People occasionally approach me and encourage me to publicly pray the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel after Mass. This was common practice at Mass until 1964.
According to legend, some time in the 1880s, Pope Leo XIII collapsed on his chapel floor one morning after Mass, and it seemed he was not long for this world. A short time later, however, he came to and related a conversation he overheard between God and the devil. Satan was granted one century to wreak his worst on the Church. The Holy Father promptly composed the Prayer to St Michael and mandated its recital after Mass.
It’s a great story, but it’s highly apocryphal. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the Church is engaged in spiritual warfare, and St Michael is a powerful intercessor. Since 1964, the prayer to St Michael has been a private devotion, but one which was strongly encouraged by Pope John Paul II:
May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle that the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of: ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.’ (Eph 6:10) The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St Michael the Archangel. (Rev 12:7) Pope Leo XIII certainly had this picture in mind when, at the end of the last century, he brought in, throughout the Church, a special prayer to St Michael: ‘Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil…’
Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.
Pope Francis consistently invokes warnings against the devil, and counsels strategies for spiritual battle. One of his earliest acts as pope was to consecrate the Vatican to St Michael the Archangel and to St Joseph.
It sounds like the statue of St Michael was an initiative of Pope Benedict. The pope emeritus is also the one who initiated the explicit invocation of St Joseph in the Roman Missal‘s Eucharistic Prayers II to IV, a measure which came into effect under Pope Francis. Whatever the details of the consecration of the Vatican, it seems Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are of one mind about the significance of St Joseph and St Michael in safeguarding the Church.
So it’s with all that in mind that I have started to habitually invoke St Michael when I pray the Third Eucharistic Prayer, which allows for discretionary invocation of specific saints. I’m also going to order prayer cards to St Michael and encourage parishioners to pray the prayer privately immediately after Mass. I don’t have the power to mandate a liturgical recital of the prayer, as I’m not pope, nor am I a bishop. (“No other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 22.)
I’ll send the prayer card off to the printers shortly. But first, dear reader, you might advise which of these designs I should go with:
Today is the Feast of St Teresa of Avila. She is arguably the most renowned and authoritative contemplative in the Church’s history, whom Pope Paul VI declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
Olek Stirrat, who is a seminarian at Corpus Christi College, describes St Teresa as “one of the most remarkable women the Church has ever seen.” He and his brother seminarian, Dean Taberdo, discuss the great “Doctor of Prayer” in this video.
It was produced by the very talented Adi Indra, yet another seminarian at Corpus Christi College. If, like me, you’d like to see more videos, encourage the guys with a comment at www.facebook.com/corpuschristimelbourne.
Perhaps God intends everyone to encounter one scriptural reading through which God speaks in a very personal and distinct way. It is certainly my own experience, and I know I’m not alone.
It is no surprise that the Word of God (Jesus) should communicate to us through the Word of God (the scriptures). Anyone who has experienced that can understand very well one of the meanings of today’s Second Reading.
The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts.
Often, a personal encounter with God through reading the scriptures changes a person’s life for ever. Pope Francis, for example, repeatedly invokes the calling of Matthew as an ongoing inspiration in his life. In my own case, it is today’s Gospel: the calling of the rich young man.
On this day twelve years ago – the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2003 – the Lord made clear to me his desire that I should be a priest. I remember this very well because the night before, on Saturday evening, I read the Gospel and I meditated on it. I imagined especially that I was the rich young man; that when Jesus “looked steadily at him and loved him,” he was looking at me.
Then I prayed that I would respond differently to the rich young man. I didn’t want to walk away, sad. I want to respond with joy and generosity. “My answer is yes, Lord. Whatever you ask of me, I say yes.”
The next day I attended Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. I have no memory of who the priest was, or what he preached. (It’s good to remind myself of that; that people come to Mass to pray with and receive the Lord, not to hear the priest’s pearls of wisdom!)
But I do remember – very distinctly – that when the priest elevated the Lord’s Body after the words of consecration, I was suddenly and overwhelmingly convinced that I was looking at my future. There was no voice from Heaven or angelic vision, but at that moment everything changed. I knew – with a strange and transcendent conviction – that our Lord was calling me to be a priest.
Twelve years later, this Gospel still stirs me to prayer and guides my response to our Lord. It also reminds how important it is to pray with Sacred Scripture. Praying with the scriptures is something every Catholic should practice habitually.
There are four steps in this practice:
1. Lectio (or reading)
2. Meditatio (meditation)
3. Oratio (prayer)
4. Contemplatio (contemplation)
I outlined these very briefly in my homily today. For my blog, I will provide more detail. I start a 2 week study course today, which takes me away from parish duties. I’ll have time to blog each day, so blog I shall.
Tomorrow I’ll write about lectio.
Facebook is mostly brainless. But sometimes it’s also a useful ecumenical and inter-faith resource. Who knew?
This week, I learned that when it comes to the Rite of Asperges at the start of Mass, I’ve been doing it wrong.
The Russians have taught me that if my parishioners aren’t gasping for breath after I’ve blessed them, then I have failed.
Then the Cambodians arrived in my newsfeed:
So now I realise that if my parishioners don’t arrive at Mass wearing helmets, then I have failed.
I can’t wait for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord!
Yesterday’s ordinations in Melbourne were of course a wonderful and blessed event.
As I arrived yesterday, I ran into the van Strijp family, who attended the ordinations as a guest of Fr Joel Peart.
Joseph took a few photos and shared some thoughtful explanations on Facebook, which he’s permitted me to reproduce here. When he’s not guest blogging, Joseph is a carpenter. You can check out his work at www.josephtheworker.com.au.
During the litany of the saints, the deacons lie prostrate.
This symbolizes the deacons’ unworthiness for the office to be assumed and their dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community.
The laying on of hands: this is one of my favourite parts of an ordination ceremony.
When the litany is ended the candidates rise and go in pairs to kneel before the bishop. The bishop places both his hands on the head of each candidate in turn, without saying anything. This very simple though impressive action, unaccompanied by prayer or chant, is called the essential matter of the sacrament. It signifies that the power of priesthood is conferred by the bishop imposing hands on the candidate, transmitting to the latter the power which the bishop himself has received from Christ through the apostles and their successors.
After the bishop has imposed hands on them, they return to their former place and kneel. When all are in place the bishop holds his right hand outstretched over them. Next the priests who are present come forward and lay both their hands on the head of each candidate.
The act of the priests taking part in the ceremony of laying-on of hands is perhaps a relic of the time when more than one bishop took part in the ordination of priests, and each bishop present imposed hands on the ordinands. The present ceremony of the priests, imposing hands has no other purpose than to make more forceful the outward sign of power being conferred through this kind of action.
I live in a town of less than 2,000 people, and I’m the only minister of religion in residence. Not long after I arrived, I was invited to speak and bless the town’s Carols by Candlelight, and in the time since I have presided at several funerals which the whole town attended. Chances are, if I walked down the street right now, people would know who I am even if I wasn’t wearing a priestly collar.
Nonetheless, since I was ordained a deacon in 2010, I have worn the collar every day. There’s maybe four or five days when I have not worn it, when I was on holidays and wearing it was impractical — bush walking for example, or mountain biking. But generally I’m ‘in uniform’ seven days a week, even on my day off. Apart from anything else, it’s a reminder to me that a priest is not his own. I’m called to serve others at the Lord’s convenience, not mine.
After five years of wearing the uniform, it’s not something I’m very conscious of. If it attracts the stares of strangers, I’m oblivious. There are occasions when strangers have spontaneously struck up conversation, either about the Church or about God. And once I was called upon to minister the sacraments. Good! That’s why I make myself identifiable. But honestly, I forget my uniform makes me sometimes stand out.
Reading this article, then, was as surprising as it was bemusing: What happened when I dressed like a priest. The author — a journalist — conducted an experiment, noting strangers’ first reactions to the uniforms he donned.
I bought four uniforms, modified them using the advice of people who wear them for real, and wore each one for a full day to test the reaction. A priest, a security guard, a mechanic, and a doctor. I stitched my name on—first, last, or both when appropriate. But I didn’t forge a thing. No fake lanyards, no ID cards, no crucifix, no rosary in hand. The idea wasn’t to trick people.
The author poses a fascinating question. How much do clothes maketh the man? Or, at least, how much do clothes influence the thoughts and behaviour of people around you? It’s telling that the headline and the bulk of his article focus on his experiences wearing a priest’s cassock or soutane. For myself, I only wear my soutane in the sanctuary and in the confessional, because the soutane isn’t customary street wear in Australia. (In this country, the custom is suit and clerical shirt, or suit and white shirt with lapel cross.) Still, I think the soutane and the collar elicit similar reactions. Reflecting on the article, I can verify its findings.
The author of this article concludes with a soutane-related quandary. I’ll let you in on a trade secret: a good soutane does have pockets (mine does), but every soutane at least has holes where the pockets should be, granting ready access to your wallet.
“It’s a tricky thing to wear in public. There are no pockets,” I said. “I have to hitch the whole thing up to get to my wallet.” I bent a little and started to demonstrate the issue, how I would have to hike up this giant skirt to retrieve five bucks for the valet. Both of them waved me off. “It looks kind of pervy, right?” I said. I asked them if they knew how a priest would have dealt with it.
Neither of them did. “There are some things only a priest would know,” one of them said.
They thought I must be an actor. I told them no. Eventually I asked about their faith, since they seemed to know a priest when they saw one. And when they didn’t.
They told me, too. I just listened. It seemed like what was called for.