Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Remembering and Understanding Our Sacred Tradition

Dear Parishioners,

When I finished high school and was accepted for admission to a college seminary to study for the priesthood, I was told at the time that I needed to study both Latin and Greek—two years of each.  I had no familiarity with either language up to then.  Since we belong to the Latin or Roman Rite—we are Roman Catholics—the study of ecclesiastical Latin provided me with some valuable background for what is still our official church language.  (Moreover, Koine or biblical Greek would prove very beneficial for my understanding of Sacred Scripture.)

At times, various people will reference Vatican II (the Second Vatican Council) and not know what the documents from that ecumenical council actually say.  Sacrosanctum Concillium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, actually states the following:  Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (#36).  It certainly makes no sense to me to disregard approximately two thousand years of our precious history and tradition.

That is why, at various times during the liturgical year, I encourage our musicians to introduce various elements of Latin and Greek into our liturgy—specifically, the Kyrie (Greek) and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (Latin) during the seasons of Advent and Lent.  By now, if we regularly attend Mass, we should all know the English translations for the above as the Lord, Have Mercy, the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Lamb of God.  This variation also gives us an opportunity to experience Gregorian Chant, another significant tradition from our musical heritage.  I have suggested that we change our routine during Advent and Lent since these liturgical seasons are meant to be different from Ordinary Time.

Interestingly enough, my experience in the classroom has shown me that if it is presented in a positive manner, children and teens are receptive to learning these parts of the Mass in the ancient languages.  (Sadly, I sometimes have received much more resistance from others of slightly older generations who seem to have an aversion or even disgust for anything considered pre-Vatican II).

Someone once disparagingly reminded me how Latin is no longer a spoken or conversational language.  It is used for the liturgy and in church documents and writings.  Interestingly enough, as a result, it allows this ancient language to be unique and set aside for sacred matters, like addressing God in prayer.  Keeping something as special or reserved for God alone seems like quite a novel idea, doesn't it!  Maybe its use would reflect a bit more reverence above and beyond the colloquial or pedestrian language that we use for everyone and everything else.  Just saying!

[As a side note, another matter referenced in this document was the assumed ad orientem position of the priest (i.e., facing liturgical East with the people).  The priest facing the people (versus populum) is never mentioned in this document!  Yet, high altars were moved or even destroyed in many churches and the priest regularly faces the people during the post-Vatican II liturgy.  This, however, is a topic for another day.]
I leave you with the following Latin motto which one of my seminary professors used to inscribe atop his papers and handouts: A.M.D.G.Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.  It is the motto of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member.  May all things be done for the greater glory of God!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


 Gregorian Chant

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Our Episcopal "Uber" Driver


Bishop Gregory W. Gordon (right) and me

Dear Parishioners,

This past week I had the privilege of attending the episcopal ordination of one of my good friends from my college seminary days.  On July 16, 2021, Bishop Gregory W. Gordon became the first auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Las Vegas, Nevada.  We had studied together at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary (Overbrook) in Philadelphia.

At the Mass were eighteen archbishops/bishops and one cardinal of the Catholic Church together with many priests, deacons, religious and laity of the diocese.  The Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer was the chosen location for the ceremony since it could hold more people than the smaller Guardian Angel Cathedral.

My life and Bishop Gordon’s life have had some interesting parallels over the years.  We were both born in Philadelphia.  We are both one of five children, four boys and a girl.  Our families both had homes in the Wildwoods, NJ.  Both of our fathers sadly died of heart attacks around the same age, in their early sixties.  Both of our mothers are approximately the same age.  He began his priesthood in the former Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas (now the Diocese of Las Vegas)—THE gambling mecca of the country.  Similarly, I am a priest for the Diocese of Camden, which until more recent years, was the only other place with legalized casino gambling (in Atlantic City).

That’s where many of the similarities end.  After college he went on to the Pontifical North American College in Rome, while I studied at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.  He has had various diocesan positions including Vicar General, while I spent a majority of my priesthood involved in Catholic education.  Notably, if you put us side by side you will notice another significant difference:  I stand about a foot taller than him.  Unfortunately, even with his episcopal miter on, he does not reach my height.  Fortunately, we remained friends over the years and I was happy to have been invited to share this joyful occasion with Bishop Gordon and his family.

One thing that struck me and my brother priests whom I was travelling with, was the warmth and hospitality that both Bishop Gordon and his Ordinary, Bishop George Leo Thomas showed us.  In the midst of all that he had to do, Bishop Gordon frequently acted as our chauffer, taking us from location to location in his own car.  I referred to him as our episcopal Uber driver.  Moreover, Bishop Thomas warmly received us as his guests in his diocesan office and took time to talk with us and make us feel at home.  I compliment both of them for their cordiality.

Speaking to Bishop Gordon about a month before his ordination, he called and asked me to pray for him.  I wondered what was wrong.  Was he sick?  “No, I am being made a bishop,” was his reply.  Oh!  Subsequently, I would ask when his execution date was.    

Please pray for Bishop Gordon and all of his brother bishops.  When Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, his Metropolitan Archbishop, made some remarks at the end of the Mass, he began with “Congratulations and condolences.”  Being a bishop in today’s world will have many joys, but will also involve picking up a cross and following the Lord Jesus daily.  St. John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, used to say that for him every day it felt like he was going to the gallows, as he never really wanted to be a bishop.

Bishop Gordon is now one of the Successors of the Apostles.  Every day I realize more and more the Catholic Church’s rich tradition encapsulated in the phrase from the Nicene Creed: one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

God bless our episcopal Uber driver!

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Dealing with Sickness and Death

Dear Parishioners,

Some questions about ministry to the sick and the homebound came up recently when talking with staff. Consequently, I thought that some clarification for the entire parish would be helpful based on our discussion.

We have a number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (commonly referred to as Eucharistic Ministers) in our parish.  Besides helping to distribute Holy Communion at the Masses, they may also serve regularly in two other capacities depending on the parish:  bringing Holy Communion to those in the hospital and bringing Holy Communion to the homebound

First of all, I note that they are intended as extraordinary ministers.  The priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers.  While we have become very accustomed to seeing the extraordinary ministers at Mass, whenever a priest or deacon is present, distributing Holy Communion is their ordinary ministry and the extraordinary ministers should properly defer to them.

If there is someone in your family who is homebound and is unable to come to Mass, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion can be assigned to visit the home weekly to bring Holy Communion.  Please contact the parish office to arrange for this.  The minister is then asked to be the eyes of the priest in this situation.  If the person requests the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (confession) or should receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick because of advanced age or illness, the minister is asked to notify the priest and he will visit the home as soon as possible.

Priests are specifically ordained for ministry of the sacraments and should be called especially for confession or anointing.  The forgiveness of sin is tied to these two sacraments and a priest—rather than an extraordinary minister or even a deacon—is required.

At the time prior to a person’s death, a priest has special authority to do what is necessary for the salvation of the person’s soul.  A priest should be called whenever a person becomes seriously ill because the sacraments are intended for the living.  While a priest can always pray with the family after a person has died, he should be called to be present—if at all possible—before death.

Additionally, most hospitals in the Diocese of Camden have a chaplain assigned to them.  However, the patient or the family needs to make the chaplain's office aware of someone wanting to see a priest or to receive Holy Communion.  Please be aware that privacy restrictions (HIPAA) can sometimes prevent priests from finding out information unless they are specifically informed by the patient or family.  Also, while I am glad to visit a parishioner in the hospital, please do not assume that your parish priest automatically knows that someone is there.  The parish emergency number should be used in this instance, usually after an attempt to contact the hospital chaplain, especially in emergency or serious circumstances. 

In one of my former assignments, a religious sister told me about how her father prayed every day for the grace of a happy death and that a priest would be present when he died.  On the day of his death, mysteriously there were so many priests who happened to visit the home, to be in the area, that she knew God answered his prayer with His super-abundant mercy.

Also in one of my former parishes, a scheduled parish appointment was cancelled and I then had the opportunity to go to the home of a long-time friend who had been seriously ill with pancreatic cancer.  When I arrived at the home I could see that he was gravely ill.  He had been given the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and received Holy Communion on almost a daily basis when he was still able to do so.  With the family and the hospice nurse present, I began to pray with him as I held his hand.  I whispered in his ear that it was “okay to go to Jesus.”  Peacefully, he passed.

I believe Jesus was present in that home at that moment working mysterious through my priestly ministry.  Why was my parish appointment cancelled?  Why was I at the home at that particular moment in time?  Was it simply an accident or coincidence, or rather a remarkable act of God’s Providential Grace?

Pray for the grace of a happy death.  Pray and request a priest for family members or yourself when there is any serious illness. 

Time and time again, God is mysteriously present in the sacraments and working through the ministry of His priests.

Fr. Ed Namiotka


Monday, July 5, 2021

Do We Realize What We Have?

Dear Parishioners,

Recently, there has been increased attention on the reception of Holy Communion by prominent public officials who profess to be "Catholic" despite the fact that they publicly support policies directly contrary to Church teaching.  During their last general meeting, U.S. bishops debated whether to draft a document—not directly condemning those who potentially commit such sacrilege against the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord—but, rather, to reinforce the Church's traditional teaching on the Holy Eucharist.  

I am not a bishop and I completely respect their apostolic succession.  However, many of the faithful question whether this particular document will truly have any lasting impact on congregations that have dwindled dramatically over time and who appear to have lost faith in the Real Presence.  Does the bishops' response truly address the problem at hand or somehow attempt diplomatically to skirt around it?  Too often I think we fear offending someone rather than warning them about the potential jeopardy to their eternal salvation.     

During my lifetime,  I have witnessed a dramatic decline in respect and reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist.  When I received my first Holy Communion, we were not permitted to touch the host.  The practice of receiving in the hand, currently acceptable and quite common, was not allowed at that point in time.  Everyone received on the tongue.  I can remember as a child going to many churches where we knelt along the altar rail when receiving Holy Communion.

Reflecting after nearly six decades, I have had significant time to process what this change has meant to our reception of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  In my opinion, kneeling and receiving on the tongue seemed to maintain more of a spirit of reverence when receiving Holy Communion.  Today I have encountered everything from people trying to grab the sacred host, to those who walk away without consuming the sacred host immediately, to those who handle the sacred host with as much respect as eating a potato chip.  I truly do not know what people believe in the deep recesses of their hearts—now or then.  However, it appears to me that there used to be much more reverence in the reception of Holy Communion in days gone by.

Moreover, there is some misguided notion in today’s society that we should simply go up to Holy Communion whether or not we are in the state of grace and sufficiently prepared.  I also remember a point in time when people would go to confession (the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation) pretty much each week before receiving Holy Communion.  While I realize that confession is only necessary if there is mortal or serious sin involved, I, unfortunately, do not see any great lines for confession week after week.  I also have this nagging question as a result of such experience:  Do people no longer confess missing Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation as a sin?  This was a problem well before the pandemic and its related circumstances.  

Christmas and Easter Catholics seem to approach the Sacrament in great numbers.  Have they all made a good sacramental confession beforehand?  How about those who ignore the proper fast (one hour from food and drink beforehand), those in irregular marriages (i.e., not recognized by the Church), those who persist in beliefs contrary to the faith (e.g., pro-abortion or “pro-choice” Catholics or those knowingly, regularly using artificial birth control), etc., etc.?

Worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist includes, but is not limited to, being in the state of grace (not conscious of any serious or mortal sin), a fast of one hour from food and drink beforehand (not including water and, naturally, if in good physical health), reverence and devotion (e.g., not chewing gum, talking or socializing in the line to Holy Communion) and a proper thanksgiving (not walking out the door of the Church while still consuming the sacred host).     

Do we realize what we have here?  We are privileged to receive Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, truly present under the appearances of bread and wine.  

Is anyone really worthy of so great a gift?  Nope.  Still, I desire to see all people grow closer to Jesus—especially those who may not, at this time, be able to receive Holy Communion for some reason or another.  A Spiritual Communion is always a valid option in this instance.  (If such circumstance applies to your life, why not take the time to see if it is possible to correct matters by talking to a priest?)

Those of us who are able to receive should do all that we can to prepare properly, to receive reverently and to give thanks adequately for so great a privilege.  

God Almighty deserves nothing less.

Fr. Ed Namiotka