Category Archives: Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments

Catholic Underground NYC evaluated

Meeting at the beautiful upper eastside church of Our Lady of Good Counsel (NYC), on a very rainy Saturday night, the Catholic Underground convened. There is no exaggeration in saying that nearly 500 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s but there were the more mature individuals who may claim to be in their 40s, 50s and above, present to pray Vespers (the Roman Office) in the presence of the exposed Blessed Sacrament and then to spend time adoring Christ. The ceremony was presided over by the newly ordained deacon, Brother Louis, CFR.

CU.jpgThe Catholic Underground is in its 6th season and it meets on the first Saturday of each month, nine times a year. The Underground is a religious and cultural project of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. They say the Underground exists because “the Gospel lives in conversation with culture, we must be fearless in crossing the cultural threshold of the communication and information revolution now taking place.” The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (known to some as the CFRs or Fr. Benedict Groeshel’s group) is a Capuchin reform movement of Franciscans who live radical yet sensible poverty, who have an intense community life and who are faithful to the teaching authority of the Church. No one who meets these friars could say that they don’t live according to their Order’s charism and that they are squishy in their faith and liturgical lives. While they may not use the concept outright, the CFRs follow an ancient dictum of lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.


In the crowd you saw a religious brother, 2 Sisters of Life, a woman religious of an unidentified congregation, some minor and major diocesan seminarians and a host of friars. I wasn’t aware of the presence of the secular priests or members of other religious orders. But since I was there I can claim the Benedictines were represented by me as a mere postulant.


Liturgically there was a fine sense of the ars celebrandi. Unlike some church venues, these friars follow what the Church expects; no trendy prayers, no making “it relevant,” etc. The celebrant and the musicians with the attentive crowd did what the Church expects in living the mystery in front of us. Hence, there was no liturgical innovation. One may quibble over the fact there was no homily but what exactly could have been said at that moment? The Divine Presence was really doing all the work. Perhaps someone may also raise a question of the quality (style?) of music used. Certainly, the Franciscan Steubenville style is appealing to many people under a certain age. But I wonder if that is because they know nothing else than the Steubenville music. The friars know chant and hymnody but for some reason they’ve selected the Steubenville genre thinking that it’s what “speaks to this crowd!” But they well be correct in their choices, I just don’t know right now how to judge the choice. When you hear 800-year old hymn texts set to contemporary settings your interest piques. While I suspended criticism of the Steubenville music until I experience these rites again I can’t help but think a steady diet of this trendy music would sour over time. Where does this ultimately lead the believer?


Many people were shriven. I have to laugh at the ’68ers who claim that the reception
Confession.jpgof the sacrament of Confession is dead or its reception is so low that it barely has a heart beat when I look at events like the Catholic Underground. Other experiences tell me the faithful’s reception of this sacrament is not on life-support are the steady line of sinners for daily confession at St. Mary’s and St. Stanislaus Church, New Haven, CT, the churches of St. Agnes and St Francis, NYC and at meetings of Communion & Liberation (and I am sure there are other places). The supposition made by the ’68ers is really about their lack of belief in the effective power of God’s mercy and that it is essential in “relating” to the Lord (read the Book of Psalms to see the relationship between man’s righteousness and his need to be shriven). It would also seem that this same crowd may not believe that they can forgive or be forgiven and therefore it is a farce to face God viz. human frailty. It gives me great hope to see other in line to hear God say “I love you and I forgive you; go and sin no more you are set free of your sins.” What is easier to say, your sins are forgiven or to make rationalizations about our humanity? There were at least 5 priests hearing confessions during Vespers and down in the church hall during the music event. Tell me Confession isn’t being valued and utilized today! Go ahead, tell me there isn’t an awareness of grace and sin in the lives of the young people today!


adoration.jpgIf your measure of success is pure numbers, then it was a success. A very full church of people praying and be shrived is impressive on a Saturday night. That people come to religious ceremonies is a minor miracle in some people’s books. But the standard of judgment has to be different: the measure of “success” of a gesture such as Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament can’t rely on numbers but on sanctification. Questioning the success by numbers begs the question of participation and yet we all know that a person can participate in a religious event without opening he or her mouth. So, how can one measure how and if sanctification happens?


The other day I was reflecting on what happened at the Catholic Underground first by myself and later with a friend. Questions surfaced about the high level of emotions that exists among the participants. Perhaps one can say, “really!” In front of Holiness what else might there be? I knowing running through me there were the emotions of happiness, sadness, love, peace, anxiety, fear, etc. There seems to be much going on at the service: prayer -personal and congregational, conversion as evidenced by those standing in line for the sacrament of Confession, and prayerful companionship with others. Are the emotions of the participants being played by such events?


Another piece of this evaluation of the Catholic Underground is the catechetical side of the event. I wonder how all of our lives of faith can be strengthened, broadened and realized by a moment of catechesis. Perhaps our time with the exposed Eucharist is the right time for teaching the faith. I do have to wonder about the lack of catechetical materials available in the back of the Church or in the hall. Couldn’t the friars use the free materials from the Catholic Information Service (at the Knights of Columbus)? Surely Underground-ers would appreciate knowing about the print and audio materials available to better know their faith?


Catholic identity is fostered and deepened even though notions of identity may not be considered by the participants but participation in such things sets the participants apart from their secular and other religiously oriented friends. What do these people know about the faith? Are they conscious of the event of the Paschal Mystery? Are they aware that congregational praying builds a relationship with God and strengthens fraternal relations with those in attendance? What happens to this people from one Catholic Underground experience and the next Catholic Underground experience? How many come back in a given year?

CFRs.jpgOne thing is crystal clear: the credibility of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal is rock solid. There is no question in my mind that the friars are convicted by their encounter with Christ as Savior and the Church as sacrament. The friars, unlike so many other religious, are not ashamed by their faith in Christ, their religious profession and for those who are priests, their priesthood. AND that’s why the CFRs are getting vocations. In seeing the friars at work, I am trying to imagine a full complement of priests who really love their calling to be priests of Jesus Christ and a group of priests who are not afraid of being collaborators with the bishops in serving as priests for good of the Gospel and the Church. Is this too much to ask for? Of course, there are priests who love Christ, who love the Church and love being ordained, but they seem to be few in number.


In the post John Paul II pontificate and now in the Benedict XVI pontificate orthodoxy is a value by which you live and die. There are those who were once called “JPII Catholics” are now “B16 protagonists.” That is, looking at and following the example of Pope Benedict XVI you get the strong sense that a right-thinking, right-praying Catholic today is one who is making a difference the public and private squares.


That’s it for now.

First Friday: Devotion to the Cross & the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Thumbnail image for cross.jpgThe devotion to the Sacred Heart also reminds us that Jesus gave himself “with all his heart,” that is gladly and with enthusiasm. So we are told that good is to be done with joy, because “there is more joy in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35) and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Nevertheless that does not derive from a simple human intention but is a grace that Christ himself gains for us, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that makes all things easy and sustains us on our daily path, in trials and difficulties also. (Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., 30 Days, August 2006)

Inflamed with the love of Christ: Saint Bernard of Clairvaulx


Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,

always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.


Christ is the Word
whom Saint Bernard held in the silence of his heart;
Christ is the Bridegroom
whom he desired with all the ardor of his soul;
Christ is the Son of the Virgin Mary
whose sweetness was his comfort and delight.


In the holy abbot Bernard you have given your Church
a teacher in the school of charity,
a prophet burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit,
a poet to sing the praises of the Virgin Mother,
a servant of unity and peace.

Even today, his words fill us with wonder,
inflame us with longing for the wedding of the Lamb,
and inspire us to sing your praise with joy.


Therefore, with the angels and the great company of saints,
we exalt your glory forever.


(Preface of the Mass of Saint Bernard)

The Pattern of the Church’s Perfection: Mary Sets the Standard

In a Georgian Hymnal we see a verse of a hymn which reads:


You went forth from the world,
O virgin Theotokos,
to the eternal light.


The sacred Liturgy bases its Marian Theology on the biblical images of Mary as the “New Eve,” the
Assumption Murrillo.jpg“Beloved of the Bridegroom,” the “Ark of the Covenant,” and the “Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven.” From what we read in sacred Scripture to what we know by sacred Tradition, Mary remains the mother of mystery. Our Catholic belief is that Mary was raised up body and soul and sits in heaven with the Blessed Trinity. But was she raised up like Enoch (Genesis 5:24) or Elijah (2 King 3:11)? When Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary as a dogma of the Faith in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, he deliberately left the question open, saying that Mary was assumed after “having completed the course of her earthly life.” Later, Pope John Paul II said that he believes Mary, like her Son, experienced the “human drama of death.” Perhaps Saint John of Damascus says it best:  “As the Mother of the living God, she goes through death to Him. For if God said: ‘Unless the first man put out his hand to take and taste of the tree of life, he shall live forever,’ how shall she, who received the Life Himself, without beginning or end, or finite vicissitudes, not live forever.”


Looking at the consistent teaching and liturgical observance of the fact of the Assumption it is clear that the Church, East and West, has believed from the earliest days that Mary shared in her Son’s dramatic victory over death by conquering death. The Apostle Paul and the prophet Isaiah called this fact “the swallowing up of death.” AND this is a reason for our Hope. 


Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters reject this feast as idolatry, missing what Pope
dormition.jpgPius said about the divine truth revealed in the Assumption: In Mary, Mothers of God, we know, “to what lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined.” The Church, therefore, prays at Mass this collect:


Almighty and Eternal God, You Who assumed the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of Your Son, body and soul into heavenly glory, grant, we beseech You, that, always intent on higher things, we may merit to be sharers in her glory.

And the Preface


Since today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven
as the beginning and pattern of your Church’s perfection
and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people,
For justly you would not allow her
to see the corruption of the tomb,
because from her own flesh she brought forth ineffably
your incarnate Son, the author of all life.

(Draft 2006 I.C.E.L. Translation)

Blessing of Herbs on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessing of Herbs and Flowers in Honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


After the Asperges if it is a Sunday, otherwise immediately before Mass, the priest, standing before the altar and facing the people who hold the sheaves of new grain, garden vegetables, flowers and new herbs and the finest fruits of their orchards in their hands, says in a clear voice:


P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.


Pray Psalm 64


P: Glory be to the Father.

All: As it was in the beginning.

P: The Lord will be gracious.

All: And our land will bring forth its fruit.


P: You water the mountains from the clouds.

All: The earth is replenished from your rains.


P: Giving grass for cattle.

All: And plants for the benefit of man.


P: You bring wheat from the earth.

All: And wine to cheer man’s heart.

P: Oil to make his face lustrous.

All: And bread to strengthen his heart.

P: He utters a command and heals their suffering.

All: And snatches them from distressing want.

P: O Lord, hear my prayer.

All: And let my cry come unto you.

P: The Lord be with you.

All: And with your spirit.


Let us pray.

Almighty everlasting God, who by your word alone brought into being the

Herbs.jpgheavens, earth, sea, things seen and things unseen, and garnished the earth with plants and trees for the use of man and beast; who appointed each species to bring forth fruit in its kind, not only for the food of living creatures, but for the healing of sick bodies as well; with mind and word we urgently call on you in your great kindness to bless + these various herbs and fruits, thus increasing their natural powers with the newly given grace of your blessing. May they keep away disease and adversity from men and beasts who use them in your name; through Christ our Lord.


All: Amen.


Let us pray. God, who through Moses, your servant, directed the children of Israel to carry their sheaves of new grain to the priests for a blessing, to pluck the finest fruits of the orchard, and to make merry before you, the Lord their God; hear our supplications, and shower blessings + in abundance upon us and upon these bundles of new grain, new herbs, and this assortment of produce which we gratefully present to you on this festival, blessing + them in your name. Grant that men, cattle, flocks, and beasts of burden find in them a remedy against sickness, pestilence, sores, injuries, spells, against the fangs of serpents or poisonous creatures. May these blessed objects be a protection against

assumption El greco.jpgdiabolical mockery, cunning, and deception wherever they are kept, carried, or otherwise used. Lastly, through the merits of the blessed Virgin Mary, whose Assumption we are celebrating, may we all, laden with the sheaves of good works, deserve to be taken up to heaven; through Christ our Lord.


 All: Amen.


Let us pray. God, who on this day raised up to highest heaven the rod of Jesse, the Mother of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that by her prayers and patronage you might communicate to our mortal nature the fruit of her womb, your very Son; we humbly implore you to help us use these fruits of the soil for our temporal and everlasting welfare, aided by the power of your Son and the prayers of His glorious Mother; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.


And may the blessing of almighty God, Father, Son, + and Holy Spirit, come upon these creatures and remain always.


All: Amen.


They are sprinkled with holy water and incensed.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
coat of arms



Humanities Blog Directory