08 September 2007

"Lay Presiders" at Mass? Nope.

I've received several emails and a few off-thread posts in the comboxes asking me to comment on the recent article in The Tablet concerning our Dutch Dominicans brothers and their most recent venture into experimental Protestantism. Apparently, two or three Dutch Dominicans published a pamphlet calling for the Catholic Church to allow locally elected members of the lay faithful "to say Mass," i.e. lay folks presiding at Mass instead of a priest. According to The Tablet article the brothers offer up the usual reasons for allowing such a thing.

Most of the questions I've received have been along the lines of: "What will the Order's Master do about this?" My answer: I have no idea. I've heard that at least one American province is planning a public repudiation of the booklet. And I just read something about someone in authority over there canceling a study day between the theological center that produced this little gem of theological excellence and some of the Dutch bishops. My Dutch is rusty, but the Babel-fish translation I managed seemed to indicate that the study day had been canceled at the request of the Master of the Order--a very good sign.

I am pretty confident in saying that at least 90% of my Dominican brothers would sign off on the following bolded-statements:

1). A validly ordained priest in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church is necessary for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. IOW, there can be no lay presiders at the Mass because such an event would not in fact be a Mass at all. A "lay lead Mass" can never be a Mass by definition.

2). Anyone teaching that the Mass can be validly confected by a lay person is teaching against the Church's ancient understanding of the Eucharist and Orders. Paragraph eighty of the Dominican constitutions (LCO 80) calls on all friars to put our intellectual and academic prowess at the service of the Church's magisterial office. We are not called to set ourselves up as an "alternative magisterium."

3). As an Order, the Order of Preachers fully supports the ancient teaching of the Church and should publicly repudiate the conclusions of our Dutch brothers. This would not be a condemnation of the brothers themselves, of course, only a rejection of their theological conclusions. Prediction: the Dutch friars in this case will not be disciplined in any way.

4). Such a repudiation should not be understood as a rejection of theological exploration in general nor the necessity of researching creative ways of ensuring that an adequate number of priests are available to serve God's church. The desired result of any faithful attempt at solving the "priest shortage" should be more priests not more "lay presiders."

If we are concerned about the shrinking availability of the Eucharist in a time of an apparent priest shortage, how exactly does allowing lay presiders at the Mass make the Eucharist more available? Without a priest there is no Eucharist. So, what are we supposed to be making available to the people by allowing lay presiders? A lovely Protestant communion service? Fine with me. Just don't call it "Roman Catholic."

BVM: First stone, first step

The Nativity of the BVM: Micah 5.1-4 and Matthew 1.18-23
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Listen here!

Feasts of the Blessed Mother should do what Mary herself did all her life and continues to do even now: exalt the Lord, prod us all to say YES to the Lord’s will for us, and point us constantly and consistently to Christ. We go to the Blessed Virgin in order to go through her to Christ. St. John Damascus preaches it well when he says, “Today a virginal gateway draws near: through her the God who is above all creatures will come bodily into the world. . .Eternal light. . .takes His body from this woman and, like a groom, comes forth from His bridal chamber. . .”

Lest any of us are tempted to hear this description of our Blessed Mother as an irreverent diminishment of her work for our redemption, listen again to Matthew’s gospel: “Listen up! The virgin will become pregnant and she will give birth to a son, and she and her husband, Joseph, will name their son Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” We cannot diminish or downplay or in any way minimize the obedient YES of Mary, her loving assent to the Holy Spirit’s embrace nor can we but help to turn to her as she herself turns to Christ, her son. We celebrate the Blessed Mother’s nativity this morning so that we may celebrate the Lord’s nativity. . .and then his baptism and then his public preaching and healing and then his suffering, his death, and his resurrection and ascension.

Truly, then, Mary is our gateway, our door; she is not our path nor is she the Way, but she is the first foot stone, the first step; in our history as a holy nation, a royal priesthood, she is for us our Mother in grace, the Mother of the Church; she spoke then and speaks now the most primitive YES, offering her body as the first sacrifice of a new covenant, giving herself to the Spirit and giving us our Savior.

All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through His prophet: God has been with us. God is with us. And God will never abandon us. Mary is our promise of God’s presence. Her son, Christ Jesus, is that promise made good.

07 September 2007


In my Cleaning Frenzy I just now noticed a problem with the homily from the 18th Sunday in OT, "An exit graceless and without mystery?" I mistakenly posted the next day's homily, for the Transfiguration, under the heading for the 18th Sunday OT. So, my Transfiguration homily appeared twice!

I have fixed the problem. . .

Being the Lord's Faithful Bait

22nd Week OT: Col 1.15-20 and Luke 5.33-39
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club & Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

Listen here!

Not a few of us here are no doubt delighted to hear the Lord proclaim this bit of Good News to us: “The old is good.” The beauty of the ancient is often difficult to see much less appreciate layered as it often is with the dust of history and myth, the grime and gook of being out of fashion, out of a shared groove. There is also—though difficult to articulate and somewhat embarrassing to expose—there is also something in there, in the ancient, the historical and the traditional that forms us, injects into us its genetic virus and pushes up through our flesh and bone, art and music, dance and theatre and invention and disaster, making its inexorable way from Then to Now and guaranteeing its presence—if only in fragments and splices—in a future where it will be fashionable, celebrated, at least for a time. But now, always now for us, the ancient is just old and stains us a sturdy red: old wine. Old wine in old wineskins. Why? “For he says, ‘The old is good.’”

The old is good. Old is endurance, survival, true-tested, lived through and beyond, and wised-up in practice. Haven’t we all heard the voice of the Lord urging us to take up an old life, a life of survival and testing? Aren’t we dared to contest against the world by joining the world in its decadence and attempting to transform it from its belly out? Um, no to both. We are urged by Christ to a new life in him and we are dared to contest against our disordered passions and witness to the world from within the world as Christs. So, what use then is the old to our lives in the new if the old (and all the old gives us) is not what we are called to, dared to? Jesus says, “…no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

Do you think that the old opposes the new? Or maybe the other way around? Antiquity vs. novelty? Institution vs. revolution? No, no, no. Without the old there is no new. Without the old there is no nothing! Jesus teaches this point to the Pharisees when he tells them that his disciples will not fast while he is with them. Fasting will come later when he is left them. He says, “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.” In other words, we do not destroy the new to repair the old nor do we disfigure the old with the new. The old is good. The new is waiting to be old and getting better. Together the old and new in you make you exactly who you are in Christ right now. You are your history, your present-promise, and everything you will become. You are old; you are new; and you are Next—whoever you are given to be by God forever!

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us what it means for Christ to be in the image and likeness of his Father. He is the firstborn of all creation. He is before all things. Head of the Body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead and all things will be reconciled for him through him. We, you and I, are baptized into and made partakers of, added as players in the Easter Mystery of Christ. We are Christs, created and re-created in the imago Dei and who he is is who you are right this second—imperfectly Christ as just a “me” but more so and more so and more so as a “we.” Christ is not a new piece sewn to you. He is not new wine poured into your old wineskin. Nor is Christ the old cloak on which you are sown as a new piece. He is not the old wineskin into which you, the wine, are poured. Christ is old and new. He is Wisdom from the beginning and Mercy at the last. He was born before all creation. He is Head of his Body, the Church. And all things—All Things—all-created-things will be reconciled in him at last.

The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ. The fullness of God—old and new—is pleased to seduce us, pleased to lure us to Him. We are stained (at once) a brilliant white and a sturdy red. And as we live and move and have our being in Him, we are his bait--preachers of his Good News!

06 September 2007

Cleaning House

Howdy folks! Starting today I am deleting a number of non-homily posts in order to make room for this year's crop of new homilies. Most of what I will be deleting are the cranky op-ed pieces written without the benefit of sufficient caffeine and sleep. Since I started adding pics to every post I have rapidly depleted my alloted blog space. . .basically, I'm running out of room and I don't want to jump to another blog provider b/c that's. . .well. . .that's technical, and it makes me crazy.

So, enjoy the homilies and check out the updated POETRY Wish List and the PHIL & THEO Wish List and send me something I can't live without!


God bless, Fr. Philip, OP

03 September 2007

To rule is to serve. . .

St Gregory the Great: 2 Cor 4.1-2, 5-7 and Luke 22.24-30
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Listen here!

Jesus, bringing the useless argument of apostolic superiority to a clashing close, reminds his bickering friends who he is: “I am among you as the one who serves.” Wiser than all those sent with tongues on fire; holier than all those raptured in righteousness; more glorious than all the choirs of celestial intelligences; and in possession of a perfected heavenly reflection of the Face of God, His divine light, glory that outshines the Queen of Heaven, his own mother, Jesus the Christ is “among us as the one who serves.”

Remember: in the desert before his Emptying on the Cross, Jesus is offered everything any of us would want and take if offered—wealth, power, celebrity, worship. Jesus puts the Tempter behind him to stare at his back-side. Knowing that he can be wealthy, powerful, popular, and worshipped; and knowing that his suffering and death is a matter of his free choice, Jesus says “No” to the Devil and “Yes” to us, to our eternal lives. He served us then, he serves us now. If you will follow him, if you will be his friend, his preacher, you too have to say and mean, “I am among you as the one who serves.”

Perhaps I am just a jaded academic or a calloused cynic. I am not scandalized by the apostles jockeying for position. Good leaders are always necessary to maintain a connection to our history and show a way forward into what’s coming for us. Charitably, we can assume that all this apostolic politicking is about finding the Right Guy for the job and not just politicking for the sake of prestige and power. Jesus warns his friends about the way the Gentile kings lord their power over their subjects, saying “those in authority over them are addressed as “Benefactors’”—a title for the Greek kings. Jesus’ understanding of authority and power for his friends and for the Church they will build is quite different: to rule is to serve. He teaches his disciples: “...let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table?” Can’t you hear the disciple’s brain-gears trying to grind this one out! You can almost smell the brain-oil burning as they try to crank this logic through! Then, just as they are finding convenient ways around this inconvenient little instruction, Jesus drops this bomb: “I am among you as the one who serves.” Eyes wide. Mouths drop. BOOM! Apostolic brains all over the walls and ceiling.

Son of God, Son of Man; King of kings, Prince of princes; The Messiah, The Anointed Savior, The Christ. And do not forget: The Suffering Servant. On a donkey. Accused with lies. Bound in mocking purple. Beaten. Crowned with wooden nails. And nailed to a cross of wood. Broken. Bled. Speared and finally, dead. If you will lead Christ’s people as his disciple, if you will serve the table of the Lord as our slave, you will follow him…not only behind him on Palm Sunday, collecting your share of accolades. But beside him on Good Friday as well, gripping your iron nails. Not only with him on Easter morning, rising from the grave but with him in hell the night before, freeing Nothing’s captives.

Paul writes to the Corinthians: “…we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.” This is the only homily any of us need preach, whether from the pulpit or the chalkboard, the boardroom or the cash register, from the kitchen, the car, or on the computer: Jesus Christ is Lord! And we are his students. We cannot be discouraged “since we have this ministry [of preaching and leading] through the mercy shown us.”

Christ has conferred a kingdom on us! Therefore, we are to serve as slaves to the least of his.

02 September 2007

Where do you wanna sit?

22nd Sunday OT: Sir 3.17-20, 28-29; Heb 12.18-19, 22-24; Luke 14.1, 7-14
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
, Dallas, TX

Listen here!

Let’s say I asked each of you to stand in turn and name one gift you have from God that you use to help other people. What would we hear? I am: good with money, medicine, law, real estate, teaching, learning, prayer, hard work. I am: willing to work, beg, collect goods, sweep porches, mow yards, paint houses, serve dinner. I have: time, cash, good friends with time and cash, transportation, supplies, connections. And I am willing and able to put all these—who I am, what I have, who I know—to work for those who are lost, those who have nothing, and those who know no one. Out of God’s abundance, you are blessed for your prosperity and the prosperity of your family. In humility, you are required to use God’s freely given abundance for the benefit of those who have nothing. This is not about polite “social charity” or “being a good philanthropist.” It is about your salvation—nothing less than a matter of whether or not you will sit at the banquet table at all.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Prosperity!? What abundance? I’m not prosperous. I got debt; I work paycheck to paycheck; my family is barely scraping by!” As a working-class Mississippi boy who spent way too many years in college racking up student loans in order to get a job that earns me less than a Wal-Mart assistant manager—I hear you, loud and clear! We are not all given treasure as our gift. Not all of us have a ready cash-flow or asset liquidity. But let me quickly point out how quickly we all jumped to the conclusion that prosperity is about money, that our wealth is about a financial portfolio. I would guess that well-over 90% of Catholics in this country aren’t wealthy. And yet, they are required, like you and me, to be generous to those who do without. Prosperity is wealth but not all wealth is treasure and not all treasure is silver and gold and green.

Sirach points to wealth. The mind of a sage. An ear attentive to wisdom. The psalmist sings of wealth as well. The rejoicing of the just and their exultation of the Lord. Bountiful rain and a restored land. Hebrews tells us that those who have approached Mt Zion are wealthy in their experience of the divine. They have seen the city of the living God; seen countless angels partying at the throne of God; watched the assembly of the firstborn; and laid eyes on Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant.” And! And! we all have an engraved invitation, carved into the flesh of Christ himself, an invitation to the wedding and the wedding feast. Christ is our living invite and our way to the party. Is there any gold or talent or any amount of time, any portfolio or estate worth as much as a place at The Table? Prosperity in Christ Jesus is eternal life; this is our inheritance as adopted heirs of the Father. So, how do we share ALL of our gifts so that we are not bumped, with great embarrassment, to the bottom of the table?

There are the usual ways of charity: donating money and goods to the needy; spending some time doing local service work; help a volunteer group raise funds for travel on a mission trip; go on a mission-trip yourself and work directly with the poor. All perfectly acceptable and much appreciated ways of spreading your prosperity in Christ. Are there other ways? Oh, yes. What about your witness? Your testimony about who Christ is to you, what he has done for you? What about the light of Christ beaming out of your skin? Do you radiate the love of God? This sort of charity—talking about Christ to others—is the sort of charity that makes Catholics extremely nervous! All that “testimony talk” sounds very evangelical Protestant, kinda Baptist, and very personal. It does, I know.

We have managed in this country to submerge our lives in faith into a kind of private vault, locking away the very center of our lives as Christians so that we can function politely in a largely secular culture. Our nation’s anti-Christian cultural elites are so obsessed with not being bothered by our faith, that, at their insistence, we have carefully crafted safe places where our faith might shine out but not shine on them. Church, for example. Maybe the Union Mission downtown. Never the office or our public schools. Never the ballot box or the statehouse. Never, in other words, anywhere the light might actually touch them. We have, I think, become used to this arrangement and we have, as a result of this familiarity, made our witness something to be ashamed of right when it is most needed.

Here’s my challenge to you: think long and hard about your witness: how do you share—out there—who Christ is to you and what he has done for you? How do you spread the wealth of God’s love, His mercy and care, His universal invitation through Christ to come party with Him forever? The public credibility of the gospel depends on Christ’s ministers—you and me and all of us together!—it depends on us sharing the prosperity, the abundance of the Good News preached by Christ Jesus to every man, woman, and child; Jew and Greek; slave and freeman; the gospel preached to everyone with him when he was among us. We must complete the preaching; we must make the teaching whole where we are, and show others the Way. There is no greater work of charity to be done.

Now, let me highlight the trap that lies in wait for those who will be witnesses in this world. As Christians, we do not possess the truth. We are possessed by the Truth. Our preaching and teaching cannot be about lording the correctness of the faith over those who do not share our faith. Truth is truth and truth wins out every time. We cannot be so arrogant as to believe that All of Truth is speakable, pronounceable by a human tongue, especially our flawed tongues! We know what we know, but there is infinitely more that we do not know. In front of this Mystery, we can only stand in silence with humility, trusting that as we grow in perfection God’s revelation will unfold for us. That there is no single owner of the Truth does not mean that there are multiple owners of the Truth. The truth of our faith rests in the Church, the whole Body of Christ; and this truth serves as our well of witness, our river of fresh understanding and utility. When we ourselves become poor and lame and crippled and blind, those possessed by the truth of our faith bring us to the table. So we must be very, very careful to invite to the Lord’s table the poor and lame and crippled and blind among us. Think! How long before I need such an invitation?

From the Word, a final word: You have not approached that which cannot be touched, therefore, My child, conduct your affairs with humility. Go and take the lowest place at the banquet table because he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Learn from me, your shepherd, for I am meek and humble of heart. Spread your gifts. Sow your wealth. Be prosperous so that others might survive. Your harvest is mine, therefore, invite to my table those who cannot repay you. And when you do, know that I will repay you at the resurrection of the righteous.