DECEMBER 8, 2019 - THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF
THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Dear Parishioners St. Paul:
Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary His Most Holy Mother! During this holy time of Advent, it is a great grace to celebrate one of the more glorious feasts of Our Blessed Mother, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. As is well known this Feast is kept on December 8th, exactly nine months to the day after we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th. This Solemnity is our national Feastday, since Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the Patroness of the United States of America.
What fond memories do I have of these days as they are celebrated in Rome. The Solemnity itself is preceded by a Novena which is celebrated nightly in the Church of the Twelve Apostles, near the Victor Emmanuel Monument. The highlight of the Novena, which began in 1854, is the singing of the Hymn Tota Pulchra Es…You are All-Beautiful O Mary. This music was written for the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Blessed Pius IX in 1854. The music is particularly moving. Interestingly, during the Pontificate of St. Pius X (1903-1914) the music was banned. The great saint and pope (Pius X) thought that the music was too operatic and thus unsuited for Divine Worship. He wished to return to the more ancient and modest (not to mention more serene) practice of the simple Gregorian chant. But to deprive the Romans of this spectacle and drama was tantamount to depriving them of Vino Bianco dei Castelli Romani. At the death of the great saint, Pope Pius X in August 1914, there was great mourning. But the Romans demanded of his successor Pope Benedict XV (1914-1923), the return of the singing of the Tota Pulchra Es. It has been sung ever since.
Because this feast is uniquely one of the United States, every American living, working, or studying in the City (of Rome), is invited to a Solemn Mass and Banquet at the North American College. It was the custom that many hundreds (but fewer than 1,000) would attend. The banquet was a very happy and very scripted event. Here toasts were made: 1. To the Pope. 2. To the President of the United States. 3. To the North American College. Many wonderful wines were served with each course, and the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (presently Her Excellency Claudia Gingrich) would be present. In my day 25 years ago, the Ambassador was His Excellency Raymond P. Flynn, who had previously served as the Mayor of Boston. He was a particularly kind and respectful gentleman who seemed deeply moved that the President had selected him to serve in this unique diplomatic embassy. The Holy See is a juridic entity in international law and thus sends and receives ambassadors to over 140 nations. The present ambassador of the Holy See to the United States is His Excellency the Most Reverend Christophe Pierre who lives at the Embassy of the Holy See to the United States (commonly, but, incorrectly, referred to as the Vatican Embassy) on Massachusetts Avenue (Embassy Row) in Washington, D.C. Before coming to Washington, Archbishop Pierre had been the Ambassador of the Holy See to Mexico. All the Ambassadors of the Holy See are called the Apostolic Nuncio. In whatever nation he may be serving, the nuncio also serves as the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. (This was a protocol of the Congress of Vienna in 1815). It is largely a ceremonial position but the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps’ unique privilege is to extend to the Head of State (in our case, the President of the United States) the New Year’s greetings on behalf of all the ambassadors and the nations they represent.
As though this were not enough, immediately after the Banquet everyone would rush to the so-called Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) for the annual Immaculate Conception visit of the Pope to the Spanish Embassy. No other nation on earth has done more to spread the devotion and orthodox teaching of the Immaculate Conception throughout the world than the Spanish nation. In gratitude for this apostolic crusade the Pope annually visits the Spanish Embassy on Immaculate Conception Day to express his own sincere esteem for Spain and the King and Queen (if they are in the City). After this, the Pope and the Most Catholic Monarchs stand on the balcony as the youngest member of the Roman Fire Department (Danny and Andy and all our parishioner fire-fighters take note) places a floral wreath on the statue of the Immaculate Virgin 120 feet on top of a column. Such a spectacle is met with great nervosità and excitement by the immense crowd. I would never look up until the matter was accomplished.
Three other interesting facts concerning the Immaculate Conception and Spain cannot be overlooked now.
1). In gratitude for the apostolic mission of Spain in spreading devotion throughout the world to Immaculate Conception, a special indult is granted to the Spanish nation and to all priests of Spanish heritage and her former empire (including the Philippines) the indult to wear blue vestments only on this feast. Thus, for the last seven years have blue vestments been worn at St. Paul on this unique day.
2). In gratitude to Spain and to the Spanish nation and empire is granted a perpetual dispensation from the obligation of abstinence from flesh meat on Fridays.
3). To Spain and her empire is granted the privilege to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on the most ancient day of its observance which is December 9th. That is why St. Juan Diego was on his way to attend Mass for the Immaculate Conception on December 9, 1531, when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him on the Tepeyac Hill, outside Mexico City.
Please accept my apologies for this bit of nostalgia. One day I may write of how I came to be in the Spanish Embassy on December 8, 1995, when St. John Paul II visited, but that is a whole other column.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary means that Our Blessed Mother never knew the taint of the Original Sin. From the first moment of her conception in the womb of her mother St. Ann, Our Lady was full of grace; she was free from all sin. Thus, do we say You are all-fair, O Blessed Virgin Mary, and no taint of sin is found in you. We may say that Our Lady shared in the great mystery of the redemption beforehand. She is younger than sin itself and in the words of the poet Longfellow, she is “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
This truth of our faith must not be confused with the Virginal Conception and Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This refers to that truth of our faith found in the Holy Bible that Our Lord was born of a Virgin. How fitting this would be for the Son of God would have no earthly father, but rather St. Joseph was the Guardian of the Redeemer. We pray at Holy Mass of the ever-Virgin Mary. As the Church has always held Our Blessed Mother was a virgin both spiritual and physical a Virgin, before, during and after the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why St. Thomas Aquinas said of the virgin birth, it was as light passing through a prism. Although Our Blessed Mother never experienced the pain of childbirth, she knew at the time of Our Lord’s death the great moral pain at his crucifixion.
When December 8th falls on an Advent Sunday the feast of the Immaculate Conception is transferred to the next day, December 9th. However, in the law of the Church, while the joy-filled feast may be transferred, the obligation to attend Mass cannot be transferred. Thus, there is no obligation to attend Mass on December 9th (December 8th is the day of obligation), but nonetheless many would like to attend Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Mass will be celebrated at 8.00am on Monday in the Rectory Chapel. May the Immaculate Virgin help us all.
PLEASE HELP TO KEEP OUR NEWLY RENOVATED CHURCH CLEAN AND IN GOOD REPAIR: As many may have noticed, our Church has recently been cleaned and renovated. It is my fond hope that the good parishioners of St. Paul will help to preserve their Church for the future. When the pews were removed to be renovated, the workers remarked how sad it was to see years of chewing gum under the pews. Please do not place gum there and please do not allow your children to do so. We have also placed in the Church upholstered kneelers and seat cushions. Please do not stand on them. Already several kneelers have been damaged, and a hymnal rack has been torn from its place (this is from toddlers hanging on them). I had hoped that perhaps one month could pass without damage being done, but that hope has been in vain. Please do not eat or drink in the Church and do not allow your children to do so. And may I remind the gentlemen that men do not wear hats in Church. They must, as is said in the armed forces, uncover in the Church.
ADVENT GIVING BASKET: It is said that time flies. It is hard to believe that this Christmas marks my seventh as the Pastor of St. Paul the Apostle. For the last seven Christmases’, we have always placed in the narthex (vestibule) of the Church a basket enclosed with a wreath with a statue of St. Nicholas watching over it. In the basket are gift tags. Please take a tag from the basket and purchase the gift and then bring it back to St. Paul’s. The procedure is rather simple: please take the gift tag from the basket.
This year it is in the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Play a spiritual game with your family and try to find that chapel. I will give you a hint. It is the chapel in which there is an exact replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is in the Basilica of the same name in Mexico City. It is the most visited place on earth in the history of the human race and it is the most well known and most reproduced picture in the history of the human race). It is worn as a tattoo by every Lucha Libre Wrestler and every Mexican truck driver. I was told today that no one will be able to see it, but, pardon me, I have greater confidence in you. Please then purchase the gift printed on the tag and bring it back the following Sunday, December 15th Please bring the gift to Monsignor Costa Hall (the Lower Hall) and place it by the Christmas Tree. For those who cannot climb steps (like myself), please leave the gift bag in the narthex and the ushers will bring it downstairs. Please remember that this is a one-week project. The tags are to be taken today (December 8th) and the gifts are to be returned on December 15th. The gift basket will be removed from the Guadalupe Chapel after all Masses on the 8th. Gifts cannot be accepted after December 15th. Please do not bring gifts to the Rectory or Barn. Please do not give them to the priest or deacon.
MASS MANNERS: The Directions of the Roman Missal instruct the priest (and by implication, the deacon) that after the celebration of Holy Mass, he should immediately return to the sacristy to begin the prayers of thanksgiving to God Our Lord for the celebration of the Sacrifice of Holy Mass. In many parishes the priest and deacon may stand at the front door of the Church to greet parishioners and wish them well on the weekly celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This custom, which is foreign to the Catholic tradition, must be understood in its proper context. When the priest and deacon stand in front of the Church it is not a Carte Blanche occasion for the airing of complaints and the asking of questions. Still less it is the opportunity to demand the priest and deacon’s full attention to one’s own personal concerns. It is a time to say good morning and to allow the clergy to greet everyone. One should not monopolize the clergy’s full attention. As the old expression goes, it is not all about You.
In my own case, I make it my habit not to greet the faithful after Mass when I must celebrate the next Mass in merely a few more moments. The negative energy, complaints, hardness of heart, hatred, outrage, upset, that come forth from many as they walk from the House of God is quite shocking. I follow the advice that I received from Monsignor McDonald many years ago and which I give to many young priests. (once I was a young priest). The greatest gift they can give to the faithful is to celebrate Holy Mass in a spirit of calm and serenity.
I am quite accustomed to criticism and anonymous letters of criticism. I am grateful to those who will sign their hate-filled letters. As far as anonymous letters go, I can assure everyone that although their pastor may lack formal education, he has an ear for language. And thus, whether it be by omission or commission, he is aware of the author of anonymous letters. But I am very sad when Deacon Ray is the subject of this behavior. (I am used to it, so it does not bother me). I am quite sad when our dear volunteers, who do so much good, are criticized. And so, if for some reason at Christmas there is something unpleasant to YOU please try to overlook it. If a flower is in a different place, do not become outraged or upset. Save the outrage for the millions of Christians throughout the Middle East who have been burned alive, beheaded and driven from their homelands. It is not all about YOU. Our Lady has said, He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
Two years ago, one of our dear parishioners told me on Christmas Eve that he/she could not see the consecration due to the number of flowers on the altar. I do not put the flowers there, but I am eternally grateful to all our dear parishioners who volunteer to decorate the Church under the direction of our Altar Guild Chair Ursula Coughlin. Today I celebrated Holy Mass for the 18,215th time and I can truly confess that I have never seen the consecration. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his magnificent hymn the Adoro Te Devote wrote, Sight, touch, taste, are all deceived in their judgment of you, but hearing suffices firmly to believe. I believe all that the Son of God has spoken; there is nothing truer than this word of Truth. (Visus, gustus, tactus, in te fallitur. Sed audito solo creditor, Credo, qiudquid dixit Dei Filius, Nil hic verbo Veritatis verius). The consecration is seen only through the eyes of faith. For my almost 40 years as a priest I have given the same advice to the outraged, the upset, the angry, the embittered, and the hard of heart at Christmas (This Holy Season brings out the most deep set of emotions): GO HOME AND HAVE AN EGG-NOG!
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda