At the door

At The Door

A Parable of 3 Men

A man comes to your door. He tells you that he wants to come in and stay with your family.

You do not know him. He is a stranger. Persisting, he explains that he has told everybody about you. Yet, he has not met you personally. Of course, you send him away.

A man comes to your door. He tells you that he wants to come in and stay with your family.

You recognize him as a friend. You want to throw your arms around him and welcome him — but there is a problem. Despite your love for him, he has arrived dirty and unsuitable to enter your spotless home. You have him shower and put on clean clothes. He is now prepared to join the others and you warmly embrace him.

A man comes to your door. He tells you that he wants to come in and stay with your family.

You recognize him as a friend. Unlike the second man, he is fully prepared to join the feast. For him, the door is opened quickly and he is welcomed warmly into the home.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

So it is with Heaven.

The First Man

The first man does not know the Lord. He may know about our Lord, but does not have a personal relationship with Him. He did not choose to build one. Had he done so, he could have known our Lord and His will. Perhaps he was uninterested or too busy…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’

Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

The Second Man

The second man knows the Lord! He has been “in regular contact” – praying, listening and obeying, although imperfectly so. When he came before the throne of the Lord, he was not completely ready. As he presented himself, he was not perfect but carried the scars of sin. Yet he came in God’s friendship, free of mortal sin. In God’s mercy he is cleansed by the fire of Purgatory until he too is perfect.

“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.

but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.

The Third Man

The third man knows the Lord AND is ready to meet him! His heart is already pure and the beatific vision awaits him.

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

Which one are you?

  1. Do you know the real Christ or have you fashioned a version of Him to your liking?
  2. Do you text, e-mail and call other people more often than you pray?
  3. Are your prayers in charity or are they selfish?
  4. Do you make a sincere effort to seek God’s will and listen for His voice?

Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD – but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake – but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire – but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.

When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah?

Liturgical vestments

Liturgical Vestments 2015.02.24 Liturgical Vestments.Jpg

One area of study I have ignored during the 5 years since my conversion is liturgical vestments. There is so much to learn that until now, I have given this area a very low priority. At some point however, in conversation with others, I have to stop describing the things priests or deacons wear and use their actual names. It gets to be embarrassing otherwise!

I was going to make some notes for myself, but decided that you might be interested too. Hence, this post. Please note that this is only the basics. There is a huge amount of variety by rite and somewhat by country and diocese. Proper vesting also varies by rank (for lack of a better word, e.g. priest, monsignor, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, pope) and by ceremonial usage. This should cover most common usage that you will see in your US Latin Rite parish.


The basic building block of the vestments is the alb (meaning “white” from the Latin Albus). It is that white, floor-length tunic which is under the other parts. It looks like this:

Vestments Alb
The Alb

The alb is worn by priests, deacons and lay ministers. It is derived from the ordinary clothing of Romans in the first century.

A shorter version of the alb is the surplice, plain or adorned by lace. You might recognize it worn over a black cassock (see next) in choir dress or by seminarians at Mass. There are other forms (e.g. rochet for prelates) and usages. It looks like this:

Vestments Surplice
The Surplice


Backing up, priests and deacons often wear a black clerical shirt with matching pants, belt, socks and shoes. This dress does not have a fancy name, but is usually referred to as simply “clerics” or “clerical clothing.”

A less common alternative to this is the cassock (meaning “ankle-length garment from the Latin vestis talaris; a/k/a a soutane). Jesuits, for example, wear simple black cassocks. It looks like this:

Vestments Cassock
The Cassock (plain and with bishop’s piping, cape and cincture)

Like the alb, the cassock also dates back to first century Roman tunics. It can be black or white (in warm climates) and usually features a built-in collar and top-to-bottom row of buttons (sometimes 33). It may also be worn with a shoulder cape (formally a pellegrina) and colored piping, depending on rank. It can be worn by non-clerics and is the basis for habits worn by the consecrated religious.


This you quickly recognize. It comes from the Latin stola (meaning “garment”) and is a long wide cloth worn around the neck. Deacons and priests wear it differently, thus:

Vestments Stoles
Deacon and Priest Stoles

The stole is worn over the alb (or the shorter surplice, depending on use) and its color matched to the liturgical season, feast or special Mass. It can also be worn over clerics outside of Mass (e.g. a purple stole worn by the priest at confession).


Chasuble (meaning “little house” from the Latin casula) is the outermost body garment. It is layered over the stole and alb. It looks like this:

Vestments Chasuble
The Chasuble (for priests)

The chasuble is worn by priests only at Mass or other sacred actions connected to a Mass. It is derived from traveling coats worn at the end of the Roman empire. Like the stole, its color is liturgically keyed.


Like the chasuble, the dalmatic is worn over stoles and albs. It is similarly ornamented and colored and at a glance may appear to be the same. It’s not and it is important to know the difference because of who wears each. Unlike the chasuble, the dalmatic has wide sleeves, customarily with a slit under each in a scapular style (although not always). Additionally, the dalmatic typically has 2 stripes which run from hem to hem over the shoulders with 2 cross stripes connecting them. It looks like this:

Vestments Dalmatic
The Dalmatic (for deacons)

While only priests wear chasubles, only deacons wear dalmatics. Except on special uses where a bishop wears a dalmatic under his chasuble (confusing, huh?). One final note, in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Tridentine), the dalmatics worn by subdeacons are distinguished from those of deacons by having only 1 cross stripe (vs. 2 for deacons). These dalmatics are also known as tunicles and of course, subdeacons (constituted but not ordained) do not wear stoles under them.

Other Stuff


Braided cords, white or keyed to the liturgical color, tied around the waist with knotted or tasseled ends hanging on the side. These can also be wider bands as worn by bishops. It looks like this:

Vestments Cincture
Cincture (around waist)


Cope (meaning “cape,” from the Latin cappa) is easily recognized as an long cape draped over the shoulders, open in front and worn over other vestments. It looks like this:

Vestments Cope
The Cope

The cope is worn by priests during special Solemnities and Eucharistic adoration.

Humeral Veil

A special garment worn briefly by priests and deacons during the blessing, while grasping a monstrance at the end of adoration of the blessed sacrament. It looks like this:

Vestments Humeral Veil
The Humeral Veil


A biretta (from the Latin biretum, birretum) is a square cap with 3 “peaks” (in a square, the corner without a peak is worn to the left). They are black (for priests and lower rank), amaranth (reddish rose) for bishops and scarlet red for cardinals. Tufts (poms) are on top except for cardinals. Bishops have purple tufts and some Vatican priests have red tufts, but most are black. It looks like this.

Vestments Biretta
The Biretta

The biretta is worn by all ranks below pope to subdeacons and seminarians.

Bishop Stuff


Those “pointy hats” worn by bishops. It looks like this:

Vestments Mitre
The Mitre


The skull cap worn by prelates (i.e. pope and bishops). See picture below.

Pectoral Cross

A large cross worn on a chain or cord by bishops. It looks like this:

Vestments Pectoral Cross And Zucchetto
Pectoral Cross and Zucchetto (Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone)

Concluding Notes

This list is not exhaustive, but covers common vestments you will see. Other vestments include the maniple, amice, pallium, ferula, pontifical gloves and sandals, galero, camauro, fanon, mozzetta, papal tiara, subcinctorium, falda, etc. Still other additional vestments apply to Eastern Rite Catholic churches. Much more can be said about each item listed on its use, history and symbolism.

I also did not address in any detail when these vestments can be worn and in what combinations. There is a lot of tradition here and for many cases, the requirements are detailed in the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal). Some things are debatable (e.g. wearing a maniple in the OF Mass).

Also note that clergy sometime fill a different liturgical role than that of their rank. For example, priests sometimes serve and dress as deacons when they are not concelebrating or deacons in choir dress acting as master of ceremonies. You are most likely to see this kind of thing (when useful, if at all) for a Mass celebrated by your bishop. Generally, if you see someone wearing a chasuble they are a priest; if they are wearing a dalmatic then they are a deacon.

Lastly, this piece did not touch on similarly rich non-vestment liturgical items such as the crucifix (OK, that one is easy), tabernacle, sanctuary lamp (tabernacle lamp), ambo, altar, missal (sacramentary), breviary, lectionary, the Roman Ritual / Roman Pontifical / Roman Martyrology / Roman Gradual, crosier, processional cross, processional candles, paschal candle, font, chalice, ciborium, host, paten, cruets, credence table, thurible (censer) and boat, incense, aspersory and aspergillum (aspergill), monstrance (ostensorium or ostensory) and its luna, pyx, chalice veil, purificatior (mundatory or purificatory), pall, finger towels, corporal, burse, etc. You can see why I didn’t get into all that here!

God’s house

Annunciation Catholic Church, Brazil, IN

Last night before dusk, I was a few minutes early at church. A number of small children were leaving CCD (a/k/a religious education class) and posing for pictures in front of our patron saint’s statue while holding some formal-looking certificate. The children were proud of their accomplishment (whatever it was) and the parents were beaming.

What a happy place! If we think about it, we realize that all of the really important milestones of our lives take place right here at this building. Yet this building is quite different than every other. It is God’s house and He is at home.

This is where we come to unite with Him in His once and for all sacrifice which continues for us to this day. Here we join with Him both spiritually and incarnated in the Blessed Sacrament, the source and summit of the Christian life. It is not just the two of us either, but all the faithful: past, present and future. At this place our Eucharistic liturgy joins with the Heavenly liturgy, in the presence of God, together with all the angels and saints. If ever the word “awesome” could be applied, this is it.

The rhythm of our lives plays-out here. The picture taking I witnessed is just a memorable snapshot of a long series, in the lives of those children and in the lives of their parents. For each of them this journey began at their baptisms where they became the adopted children of God, establishing a familial relationship with Him and the entire Communion of Saints.

As the weeks and years pass, we live our imperfect lives, anchored by faith and our continuous response to the calls of conversion and holiness. In a world searching for the meaning of life, we found it — to know, love and serve the Lord. The truth really does set us free. Seeking to know Him, we serve the poor, connect to the disenfranchised, comfort the suffering, go to Bible studies, classes, men’s and women’s groups, retreats, read scripture and pray…   most especially through our participation in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is there that the bridegroom and His bride the Church are most intimately one in their expression of mutual love. It is from there we are sent into the world to serve Him.

The timeline marches on but we are not afraid. Along the way we are continuously strengthened by the sanctifying grace of the sacraments. The young children in the pictures will soon receive first communion. A little later, they will be confirmed, with new graces complimenting their baptisms and further forming their office as priests, prophets and kings. In a few years, many will also enter into a life-long covenant with another through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It will be they who are then behind the camera taking pictures of their own children.

Along the way, our fallen nature allows us to choose against what is good, true and holy. We temporarily leave this place for one of false promises. Our rebellion may be brief or many decades. The Father waits patiently for us to return and the angels rejoice when we finally turn back. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus absolves and forgets our sins, throwing His loving arms around us and welcomes us home.

Eventually, the race will end. We will be gone, temporarily, from our body. Our loved ones will bring us here one last time as the cycle for us is completed. Later that day a new life may be brought into the Church, a couple may become one, or a brother or sister find their way back.

That is what happens here everyday in God’s house, this Catholic church and every Catholic church. We are so blessed.

Friday penance

Friday Penance

The modern Catholic Church in America has changed from customs and teaching of 50 years ago, often to its detriment. Not doctrine, of course, but in some important discipline, practices and traditions. This is not without harm to the Body of Christ. Friday penance is one such example.

What is penance?

Penance is an expression of repentance. It is a means to repair the temporal effects of sin, for us and in behalf of others, reducing the cleansing necessary in purgatory. For non-Catholics who may be reading this, it has nothing to do with forgiveness. Completely forgiven sins leave a trail of damage in their wake and in justice must be addressed (sooner or later).

Friday is set aside as a special day in remembrance of the suffering and death of our Lord. Practicing Friday penance reminds us of this, pleases God, brings us closer to Him and at least partially atones for the effects of sin. It is an act of humility, surrendering what we prefer (not to perform penance) to what God prefers. It is seeking and yielding to His will.

Penance can take several forms such as abstinence from things we like, fasting, prayers, or performing acts of charity. Friday penance has traditionally been abstinence from meat. If you already abstained from meat for some other reason (vegetarian, health, etc.) then some other form would be indicated.

Are we required to abstain from meat on Friday?

Friday penance is the universal norm of the Church.

That said, it saddens me to acknowledge that we Americans do not have to abstain from meat or perform any other act of penance on Friday. Many people therefore do not, give it no thought at all, or assume it was an outdated / unnecessary practice. That is a mistake.

How we got to this sad state of affairs is complicated. Canon law states:

Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless (nisi) they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Canon 1251

That seems clear enough in intent, requiring abstinence from meat unless the conference of bishops prescribe something else — which they presumably would do for good cause. The USCCB did this, but with complex wording, approved by Rome, which has the unfortunate effect of making Friday penance optional. For Americans, it is therefore not technically required and not a sin to ignore it. If you are interested in the legalities of this, Jimmy Akin has a good explanation here and here.

Officially, the USCCB strongly urges us to abstain from meat or perform some other act of penance on Friday. This is for our own good and the good of Holy Mother Church. Unofficially, this is never spoken of. While converting, I never heard a peep about this. Subsequently, I never heard a peep about this in homilies, Diocesan newspapers, or any other official channel. Very few people seem to know of the USCCB’s strong admonition to observe Friday penance. The vast majority of folks seem to believe it was “completely done away with.”

Unfortuante and wrong in my opinion. “Rules” which so many deride, are for the good of the faithful to help the greatest number possible get to heaven. That is the mission of the Church on earth. Making this optional, through what is in effect a legal sleight of hand, is counter-productive.

BTW this is another example of the “spirit” of Vatican II. That is, not in Vatican II at all but done anyway. The 1966 USCCB document says “In summary, let it not be said that by this action, implementing the spirit of renewal coming out of the Council, we have abolished Friday, repudiated the holy traditions of our fathers, or diminished the insistence of the Church on the fact of sin and the need for penance.” Yet, that is EXACTLY what has happened.

Now what?

Follow the universal norm and observe Friday penance by (for most of us) abstaining from meat. Do it for your own good and the good of the Church. Start now. Set an example for your family, friends and other parishioners. Ask them to join you and tell them why.

Pray that the USCCB learns from this giant mistake. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while president of the USCCB in 2012, wrote: “The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent.” While the USCCB has yet to do this, the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, who were in the same situation as us, has done so. Friday penance is reinstituted there.

Francis: style, substance, execution

Francis Style Substance Execution

I have written very little about Pope Francis since he was elected to the See of Peter 18 months ago. I, like so many others, have been and remain somewhat confused. There are already so many things written about him, what he has said, what he has done and what he is trying to do. There should be little to add – except, that so much of what has been said is so terribly contradictory.

How to make sense of it all? I propose, gentle reader, that it may be helpful to understand the Holy Father in a framework of three areas: style, substance and execution.


Obviously enough, every pope has a different personal style. These are very different men with different backgrounds, education, experience and focus. Recent popes in particular have also been from different cultures and native languages. Except for a very small handful during the Middle Ages (less than 10 “bad popes” – out of 266), the Church has been blessed by extraordinary, but of course imperfect, men.

I do not believe for a second that Pope Francis is more humble, or cares more about the poor, or wants to center the Church on Christ even one iota greater than his predecessors. When I read anything that suggests that, I know it is not only completely wrong, but incredibly insulting to previous popes and thus the Church herself. I understand how some people, particularly the media, twists things in this way to further their own agenda.

That said, I believe that the Holy Spirit may have given us Pope Francis as the pope we need at this time. His style is suited well to highlighting what I believe are two areas in which we collectively need to rededicate ourselves.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Pope Francis asks us to look outward, renewing and reinvigorating our mission. He wants our message to be one of peace and joy in Christ, which is sometimes lost when we lead with rules, liturgy and the like. The Holy Father is right! We are well advised to keep this foremost in our evangelism efforts.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

The second area in which Pope Francis wishes to strengthen is our commitment to the poor. That is, the second part of the Greatest Commandment: “love your neighbor.” In our relatively comfortable lives, the needs of the poor can seem distant. The Holy Father reminds us that the poor are always with us and of our responsibility to these brothers and sisters.

The Holy Father’s “messaging” centers around these two areas. We do well to listen, reflect and act accordingly.


Pope Francis describes himself as a “loyal son of the Church.” Put another way, the pope is a faithful Catholic. Duh.

There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that the pope will change doctrine. This will (eventually) come as a shock to the politicized media, to some non-Catholics and to poorly catechized Catholics.

Even if Pope Francis wanted to change doctrine, which he certainly does not (and would be heretical), he could not. Nor is he free to play games with it like keeping certain doctrines “technically on the books” but diminished and ignored in practice. These are revealed truths from God (ref: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”). The Church protects the truth, does not “evolve” it, and exists to change the world, not be changed by it.


Unless you believe there is a brilliant, intricate, long-term plan to which virtually the whole world has not caught on — then you would have to concede that there have been serious problems in this area!

The Holy Father has often spoken vaguely leaving us confused with what he is trying to say. Knowing he is a faithful (orthodox) Catholic, we put a meaning on the words such that they are consistent with doctrine and 2,000 years of Magisterial teaching. The media and heterodox Catholics assign a completely different, often opposite meaning. It seems that the pope has a policy never to clarify what he meant. Confusion reigns.

Another problem area is some in his “inner circle” who claim to be speaking for him, often with alarming pronouncements. This too seems to be tolerated without any objection from the Holy Father or requiring any retraction. Confusion reigns.

Another area is seemingly intractable systemic problems, such as the string of translation “errors” and unapproved, highly slanted information releases. These lapses always tilt toward the heterodox, seem to continue unabated and…   confusion reigns.

Finally, there is the issue of discipline. Those proposing and promoting heterodoxy, from all appearances (which admittedly could be misleading) are usually tolerated. Those affirming orthodoxy appear to often be unjustly disciplined (again, appearances could be wrong). Cardinal Burke’s reassignment may be one such example. The extremely severe treatment of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate may be another. There are plenty of other examples. How much Pope Francis is involved in these matters or how much he defers to that inner circle is unknown. The result is chilling however to many faithful Catholics.

The Future

A tremendous amount of good can come from Pope Francis’ pontificate. Fallen away Catholics and non-Catholics could be brought home. The mission of the Church to save souls could be fulfilled to the highest degree possible.

Alternately, a lot of bad could result if doctrine, while left “technically” unchanged, is diminished, reworded, reinterpreted or otherwise skirted to give heterodoxy a place in the Church. Scandal, by definition, does not save souls but leads them away from Christ. Only truth sets one free.

Frankly, it is unclear to me which path we are on. We must continue to pray for Pope Francis, his intentions and his leadership. May he one day be known as Pope St. Francis the Great!

UPDATE: A recent piece in the Catholic Herald by William Oddie quotes Cardinal Francis George expressing a similar perspective. See The Pope really needs to answer Cardinal George’s questions.