Padre Pio Prayer Groups
St. Francis Renewal Center
Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,
The Lord give you His peace!
For centuries, belief in the Real Presence and celebration of Jesus’ Sacrifice on Calvary and Sacred Meal perpetuated for us in the Eucharist has always been the distinctive sign of the Catholic Church, Eastern and Western Rites. These Rites of the Roman Catholic Church are expressions of the time-tested sacredness and beauty of the unity in diversity of the Faith enriching our traditions and cultures expressed in our sacred rites. The “framework” of the celebration may differ, but the “masterpiece” is the same! The Latin Rite, which remained basically unchanged for more than four hundred years and of which the majority of Roman Catholics are practicing members, went through some modifications after Vatican II. The Latin language, once a distinctive characteristic of the Latin Rite Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, was celebrated around the world. It has remained the official language of the Catholic Church and Her Liturgy, but the vernacular has become the norm in most cases and areas after Vatican II. For pastoral reasons, and in order to facilitate greater participation of the faithful in the One Sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist, the vernacular was and still is given priority when Mass is celebrated with the People of God, although for good pastoral reasons the “Novus Ordo” may be celebrated in Latin. This change caused not few complaints, criticisms, even “break-offs” with the Church. For years it seemed there were two “camps” in the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church of Jesus, Whose Vicar, the Holy Father and Bishop of Rome and Successor to the Apostle Peter, is a living sign of charity and unity for all of God’s children redeemed in the Blood of Christ.
Language and “posture” seem to be the “bones of contention” involving, as some voices decried, the very validity of the celebration of our salvation in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus. From this flows the other concern regarding the “casualness” with which the language and customs of a place have seemed to “invade” and affect the solemnity and sacredness of the Eucharist, all this, since the vernacular “took over”. Concerns are always good to voice. Dialogue is important for better understanding. Where and when possible discussion and an open heart and mind can lead to healthy compromises of “non-essentials”. What one sees as “essential” another sees as “optional”. It is most necessary to be cautious about the true reason for our criticisms. It is important to strive to understand the source of the difficulties through well-founded information and qualified instruction. There are theological questions that can and have been raised, which have led to a better evaluation and healthy revision of the manner in which we have been celebrating Mass for over forty years. Yet, many have gone so far as to denounce both the sincerity and authority of the Holy Father and the Bishops with him as being even “heretical”. When humility is lacking in our judgments, that is exactly what we do: “Judge”, rather than honestly seek the truth as we maintain our unanimity of faith.
Many have correctly commented that Padre Pio never celebrated the Mass of Vatican II. True! We must remember, however, that Padre Pio entered eternity months before the implementation of the revised celebration of the Mass was effected in Italy. Although permission was granted for all priests of a certain age to continue celebrating the traditional Tridentine Liturgy they had celebrated for years, those in the care of souls were expected to adopt the directives of the Council for the sake of the universality (“catholicity”) of the Church. Both traditions - Vatican II and Tridentine - are celebrated in the Church; the one is the “norm” and the other, where pastoral prudence allows because of a need, is celebrated in the “extraordinary form”, a privilege and permission nonetheless for those who wish to serve of it.
In both traditions of the Eucharistic Liturgy, there is something that takes place at two different moments of the Mass, one before and one after the Consecration, that conveys a powerful message. Before the Offering of the Bread and Wine, a little water is added to the wine. The water symbolizes our humanity. The addition of the water does not dilute the wine because such a minimal amount is added, but it becomes “one with the wine” and thus one with the Blood of Christ after the Consecration. We and Jesus are one - as He prayed the night before He died, they in me and I in them, may they be one in us - but with differing effects according to the worthiness of the recipient. However, after Communion, when the sacred vessels are purified, enough water is poured into the chalice to “dilute” what few drops might have remained of the Precious Blood, suppressing the Sacred Blood of the Savior and thus “eliminating” the Sacred Presence in the chalice. When there is more water than “wine” mixed together, the sacrament is no longer present. This “belaboring of the issue” is intended “to get a point across” that I believe to be rather revealing. When we bring ourselves and our nothingness to the Eucharist, the Lord compensates with His Divine Presence and makes us one with Him. When we “overpower” God’s Will, God’s Word, God’s very Presence with more of ourselves than seeking Him and Him Alone, we “dilute to the point of ineffectiveness” the power of the Divine Presence and thus the working of grace within us.
This rather lengthy thought has nothing to do with the choice of which Liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church is “licit”, “valid”, “spiritually beneficial for the souls present” and so forth. As faithful children of the Church we believe and accept what the Church offers: rules and regulations are the norms to follow; permissions and extraordinary concessions are optional allowances that may be either accepted gratefully or not accepted, without judging those who make use of the “privilege”. In the matter of rules, regulations, concessions, privileges, and the like, priests, who represent the Church and for Whom they are the “spokespersons” in their given areas of ministry, must be cautious when expressing in words and/or actions their “opinion” regarding the “mysteries” they celebrate, and the Church they represent. The priest “sets the tone and the pace” to which the people will ultimately respond.
Priests have a serious responsibility before God and His People at all times, especially when they administer the sacraments and in particular when they approach the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist. They are called from among the People of God to serve and thus to be faithful sons of Holy Mother Church. They are charged with the mission and ministry of being Christ to others in a continued expression of that one redemptive act that Christ accomplished and entrusted to the Church. They accept the office of presbyter to minister His Word and Sacraments for the sake of all - themselves included, as was mentioned in last month’s letter. What happens to the integrity of their response to God when they allow their personal issues and agendas to color, or even worse, to dictate the direction of their ministry? The priest is involved in many and varied areas of ministry conditioned by distances, cultures, languages, religious-social-political environments. There are times when the priest might like to “avoid” the challenges of faith that they themselves are expected to live and expound, and that they are compelled in the Spirit to remind the People they serve to obey. How often have we noticed the ministry of celebrant of the “Mysteries” becoming a social and “relevant” display of social convenience, political correctness, and the like, rather than a sacred encounter between Creator and creature? People - and this can be noticed in vast numbers of our youth today - are looking for something that goes beyond the material world in which they live, a world that is beautiful in many ways but often lacks valid signs that offer hope and meaning to life. A Liturgy well-prepared, and celebrated with decorum and solemnity, serene, cheerful without being irreverently “buffoonish”, displaying a belief in the Sacred Presence in Word and Sacrament without melodramatic gestures and postures, speaks profoundly to the People about God, the Church, the priest, and the sacredness of what we as Catholics have held and believed since Jesus called His first disciples to Follow Me. Yes! Follow Me, not the spirit of the world around us but the Spirit of God within us.
The priest walks with the People of God in their everyday lives. The priest stands with the People before that Extravagant Love of God in Jesus through the Spirit in the celebration of the Eucharist. The priest, when he offers the Sacraments or expounds on Sacred Scripture, when he encounters the joys and difficulties of God’s people who seek empathy, sympathy, understanding, compassion…LOVE, at every moment of the priest’s life HE IS THE “OTHER CHRIST”! As ‘other Christ’ the priest must always speak and act in unison with the Church. Beware not to lead one of these little ones astray. Anyone who does so, it would be better had a millstone be tied around his neck and he be thrown into the sea. These are cutting words against bad example that not only makes the perpetrator look ‘bad’ but also, and worse, can lead others into error or confusion.
In a rather interesting letter to Padre Agostino (7 April 1913), Padre Pio writes about an encounter with the Lord: Jesus appeared to me. He was in a sorry state and quite disfigured. He showed me a great multitude of priests (of all categories and ranks). Some were celebrating Mass, while others were vesting or taking off the sacred vestments…I asked him why he was suffering so much…He drew back from that crowd of priests with an expression of great disgust on his face and cried out: “Butchers!”…My son, do not think that my agony lasted three hours. No, on account of the souls who have received most from me, I shall be in agony until the end of the world…My soul goes in search of a drop of human compassion but alas, I am left alone beneath the weight of indifference. The ingratitude and the sleep of my ministers makes my agony all the more grievous…Alas, how little they correspond to my love! What afflicts me most is that they add contempt and unbelief to their indifference…Jesus continued to speak…This apparition caused me such bodily pain and even greater pain of soul that I was prostrate for the entire day…
Whether it was an inner awareness or an apparition, the depth of the suffering caused from the message sensed or revealed was real. The message itself was based on facts that could not be discredited; we know that even today some consecrated souls have forgotten their commitment and caused great anguish to the “Mystical Body of Christ” and all His members who are the Church. (In truth and humility, however, let us pray for all who stray. Leave judgment to God Who Alone is Judge. No one is innocent before the purity of God). It is something for all of us to consider, especially we who “pride ourselves” on being Spiritual Children of Padre Pio. The heart of Padre Pio’s life and ministry was the Confessional and the Altar of Sacrifice. The Altar is that place where the grace and mercy of God are outpoured for us, and for all who sincerely approach the Tribunal of Mercy in the Confessional to be reconciled with God and their sisters and brothers. We must never allow the liturgical traditions we celebrate in the Church - Vatican II and Trent – to be used as a means to express personal issues and agendas that are better discussed in a classroom. Our celebration, both by the clergy who preside and the laity who actively participate, is an expression of our belief in the unbroken succession of the re-presentation of the One Sacrifice of Calvary. When, like the water mentioned above, we make the celebration so “human” that there is no sign of the divine, then we have “destroyed” the mystery, “diluted” the message, and “denied” the Truth of the Presence! We are no longer Catholic!
As faithful Spiritual Children of Padre Pio, let us all seek to re-kindle our love and devotion for the Eucharist by celebrating and/or participating in the mystery with deep love and total surrender to the One offered for us. Let us humbly acknowledge and adore the Divine Prisoner Who remains with us, reserved in our Tabernacles, and thus reconfirm our belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord and Savior even after the celebration of the Eucharist. Let us bring a reverent, joyful, and serene demeanor to every celebration without reducing the Eucharist to a merely “social event” that seeks to “cater” to all desires and temperaments. Let us allow our human nature to become transformed by the Divine Presence and graces. Let us not lose sight of the Mystery of Calvary, for the sake of celebrating only the Last Supper. (There can be no meal without a sacrifice.) Both priests and laity form the People of God who offer sacrifice and praise to the Father, through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. What an awesome privilege and responsibility! To whom much is given, much is expected in return. We are accountable for how we “handle” the sacred.
May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may Padre Pio watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.
Peace and Blessings