Fifth annual Nellie Gray Mass set at Chinatown Old St. Mary’s

The Paulus Institute will sponsor the fifth annual Nellie Gray Mass at 3:00 pm this Friday, January 27, 2017, at Washington’s St. Mary Mother of God Church, which was the late Miss Gray’s place of Sunday worship. Friday afternoon’s Mass will come at the conclusion of the annual March for Life in Washington. This Mass is being added to our seven-day schedule.

Reverend Father Paul Scalia of the Diocese of Arlington will offer a Solemn High Mass of the Holy Innocents. Also participating in the votive Mass for the unborn, in whose defense Miss Gray worked tirelessly for many years until her death in 2012, will be deacon Reverend Father Luke Melcher of the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana, and subdeacon Reverend Father Ernest Cibelli, Administrator of St. Mary Catholic Church in Hagerstown, Maryland. Choral accompaniment will be provided by the Vox in Rama Choir from the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City.

St. Mary Mother of God Church is located at 727 Fifth Street NW in Chinatown.

The Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist require proper dispositions

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

I consider it my duty to mention at this point, if very briefly, a pastoral case that the synod dealt with—insofar as it was able to do so—and which it also considered in one of the propositions. I am referring to certain situations, not infrequent today, affecting Christians who wish to continue their sacramental religious practice, but who are prevented from doing so by their personal condition, which is not in harmony with the commitments freely undertaken before God and the church. These are situations which seem particularly delicate and almost inextricable.

Numerous interventions during the synod, expressing the general thought of the fathers, emphasized the coexistence and mutual influence of two equally important principles in relation to these cases. The first principle is that of compassion and mercy, whereby the church, as the continuer in history of Christ’s presence and work, not wishing the death of the sinner but that the sinner should be converted and live,197 and careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick,198 ever seeks to offer, as far as possible, the path of return to God and of reconciliation with him. The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions.

On this matter, which also deeply torments our pastoral hearts, it seemed my precise duty to say clear words in the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, as regards the case of the divorced and remarried,199 and likewise the case of Christians living together in an irregular union.

At the same time and together with the synod, I feel that it is my clear duty to urge the ecclesial communities and especially the bishops to provide all possible assistance to those priests who have fallen short of the grave commitments which they undertook at their ordination and who are living in irregular situations. None of these brothers of ours should feel abandoned by the church.

For all those who are not at the present moment in the objective conditions required by the sacrament of penance, the church’s manifestations of maternal kindness, the support of acts of piety apart from sacramental ones, a sincere effort to maintain contact with the Lord, attendance at Mass and the frequent repetition of acts of faith, hope, charity and sorrow made as perfectly as possible can prepare the way for full reconciliation at the hour that providence alone knows.

197 Cf Ez 18:23.
198 Cf Is 42:3; Mt 12:20.
199 Cf Familiaris Consortio, 84: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 74 (1982), 184-186.

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General absolution is only for grave necessity and does not replace individual confession

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

The new liturgical regulation and, more recently, the Code of Canon Law,196 specify the conditions which make it lawful to use “the rite of reconciliation of a number of penitents with general confession and absolution.” The norms and regulations given on this point, which are the result of mature and balanced consideration, must be accepted and applied in such a way as to avoid any sort of arbitrary interpretation.

It is opportune to reflect more deeply on the reasons which order the celebration of penance in one of the first two forms and permit the use of the third form. First of all, there is the reason of fidelity to the will of the Lord Jesus, transmitted by the doctrine of the church, and also the reason of obedience to the church’s laws. The synod repeated in one of its propositions the unchanged teaching which the church has derived from the most ancient tradition, and it repeated the law with which she has codified the ancient penitential practice: The individual and integral confession of sins with individual absolution constitutes the only ordinary way in which the faithful who are conscious of serious sin are reconciled with God and with the church. From this confirmation of the church’s teaching it is clear that every serious sin must always be stated, with its determining circumstances, in an individual confession.

Then there is a reason of the pastoral order. While it is true that, when the conditions required by canonical discipline occur, use may be made of the third form of celebration, it must not be forgotten that this form cannot become an ordinary one, and it cannot and must not be used—as the synod repeated—except “in cases of grave necessity.” And there remains unchanged the obligation to make an individual confession of serious sins before again having recourse to another general absolution. The bishop therefore, who is the only one competent in his own diocese to assess whether the conditions actually exist which canon law lays down for the use of the third form, will give this judgment with a grave obligation on his own conscience, with full respect for the law and practice of the church and also taking into account the criteria and guidelines agreed upon—on the basis of the doctrinal and pastoral considerations explained above—with the other members of the episcopal conference. Equally it will always be a matter of genuine pastoral concern to lay down and guarantee the conditions that make recourse to the third form capable of producing the spiritual fruits for which it is meant. The exceptional use of the third form of celebration must never lead to a lesser regard for, still less an abandonment of, the ordinary forms nor must it lead to this form being considered an alternative to the other two forms. It is not in fact left to the freedom of pastors and the faithful to choose from among these forms the one considered most suitable. It remains the obligation of pastors to facilitate for the faithful the practice of integral and individual confession of sins, which constitutes for them not only a duty but also an inviolable and inalienable right, besides being something needed by the soul. For the faithful, the use of the third form of celebration involves the obligation of following all the norms regulating its exercise, including that of not having recourse again to general absolution before a normal integral and individual confession of sins, which must be made as soon as possible. Before granting absolution the priest must inform and instruct the faithful about this norm and about the obligation to observe it.

With this reminder of the doctrine and the law of the church I wish to instill into everyone the lively sense of responsibility which must guide us when we deal with sacred things like the sacraments, which are not our property, or like consciences, which have a right not to be left in uncertainty and confusion. The sacraments and consciences, I repeat, are sacred, and both require that we serve them in truth.

This is the reason for the church’s law.

196 Canons 961-963.

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Fr. Langevin to offer Dominican Rite Missa Cantata on Sunday at Silver Spring

A Missa Cantata with schola in the Traditional Dominican Rite is scheduled on Sunday, January 22, at the Traditional Latin Mass Congregation of Silver Spring, Maryland. The celebrant of the Mass of the Third Sunday after the Epiphany will be Reverend Father Dominic Langevin op, Instructor in Systematic Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington.

Holy Mass will begin at 8:00 am. Confessions will be heard from 7:10 to 7:50 am. All are invited to share coffee and pastry after Mass in the downstairs community room of the rectory.

Silver Spring TLM Congregation meets at the Historic Church of St. John the Evangelist, 9700 Rosensteel Avenue, Forest Glen. Ample free parking is available.

Frequent Confession is beneficial even for only venial sins

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

We shall also do well to recall that, for a balanced spiritual and pastoral orientation in this regard, great importance must continue to be given to teaching the faithful also to make use of the sacrament of penance for venial sins alone, as is borne out by a centuries-old doctrinal tradition and practice.

Though the church knows and teaches that venial sins are forgiven in other ways too—for instance, by acts of sorrow, works of charity, prayer, penitential rites—she does not cease to remind everyone of the special usefulness of the sacramental moment for these sins too. The frequent use of the sacrament—to which some categories of the faithful are in fact held—strengthens the awareness that even minor sins offend God and harm the church, the body of Christ. Its celebration then becomes for the faithful “the occasion and the incentive to conform themselves more closely to Christ and to make themselves more docile to the voice of the Spirit.”194 Above all it should be emphasized that the grace proper to the sacramental celebration has a great remedial power and helps to remove the very roots of sin.

Attention to the actual celebration,195 with special reference to the importance of the word of God which is read, recalled and explained, when this is possible and suitable, to the faithful and with them, will help to give fresh life to the practice of the sacrament and prevent it from declining into a mere formality and routine. The penitent will be helped rather to discover that he or she is living a salvific event capable of inspiring fresh life and giving true peace of heart. This careful attention to the celebration will also lead the individual churches to arrange special times for the celebration of the sacrament. It will also be an incentive to teaching the faithful, especially children and young people, to accustom themselves to keeping to these times except in cases of necessity, when the parish priest must always show a ready willingness to receive whoever comes to him.

194 Ordo Pænitentiæ, 7b.
195 Cf ibid., 17.

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The rite of confession should be chosen appropriately for the good of the faithful

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

Following the suggestions of the Second Vatican Council, the Ordo Pænitentiæ provided three rites which, while always keeping intact the essential elements, make it possible to adapt the celebration of the sacrament of penance to particular pastoral circumstances.

The first form—reconciliation of individual penitents—is the only normal and ordinary way of celebrating the sacrament, and it cannot and must not be allowed to fall into disuse or be neglected. The second form—reconciliation of a number of penitents with individual confession and absolution—even though in the preparatory acts it helps to give greater emphasis to the community aspects of the sacrament, is the same as the first form in the culminating sacramental act, namely individual confession and individual absolution of sins. It can thus be regarded as equal to the first form as regards the normality of the rite. The third form however— reconciliation of a number of penitents with general confession and absolution—is exceptional in character. It is therefore not left to free choice but is regulated by a special discipline.

The first form makes possible a highlighting of the more personal—and essential—aspects which are included in the penitential process. The dialogue between penitent and confessor, the sum of the elements used (the biblical texts, the choice of the forms of “satisfaction,” etc.), make the sacramental celebration correspond more closely to the concrete situation of the penitent. The value of these elements is perceived when one considers the different reasons that bring a Christian to sacramental penance: a need for personal reconciliation and readmission to friendship with God by regaining the grace lost by sin; a need to check one’s spiritual progress and sometimes a need for a more accurate discernment of one’s vocation; on many other occasions a need and a desire to escape from a state of spiritual apathy and religious crisis. Thanks then to its individual character, the first form of celebration makes it possible to link the sacrament of penance with something which is different but readily linked with it: I am referring to spiritual direction. So it is certainly true that personal decision and commitment are clearly signified and promoted in this first form.

The second form of celebration, precisely by its specific dimension, highlights certain aspects of great importance: The word of God listened to in common has remarkable effect as compared to its individual reading and better emphasizes the ecclesial character of conversion and reconciliation. It is particularly meaningful at various seasons of the liturgical year and in connection with events of special pastoral importance. The only point that needs mentioning here is that for celebrating the second form there should be an adequate number of confessors present.

It is therefore natural that the criteria for deciding which of the two forms of celebration to use should be dictated not by situational and subjective reasons, but by a desire to secure the true spiritual good of the faithful in obedience to the penitential discipline of the church.

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Good confessors are good penitents

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

Last, I particularly wish to speak of one final consideration, one which concerns all of us priests, who are the ministers of the sacrament of penance.193 The priest’s celebration of the eucharist and administration of the other sacraments, his pastoral zeal, his relationship with the faithful his communion with his brother priests, his collaboration with his bishop, his life of prayer—in a word, the whole of his priestly existence, suffers an inexorable decline if by negligence or for some other reason he fails to receive the sacrament of penance at regular intervals and in a spirit of genuine faith and devotion. If a priest were no longer to go to confession or properly confess his sins, his priestly being and his priestly action would feel its effects very soon and this would also be noticed by the community of which he was the pastor.

But I also add that even in order to be a good and effective minister of penance the priest needs to have recourse to the source of grace and holiness present in this sacrament. We priests, on the basis of our personal experience, can certainly say that the more careful we are to receive the sacrament of penance and to approach it frequently and with good dispositions, the better we fulfill our own ministry as confessors and ensure that our penitents benefit from it. And on the other hand, this ministry would lose much of its effectiveness if in some way we were to stop being good penitents. Such is the internal logic of this great sacrament. It invites all of us priests of Christ to pay renewed attention to our personal confession.

Personal experience in its turn becomes and must become today an incentive for the diligent, regular, patient and fervent exercise of the sacred ministry of penance, to which we are committed by the very fact of our priesthood and our vocation as pastors and servants of our brothers and sisters. Also with this present exhortation I therefore address an earnest invitation to all the priests of the world, especially to my brothers in the episcopacy and to pastors of souls, an invitation to make every effort to encourage the faithful to make use of this sacrament. I urge them to use all possible and suitable means to ensure that the greatest possible number of our brothers and sisters receive the “grace that has been given to us” through penance for the reconciliation of every soul and of the whole world with God in Christ.

193 Cf Presbyterorum Ordinis, 18.

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Penance produces a uniquely personal reconciliation with the Church and with God

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

There remains to be made a brief mention of other important convictions about the sacrament of penance.

First of all, it must be emphasized that nothing is more personal and intimate than this sacrament, in which the sinner stands alone before God with his sin, repentance and trust. No one can repent in his place or ask forgiveness in his name. There is a certain solitude of the sinner in his sin, and this can be seen dramatically represented in Cain with sin “crouching at his door,” as the Book of Genesis says so effectively, and with the distinctive mark on his forehead;190 in David, admonished by the prophet Nathan;191 or in the prodigal son when he realizes the condition to which he has reduced himself by staying away from his father and decides to return to him.192 Everything takes place between the individual alone and God. But at the same time one cannot deny the social nature of this sacrament, in which the whole church—militant, suffering and glorious in heaven—comes to the aid of the penitent and welcomes him again into her bosom, especially as it was the whole church which had been offended and wounded by his sin. As the minister of penance, the priest by virtue of his sacred office appears as the witness and representative of this ecclesial nature of the sacrament. The individual nature and ecclesial nature are two complementary aspects of the sacrament which the progressive reform of the Rite of Penance, especially that contained in the Ordo Pænitentiæ promulgated by Paul VI, has sought to emphasize and to make more meaningful in its celebration.

Second, it must be emphasized that the most precious result of the forgiveness obtained in the sacrament of penance consists in reconciliation with God, which takes place in the inmost heart of the son who was lost and found again, which every penitent is. But it has to be added that this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations which repair the breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his own true identity. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way attacked and wounded. He is reconciled with the church. He is reconciled with all creation.

As a result of an awareness of this, at the end of the celebration there arises in the penitent a sense of gratitude to God for the gift of divine mercy received, and the church invites the penitent to have this sense of gratitude.

Every confessional is a special and blessed place from which, with divisions wiped away, there is born new and uncontaminated a reconciled individual—a reconciled world!

190 Cf Gn 4:7, 15.
191 Cf 2 Sm 12.
192 Cf Lk 15:17-21.

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The personal commitment of penance requires acts of satisfaction

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

The other essential stage of the sacrament of penance at this time belongs to the confessor as judge and healer, a figure of God the Father welcoming and forgiving the one who returns: This is the absolution. The words which express it and the gestures that accompany it in the old and in the new Rite of Penance are significantly simple in their grandeur. The sacramental formula “I absolve you” and the imposition of the hand and the Sign of the Cross made over the penitent show that at this moment the contrite and converted sinner comes into contact with the power and mercy of God. It is the moment at which, in response to the penitent, the Trinity becomes present in order to blot out sin and restore innocence. And the saving power of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus is also imparted to the penitent as the “mercy stronger than sin and offense,” as I defined it in my encyclical Dives in Misericordia. God is always the one who is principally offended by sin—”Tibi soli peccavi!”—and God alone can forgive. Hence the absolution that the priest, the minister of forgiveness, though himself a sinner, grants to the penitent is the effective sign of the intervention of the Father in every absolution and the sign of the “resurrection” from “spiritual death” which is renewed each time that the sacrament of penance is administered. Only faith can give us certainty that at that moment every sin is forgiven and blotted out by the mysterious intervention of the Savior.

Satisfaction is the final act which crowns the sacramental sign of penance. In some countries the act which the forgiven and absolved penitent agrees to perform after receiving absolution is called precisely the penance. What is the meaning of this satisfaction that one makes or the penance that one performs? Certainly it is not a price that one pays for the sin absolved and for the forgiveness obtained: No human price can match what is obtained, which is the fruit of Christ’s precious blood. Acts of satisfaction—which, while remaining simple and humble, should be made to express more clearly all that they signify—mean a number of valuable things: They are the sign of the personal commitment that the Christian has made to God in the sacrament to begin a new life (and therefore they should not be reduced to mere formulas to be recited, but should consist of acts of worship, charity, mercy or reparation). They include the idea that the pardoned sinner is able to join his own physical and spiritual mortification—which has been sought after or at least accepted—to the passion of Jesus, who has obtained the forgiveness for him. They remind us that even after absolution there remains in the Christian a dark area due to the wound of sin, to the imperfection of love in repentance, to the weakening of the spiritual faculties. It is an area in which there still operates an infectious source of sin which must always be fought with mortification and penance. This is the meaning of the humble but sincere act of satisfaction.189

189 I dealt with this subject concisely at the general audience of March 7, 1984: Insegnamenti VII, 1 (1984), 631-633.

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Penance requires courageous and sincere confession of sins

From Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Pænitentia (1984):

While reiterating everything that the church, inspired by God’s word, teaches about contrition, I particularly wish to emphasize here just one aspect of this doctrine. It is one that should be better known and considered. Conversion and contrition are often considered under the aspect of the undeniable demands which they involve and under the aspect of the mortification which they impose for the purpose of bringing about a radical change of life. But we all do well to recall and emphasize the fact that contrition and conversion are even more a drawing near to the holiness of God, a rediscovery of one’s true identity, which has been upset and disturbed by sin, a liberation in the very depth of self and thus a regaining of lost joy, the joy of being saved,188 which the majority of people in our time are no longer capable of experiencing.

We therefore understand why, from the earliest Christian times, in line with the apostles and with Christ, the church has included in the sacramental sign of penance the confession of sins. This latter takes on such importance that for centuries the usual name of the sacrament has been and still is that of confession. The confession of sins is required, first of all, because the sinner must be known by the person who in the sacrament exercises the role of judge. He has to evaluate both the seriousness of the sins and the repentance of the penitent; he also exercises the role of the healer and must acquaint himself with the condition of the sick person in order to treat and heal him. But the individual confession also has the value of a sign: a sign of the meeting of the sinner with the mediation of the church in the person of the minister, a sign of the person’s revealing of self as a sinner in the sight of God and the church, of facing his own sinful condition in the eyes of God. The confession of sins therefore cannot be reduced to a mere attempt at psychological self-liberation even though it corresponds to that legitimate and natural need, inherent in the human heart, to open oneself to another. It is a liturgical act, solemn in its dramatic nature, yet humble and sober in the grandeur of its meaning. It is the act of the prodigal son who returns to his Father and is welcomed by him with the kiss of peace. It is an act of honesty and courage. It is an act of entrusting oneself, beyond sin, to the mercy that forgives.188 Thus we understand why the confession of sins must ordinarily be individual not collective, just as sin is a deeply personal matter. But at the same time this confession in a way forces sin out of the secret of the heart and thus out of the area of pure individuality, emphasizing its social character as well, for through the minister of penance it is the ecclesial community, which has been wounded by sin, that welcomes anew the repentant and forgiven sinner.

187 Cf Ps 51(50):12.
188 I had occasion to speak of these fundamental aspects of penance at the general audiences of May 19, 1982: Insegnamenti V, 2 (1982), 1758ff; February 28, 1979: Insegnamenti II (1979), 475-478; March 21, 1984: Insegnamenti VII, 1 (1984) 720-722. See also the norms of the Code of Canon Law concerning the place for administering the sacrament and concerning confessionals (Canon 964, 2-3).

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