He only shuts up when he is writing!
From the Pastor: My 10 Year Anniversary
My 10 year anniversary is coming up this week. Ten years of “what” you ask? Ten years of celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass. On September 27, 2007, the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, I took the plunge. That Thursday evening, after 3 days of trying desperately to learn how to celebrate the Mass in its ancient form, I stood in front of the altar of St. Rita parish, with dozens of people who had my back in more ways than one, and began, “In nomine Patris, ✠ et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Introibo ad altare Dei.” I was sweating bullets. 11 years before that date, I celebrated my first Mass after my ordination to the priesthood in the only form of the Mass I ever experienced growing up, the Novus Ordo Missae, or New Order of Mass, as Pope Paul VI had termed it. I was excited but not nervous for that first NO Mass. The Novus Ordo Mass took very little preparation. We never even had to pass a test at the seminary to see if we could celebrate it properly, as the old priests liked to tell us they had to do. It was that easy. But the “new-to-me” old Mass was another matter altogether. [In fact, I once (long before I knew anything about the TLM) was told by an elderly priest how easy we “kids” had it. Back in his day, he proclaimed, it took a real man to be an altar server, let alone a priest. Nowadays, he half-jokingly insisted, a trained monkey could celebrate the Mass (Novus Ordo) and an untrained monkey could serve it! Several years ago I wrote a bulletin column in which I included that quip and mentioned that it took me years to completely understand what he was talking about. It is one of a number of bulletin articles for which I was called down to the bishop’s office for a chewing out, for some anonymous petty fellow priest had whined that I had hurt his feelings by passing on that story. Wah, wah, wah.]
Anyway, my first TLM scared the daylights out of me. As I wrote a few months ago, the permission and duty for pastors to celebrate the TLM if asked to do so by the faithful came out in July of 2007, through the document Summorum Pontificum. In August I finally agreed to celebrate it, once every other priest in the area, each of whom grew up with the TLM, said that they would not. Training for the Mass at that time was just beginning to get organized and would not be available for at least a few more months, so I was in no hurry. But Monday, September 24, I got tipped off that if I was ever going to be “allowed” to celebrate it, I had to do so before Monday, October 1, one week away. That put the giddy-up in my horse. I didn’t want to have a Sunday Mass be the first (worst) time I celebrated it, and the only day I could fit an extra daily Mass into the parish schedule was Thursday evening. I had three days to prepare.
The first thing I discovered was that I couldn’t figure out which Mass to celebrate. Different liturgical calendars! Who knew? I called the FSSP parish in Sarasota and asked for help. Fr. Fryar choked when I told him my plans, but, after hearing the reasons for the quick study, he told me where to find both the Thursday and Sunday Masses and immediately sent me his own Ordo (the book telling priests which Mass to celebrate each day). He was a lifesaver many times after that, too! I already had a package from the SSPX with a training videotape, a booklet explaining the priests postures, gestures and movements, and some simple altar cards to practice with. When something is needed desperately, it often seems to malfunction. I probably don’t have to mention that the video would not play! So I concentrated on the written rubrics. Too many to remember! The priest holds his hands this way, then that way, bends this far then that far, moves here then there while doing this or not doing that, and so on... Plus, though the booklet had those rubrics in English, in the altar Missal they are only in Latin! I had to devise shorthand symbols to insert into the Missal so that I would know what to do and when to do it and how to do it without taking the time during Mass to mentally translate the Latin into English. I practiced with some altar boys (trained men). It was terrible but informative. I found out that St. John Cantius parish in Chicago had instructional videos posted online and watched them over and over on my computer, moving from one side of the desk to the other as if it were the altar as I imitated what was on the screen. I stuck sticky notes everywhere in the Missal. I went over it and over it. Even at night I dreamt about rubrics. September 27 came too quickly for comfort and yet brought the relief of “time to do or die”. It wasn’t perfect, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Ten years later it still doesn’t come easy but it doesn’t frighten me anymore. I am truly blessed.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Irma: Eventful but not Terrible
Hurricane Irma, the Category 5 monstrosity which was poised to wipe all of Florida off the map after causing untold destruction throughout the many small islands to the southeast of us, has come and gone. Thank you all for the many prayers you offered up during the week before the storm, for without them, I am sure that this would have been much, much worse. As I write, electricity is being restored throughout the area and I am getting reports from parishioners about how little damage was done where they live. We only lost electricity at the parish for just under 24 hours. My mom’s house was without it for another day. As I write, many of you don’t have power yet. Hopefully, by the time you read this everything is back to normal. Actually, I hope and pray that everything is better than normal. We all had a chance, due to panic, to determine what we cherish the most, to contact those to whom we are closest or most concerned about, we had time to look at our own mortality and, hopefully, repent of all our sins, beseech forgiveness from both God and man, and make a firm amendment to improve our relationship with God Almighty and His children. “We all” is not “you” personally, though. Did you do it? Did you pray? Did you ask for pardon and peace? Did you give any to those who asked it of you? To quote either Winston Churchill or Rahm Emanuel, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste!” Fr. Dorvil quipped recently, “If the people put the same preparation into their eternal life as they did into preparation for Irma, we would all be Saints!”
Sitting through the hurricane at Epiphany was different than what I have experienced in any other hurricane, in that this one came with a crowded rectory. We hosted more than a dozen people here. MacDill Air Force Base evacuated all of the Americans but forgot about the foreign soldiers stationed there. One of them, a French Colonel, regularly attends the TLM at Epiphany. He approached me with a humble request that his group be put up in the classrooms. Instead, I invited them into the rectory, which would be more comfortable and certainly safer than the classrooms with the large back windows. More than a dozen showed up, along with a French reporter who was on assignment to see how this was affecting the troops. None of them had experienced a hurricane before and all they knew was what the TV was telling them. “Danger! Death! Doom!” The reporter was quite scared and didn’t quite believe my words about not having anything to worry about because we had been praying for it to change course or dissipate. “Then why did it change course from hitting Miami to coming this way?” Because someone asked me to pray that her not-ready-spiritually-for-death son in Miami would be spared until he was ready for what we call a “happy death”, that is, one in the state of grace. “Would God really change a hurricane just for one person?” Yes. Plain and simple. Yes. I am not taking credit for the storm’s path or its relatively weak power, for I am just one priest who got one parish to pray, yet I am certain that our prayers were heard and answered. Do we get full credit? Half credit? 1/1000 of 1% credit? It doesn’t matter. Figuring such things out is beyond my ability. But the storm was averted, the son’s life was spared, and the power when it hit here was nothing like what it was supposed to be.
Fr. Peter had made an open invitation to any members of St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission who needed shelter to come to the parish center. Then, like a magician, he disappeared. A group of his parishioners took him up on his offer and brought their families to camp out in the hall. I went back and forth between the buildings checking up on them occasionally. They were as happy and calm as those in the rectory. The former pastor’s sister was going to sleep in the rectory, but after just a short time here decided that staying in the hall would be more fun, as she doesn’t speak either English or French. Another Vietnamese family showed up very late and didn’t bring sleeping bags, so two of the men came through the driving wind and rain to get some spare bedding from our closets. Share and share alike. There was plenty of food and drink and floor space in both places, plus good people to share it with.
Monday morning everyone was still sleeping so I didn’t celebrate the 6:30 Mass but about a dozen of our refugees were awake and ready for Mass at eight. There was no electricity, but with the help of candles and a “liturgical head lamp” a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated with much rejoicing. Adoration and confession followed as normal and then everyone cleaned up and left, going to either their home or the Base. All in all, it was not a bad way to spend the weekend! I continue to add the Prayers of Thanksgiving at the Masses and I ask that you do something similar, too. We should always thank God as much as we petition Him!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: No Joking About Aunt Irma This Week
This week as I write my column, Hurricane Irma is a powerful storm churning away in the Atlantic and bearing down on Florida. As is my usual response when a hurricane strike is predicted to be imminent, I turned to the back of the Missal to find the Mass to Avert Storms. This is the first time I have celebrated it in the Traditional Latin Mass form because, thanks be to God, it has been many years since we were in danger of a direct hit. (In case you didn’t realize it, I have only been celebrating the TLM almost exclusively for only two years now. Before this latest assignment to make Epiphany “Tampa’s Center for the Traditional Latin Mass” I only celebrated it as a very small part of parish life in my most recent previous two assignments.) All other times I have celebrated the Mass to Avert Storms, it has been in the Novus Ordo old translation form. In the old Sacramentary (what the Missal was called) there was only one prayer that was used for the Mass. In place of the Opening Prayer (called the Collect in the TLM) was this: “Father, all the elements of nature obey your command. Calm the storms that threaten us and turn our fear of your power into praise of your goodness. Grant this through our Lord...”
That’s a pretty simple prayer, asking God to ”calm” rather than “avert” storms, yet it worked. During the twenty-one years I have been a priest, I cannot tell you how many tropical storms or hurricanes were predicted to possibly hit the Diocese of St. Petersburg and, after the Mass to Avert Storms was celebrated, passed us by. Those that did come through were not too bad. (That statement could cause cringing for those who did experience serious damage or hurt, but overall they did relatively little damage.) Every time I prayed that Mass, though, I had parishioners who thought that if the prayers “worked” and the storm changed track, then I was (or God was) responsible for any death and destruction wherever it did hit. It is amazing how wimpy we have become! Just as few today want to pray for their sports team to win (for that means that they are praying for the other team to lose--yet isn’t that an authentic desire and, thus, an honest prayer request?) so also those same people fail to trust even the wisdom of the Mass prayers made available by Holy Mother Church.
Anyway, I am writing this with faith that, even though Irma is a powerful category 5 storm, it will not hit here. Where will it hit? Perhaps in a place where no priest offered the Mass to Avert Storm? Really, it all comes down to God telling us to have faith, to ask for the things we want and that are good for us (as far as we can tell), and to trust Him no matter how He answers. By the time this is printed and you read it, Irma will either have hit us hard, causing much sick, derisive laughter among those who have no faith in what I just wrote, or will have hit somewhere else for whatever reason God allowed, or will have completely and unexpectedly dissipated into thin air to the bewilderment of all the meteorologists. Any way it goes, I have faith that God heard our prayers here this week and is answering in whichever way is best for us. And no, that is not a cop out. I fully expect that we will not experience a direct hit nor have tremendous damage even if affected by its wind and/or rain.
In the TLM, the Mass to Avert Storms has three prayers which together make a humble yet quite bold plea of petition, thankfulness for His blessings, and filial trust in our Loving Father. The Collect is: “We beseech Thee, O Lord, that all wickedness being driven away from Thy house, the fury of the raging tempest may pass away. Through our Lord Jesus Christ...” The Secret is: “We offer Thee, O Lord, our praises and gifts, giving thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us and ever humbly praying that they may be continued towards us. Through our Lord...” And the Post Communion prayer is: “O almighty and everlasting God, who by chastening dost heal us and by forgiving dost preserve us, grant that we Thy suppliants may rejoice in the peace and consolation which we desire, and ever enjoy the gift of Thy mercy. Through our Lord...” Not too bad, huh?
We will also have prayed, after the daily Masses, prayers from the Traditional Rituale Romanum, “A Procession to Avert Storms”. Within these prayers, we explicitly admit that we don’t deserve to avoid the destruction wrought by storms, yet we beg for that gift anyway as we invoke the powerful intercessory prayers of the Saints in Heaven. It ends with the acknowledgment that, should He give us chastisements from the storm, it would bring us healing and salvation, yet our prayer is that we would profit even more by accepting His mercy! When we take these prayers to heart, we certainly come out of this as victors in Christ Jesus.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Buy a Priest a Beer Day
Can you believe that “Buy a Priest a Beer Day” is already here? It doesn’t seem like a full year has passed since we last celebrated this feast, yet there it is on the calendar, Saturday, September 9. Not too many people pay attention to this feast day anymore, though it can be found on the calendars of almost all priests, whether they are young or old, Traditional or Novus Oddo, orthodox or heretical, working or retired. I suppose more people would pay attention to it if they knew more about how it came to be an annual feast. So go pop yourself open a cold one and let me give some of the details of this ancient legend.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a large community of Tappist Monks. They were good, holy men who lived a life of prayer in the solitude of their monastery. They took their vows very seriously and, due to their well deserved reputation for solid Catholicism, they were bursting at the seams as more and more men asked to join the order. Even with a vow of poverty, though, they had to find a way to feed and clothe not only themselves but also those who passed by in need. They also needed funds to build beautiful chapels and hold beautiful liturgies for the glory of God. They needed, in short, to pay the bills. So they had to devise a plan to provide an income. Other religious communities had already discovered, patented, trademarked, and copy-rited their own means of supporting themselves.
The Holy Doublecross Fathers opened universities. They had a competition between the administrators and the professors as to who could bring in the most money. The administrators constantly sought to keep the tuition as high as possible to make it seem like they had a quality product yet low enough that they didn’t have refund too much in the form of scholarships when the token poor kids enrolled. The professors, on the other hand, simply required that their own exceedingly overpriced scrolls, and parchments (and, later, books) be purchased for their own class, and each semester they revised it and mandated that only the “new and improved” version be used. In recent days, football has emerged... no, I had best leave that for another time and, for now, stick to the ancient days.
The Tomdickandharrians simply boasted of their poverty. They put on ragged habits, got bad haircuts, and told everyone how they were simple men of the earth. They really didn’t do much of anything as far as anyone could tell, except boast of their humility and lack of money. But by proclaiming that they could not possibly, under any circumstances at all, with absolutely no exceptions, accept even a penny from anyone at any time, for any reason, amassed a fortune so large that even God could not count it.
The Jezabelwits took yet another approach. They opened retreat centers and preached missions to raise their needed funds. To gain some credibility in this arena, they first forced their men to spend a dozen or so years studying to the point of embracing every ancient heresy before being ordained priests. This had two specifically intended consequences. First, their priests got the reputation of being extremely well educated, since it took so long for them to graduate seminary. Second, and even more importantly, having a Heretical Masters Degree allowed them the opportunity to cater their monetary appeals to not only Catholics who were suckered in by the appearance of scholarship, but also to the Catholic-in-name-only (baptized pagans, as they have recently been labeled) persons who were more than happy to send a lot money to any priest giving them cover for denigrating Church teachings while retaining the promise of Heaven.
The Tappists had to come up with their own schtick. They decided to sell items which they could capture or make themselves. They began by selling furs (they had an “r” in their name at that time), but the terrorist group People Against Anything That Makes Human Life Better (which, in modern English, would translate into either the acronym PETA or USCCB had they not already been taken) raised a stink so they tried other products. Cheese made by Monks appeals to city dwellers, but country folks simply said, “Why buy the cheese when the cow is free?” Fudge appeals mostly to those looking for a good reason to cheat on their diet (“The priests blessed the calories out of it!” or “But it’s for a good cause!” work equally well), but early on hardly anyone was fat. They tried making really good scotch, whisky and wine, but only the aforementioned Religious could afford to buy it. They finally decided to focus on beer, an affordable and enjoyable beverage. “Buy a Priest a Beer Day” was their original marketing slogan so that all Catholics, regardless of which Order they were loyal to, would purchase their product. The Passionless Fathers wish they had thought of it first!
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka