30 August 2015

Have cassock, will travel

Greg Burke sent out a tweet today showing several Masters of Pontifical Ceremonies sitting in an airport using their electronic devices:
What caught my attention is not that they are using the devices, but that they are traveling in their cassocks. I've traveled in my cassock once before; it makes packing much simpler.

Open the Doors

Friday morning I decided to make a 3.8 mile pilgrimage walk (each way) under the burning Hawaiian sun - without the aid of the cooling trade winds - from the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace to the church of St. Augustine By the Sea. It is a walk I have done several times in years past on the saint's feast to pray in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord in a church dedicated in honor of the Doctor of Grace. Friday, however, I found the church locked and, having been effectively turned away from the Lord, I left in disappointment.

A Pontiff's Plea

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the doors of our churches to be open to the faithful. Perhaps most notably, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, His Holiness rightly noted that "a Church which 'goes forth' is a Church whose doors are open" (46). He went on to say:
The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door (47).
Despite the plea of the Holy Father, the doors of the church were shut to me and to others. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this experience. It happens frequently not only here in Hawaii (and so this post should not be seen as an indictment of this particular parish), but throughout the United States of America and, indeed, throughout the entire Catholic world, even in Rome itself where pilgrims are frequently locked outside of churches (even when the posted hours say the church is to be open). It happens even in the diocese of which I am a priest.

A Common Experience

A few weeks ago Jonathan F. Sullivan, Director of the Office for Catechesis of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois (and with whom I was in college fifteen years ago), after visiting many of the parish churches in the twenty-eight central counties in the Land of Lincoln, sent out this tweet:
Before I continue, I should say that when I was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Virden and of St. Patrick Parish in Girard, both of the churches remained locked throughout most of the day. The previous pastors kept the doors locked for fear of theft or vandalism and I decided to continue this practice; it is a decision I greatly regret. How many people felt turned away by the Church when they came looking for God?

The Code of Canon Law

Because the faithful "are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration" (canon 898), the Blessed Sacrament "must be reserved in the cathedral church or its equivalent, in every parish church, and in a church or oratory connected to the house of a religious institute or society of apostolic life" (canon 934 §1).

To be sure, the Code of Canon Law does not require that churches be open twenty-four hours a day. The Code  simply says that "entry to a church is to be free and gratuitous during the time of sacred celebrations" (canon 1221). However, the Code also states that "unless there is a grave reason to the contrary, the church in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be open to the faithful for at least some hours every day so that they can pray before the Most Blessed Sacrament" (canon 937). Many of our churches are open for a few minutes before the morning Mass and for a few minutes after the Mass; this would rarely amount to at least some hours each day.

Moreover, the pastor of a parish "is to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful" (canon 528 §2) and the faithful have the right "to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments" (canon 213). 

Can it be denied that the greatest spiritual good of the Church is the Blessed Sacrament? Why, then, are our churches not open to the faithful "for at least some hours every day"?

Why Are the Doors Locked?
The most common reasons given for keeping the doors of the churches locked are because of past acts of theft or vandalism or fear of future theft or vandalism. These are both legitimate concerns and should be actively guarded against, but they are not insurmountable obstacles to keeping the doors of our churches open.

Regarding the threat of theft, the solution is quite simple: keep valuable items locked in the sacristy and bring them out when needed. Some items, however, cannot be kept in the sacristy, like the tabernacle. Just yesterday, the tabernacle in the church of St. Anthony was stolen in Oakley, California (which has already been returned undamaged). The article does not say if the church was open at the time of the theft, nor does it say if the tabernacle was properly bolted down in accord with the Code of Canon Law: "The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible" (canon 938 §3).

Even so, tabernacles are stolen in the daylight when the church is open and even when the tabernacle is bolted down. Tabernacles are also stolen at night. We may not be able to prevent all theft, but we can certainly do a good deal to hinder them by being both prudent and cautious. And if the situation in a diocese becomes so bad, the Blessed Sacrament can be removed from the tabernacles, as the Bishop of Ars recently ordered.

How Do We Go Forward?

As I walked back to the Cathedral Basilica Friday morning, I thought of several things we might do to keep our churches open. I will simply list them, and make a few comments here and there:
  1. Frequently ask the Lord Jesus, St. Michael the Archangel, and the parish patron to protect and defend the parish grounds.
  2. Install security cameras and post notices about the presence of the cameras.
  3. Ask the local police to make random checks in the church.
  4. Encourage the parishioners to make frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament - even if brief - throughout the day. This way it will be difficult for thieves or vandals to know when someone might be present in the church.
  5. Pastors and parochial vicars should hear confessions more frequently and at different times of day throughout the week.
  6. Pastors, parochial vicars, deacons, and consecrated men and women should pray the Divine Office in the church itself instead of in their offices or sitting rooms.
  7. Parish staff could take turns going into the church at various times throughout the day.
  8. Invite the parishioners to take "shifts" in the church so that someone is always or nearly always present, at least at key moments of the day, such as before and after school when young thieves and vandals are more likely to be present.
  9. Pastors could establish their desk in the church itself as Saint John Vianney did. It is not uncommon for the sacristies in the churches in Rome to contain a desk where the sacristan sits throughout the day.
There are churches that are open twenty-four hours a day, without acts of theft or vandalism committed in them or on their grounds. The parish to which I was first assigned had such a church. Let pastors, then, heed the call of the Holy Father and open the doors of the churches.

29 August 2015

Boko Haram Ongoing Updates - August 2015

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