

Dunkirk Evacuation

Dear Parishioners,

This past summer I saw the movie Dunkirk at the theater.  It was a moving story about Allied troops being rescued as both the military and civilians cooperated in a remarkable rescue attempt.  Here’s a synopsis of the movie:
In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated. (IMDb)
It struck me how the teamwork of civilians and the military led to an otherwise improbable great rescue.

Recently, we watched as Hurricane Harvey drenched areas of Texas and the Gulf coast reminding me of the account of Noah and the great flood.  Again, the cooperation of neighbor helping neighbor and civilians working with federal and state government agencies and the military, helped to save so many people who were caught off guard.  People came from different parts of the country.  There were police, fire-fighters, EMT’s, swift water rescue teams, the American Red Cross, Animal Rescue Corps, the Cajun Navy, FEMA, the US Coast Guard, and many, many volunteers and organizations working hand in hand.  Rescuers employed jet skis, monster trucks, helicopters, military vehicles and boats of every size.  People responded with donations of food, water, clothing, blankets, pillows and money.  Strangers came together and cooperated.  They helped one another.

At various times of tragedy, the best in human nature often becomes more apparent.  Despite the disaster, people seem to rise to the occasion.  I saw this after 9-11, Katrina and Sandy, and now Harvey.  People came together to help one another, to sustain one another.  Good surfaced despite the evil or tragic cause.

We all need to take a lesson from the selfless behavior of so many of the rescuers.  Their sacrifices and willingness to serve others—knowingly or unknowingly—follows the example of Christ (and his sacrificial death on the cross).  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13) Rescuers were willing to give of themselves, even risking death, for the benefit of others.  Their valiant efforts saved many, many lives.

For Jesus’ disciples, His death on the cross seemed a tragedy and disaster.  It was not fair.  How could this happen?  However, what took place on the cross, what seems to be death, defeat and loss, was transformed into something life-giving and salvific.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Goodness ultimately triumphed through and despite apparent tragedy.

I am sure there will be many other tragedies and disasters—natural and man-made—we will have to face in our lifetime.  Yet, I am confident that when people come together and cooperate, when we are willing to give of ourselves for the sake of others, when we are more Christ-like, no catastrophe will have the final word.

Pray for the victims of Harvey and other natural disasters in our country and throughout the world.  Pray that the best of human nature will always rise to the occasion.  Our future civilization truly depends on it.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

A rescue from Hurricane Harvey