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Changes in Liturgy
Brought Changes in Churches

    Why Did the Statues Go?

    Whose idea was it to remove all the statues from churches?

    When pastors and congregations began to implement the decrees of Vatican II, they often experienced a need to remodel and adapt their churches and worship spaces.

    With the advent of concelebrated Masses and fewer side-altar celebrations, the need for side altars became less. With the emphasis on participation in the liturgy, proximity to the altar and visibility of the celebrant and ministers became important. When pastors, architects and designers looked to the conciliar documents and decrees of implementation for direction and guidelines, they found statements on art and environment in worship and worship spaces. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy they were told to seek noble beauty rather than sumptuous display.

    The Constitution told them, “The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be maintained. Nevertheless, their number should be moderate and their relative positions should reflect right order. For otherwise the Christian people may find them incongruous and they may foster devotion of doubtful orthodoxy.”

    The General Instruction of the Roman Missal picks up on the Constitution in saying that, from the very earliest days of the Church, there has been a tradition of displaying images of our Lord, his holy mother and the saints in our churches for veneration. But it then adds, “But there should not be too many such images, lest they distract the people’s attention from the ceremonies, and those which are there ought to conform to a correct order of prominence. There should not be more than one image of any particular saint.”

    In Environment and Art in Catholic Worship the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy urges that images in painting or sculpture, tapestries, cloth hangings, banners and other decorations be introduced into the liturgical space upon consultation with an art consultant. But the bishops’ statement reminds us that the art must serve and aid the action rather than threaten or compete with it. The statement then says, “In a period of Church and liturgical renewal, the attempt to recover a solid grasp of Church and faith and rites involves the rejection of certain embellishments which have in the course of history become hindrances. In many areas of religious practice, this means a simplifying and a refocusing on primary symbols. In building, this has resulted in more austere interiors, with fewer objects on the walls and in the corners.”

    The Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in 1970, made it clear that the Constitution was not just an academic or abstract statement. The congregation called for temporary arrangements to be given final form. It called for the review of temporary arrangements and the study of new building projects so that churches be given a definitive form.

    The point I am trying to make is that in renovating churches and sanctuaries pastors were not acting in arbitrary fashion. They were carrying out the mandate of the Church. And if they were faithful to the demand of the Church, they did so with consultation from liturgists, artists and architects.

    I realize that what is beautiful in art and architecture is often a matter of taste and opinion. That is why the wise pastor gathers input from experts. But he also takes into account the feelings and sentiments of his parishioners. He respects the traditions and history of devotion in the parish.

    For an explanation of the parish church, readers may send me 50 cents and a self-addressed stamped business envelope asking for Catholic Update C0391, “A Tour of a Catholic Church,” by Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.

    Francis’ Fast of St. Michael— the Numbers Don’t Add Up

    In reading about St. Francis I have come upon his observance of the “Forty Days Fast of Saint Michael the Archangel.”

    It is said to begin on Our Lady's assumption (August 15) and conclude, I presume, on the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, on September 29.

    But that would be 46 days, wouldn't it? And could you tell me what exactly such a fast would entail in the way of eating and/or drinking? Also, would it come to an end on the day of September 29, or not until the following day? What spiritual benefits could one expect to derive from such a fast? (It sounds like a good way to lose weight, in any case!)

    Both Thomas of Celano and St. Bonaventure mention St. Francis’ fast from the Feast of the Assumption to the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. They speak of it as a fast of 40 days.

    You are right: If you count off the days on the calendar, that is a period of more than 40 days—no matter on what day you begin or end the count. I tried to check if the Feast of Michael might have been moved since the 13th century. But the footnote of Celano clearly says the Feast of Michael was September 29. So much for that theory! Omitting the Sundays from the count wouldn’t make the days come out to 40 either.

    All I can surmise is that the authors (and St. Francis himself) meant the expression “a fast of 40 days” to be taken in the moral sense of about 40 days. The feasts were more important as the starting and ending times than the exact number of days. And I cannot personally believe Francis would have advocated fasting on the feasts themselves.

    Bishop Hilarin Felder, O.F.M.Cap., author of The Ideals of St. Francis of Assisi (Benziger Bros., 1925), in his chapter “The Piety of St. Francis” spends some paragraphs speaking of Francis’ devotion to the angels as our guardians and St. Michael in particular. The angels were, in Francis’ eyes, our champions in the struggle against the powers of darkness. He saw the angels unceasingly singing hymns of praise before the Blessed Sacrament and urged that his brothers sing their office in union with the heavenly spirits.

    In the struggle against evil Francis placed himself under the leadership of the Prince of Heaven, St. Michael, who, says Felder, has been assigned the office of leading souls into the kingdom of heaven. Felder writes that Francis' battle cry was: “O invincible, valiant hero, Prince Michael, O guard us through life, O help us in strife, Prince Michael, Prince Michael!”

    Francis did not bind his brother friars to the fast of St. Michael, but urged that each offer to God a special praise or tribute in honor of “so exalted a Prince.”

    Since this fast was an act of personal devotion on Francis’ part, I can hardly tell you exactly how he observed it. I would think that the follower of today wanting to keep this fast would do so according to the custom and law for fasting in the Church today—meat once a day, one full meal and the other two not to equal together another full meal.

    The spiritual benefits of fasting? The traditional ones urged by the Church whenever it speaks of penance, fasting and mortification: making reparation for our own sins and the sins of the world, a lessening of our temporal punishment for sin, learning self-control and self-discipline in our day-to-day struggle with sin and temptation. Such penance does offer good example.

    Finally, imitating St. Francis, I would start the fast on the day following the Feast of the Assumption and end it on the Feast of St. Michael.

    Can the Priest Bless the Couple?

    Can a Roman Catholic pastor get permission from his bishop to say prayers at a wedding conducted or witnessed by a justice of the peace?

    It is difficult to answer your question because it is so short on detail. Who is getting married before the justice of the peace? Two Catholics? A Catholic and a person of another religion? Two non-Catholics? Are both of them free to marry? Why are they being married in a civil ceremony rather than a Catholic or religious ceremony?

    All of those things could be relevant. If it is a case of a mixed marriage, a dispensation from the Catholic form (before a priest and two witnesses) is possible for sufficient reason, presuming both parties are free to marry. For example, if one of the parties is closely related to a minister, a Catholic wedding might cause family alienation. If there has been a dispensation, a priest could attend the ceremony before a justice of the peace or minister of another faith and offer a prayer or blessing.

    But I suspect you have a different kind of case in mind—when a Catholic or Catholics who are not free to marry are involved. Or perhaps for some reason a Catholic is marrying outside the Church without a dispensation.

    In such a case the bishop cannot authorize a priest to offer prayers and blessings. I’m sure you can see the likelihood of grave scandal in such cases.

    I have heard of some particular cases where a priest decided that his presence at a civil ceremony or one in another religion would give no scandal—it would not be taken for approval or indifference. He decided his presence would be taken only as a sign of friendship and a desire to keep communication open in the future. But I find it difficult to see how a priest could offer a prayer or blessing without appearing to approve of what the couple are doing and thus create scandal and dismay for many Catholics.

    The Creed—Can It Be Possible?

    In the Nicene Creed we read the words “begotten, not made.” In other writings we find the phrase, “the only begotten Son of God.” Such references to Christ appear to express an impossibility. Since we believe that Christ is God, he must have existed for all time. Without a beginning how could he have been begotten?

    I wish I could make a simple, lucid explanation of who God is and how he exists so that you would or could say, “Ah! Now I see! It’s so plain and obvious.” But that cannot be. We are always limited creatures trying to understand an infinite God—a being far beyond our comprehension and intelligence.

    To understand him as God understands himself would make us God or the equals of God.

    In speaking of Jesus we must always remember we are talking about the second person of the Blessed Trinity—God the Son—become incarnate. In Jesus, the Son, are united two natures: the divine and human. The divine person possesses two natures.

    In the divine nature the Son exists from eternity. He always was, is and shall be. There never was a time when the Son did not exist and never will be a time when he will not exist. From eternity or in eternity, the Son is begotten of or proceeds from the Father. To use comparisons that limp, it is as a thought proceeds from or is begotten by the mind (not made, not created) or as light proceeds from the sun. Just as the Father is always there, the Son (second person) is always there being begotten by the Father.

    In time the second person, the Son, took to himself a human nature—he became flesh, he became man, Jesus. In his human nature the Son (Jesus) did not exist forever. It is this event we proclaim in the Angelus prayer and celebrate at Christmas—“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus, in whom are united the divine and human natures, began to exist in time.

    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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