By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Moment of Change

As you know, yesterday we began using a newly revised English-language translation of the Roman Missal. This change is occurring not only in the Archdiocese of Edmonton but also throughout Canada and, indeed, the English-speaking world. The Roman Missal is the book that you see the priest use as he presides at Mass. It contains all the prayers and indications that guide us in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Why the change?

The Roman Missal's official edition is in Latin, and it is this official edition that is translated into all the languages of the world. This official edition was revised by the authority of Blessed Pope John Paul II in 2002. This revision was not to change the Mass, obviously. The Mass remains the same. The revision of Pope John Paul II was made in order to include some new material, such as feasts of newly canonized Saints, some new Prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayer, and clarifications in the way we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. This change to the official edition necessitated the preparation of a revised version in the various languages of the world, including, of course, English.

As a result of the new English translation, you will notice a few changes to the prayers, acclamations and responses. Most of the changes in wording occur in the prayers offered by the priest. With time and patience, all of these prayers will become as familiar to us as those we have been using over the last few decades.

Also to be implemented are some changes to posture. At the beginning of the Missal is a section called The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM). It stipulates the norms to be followed for the correct celebration of Mass, including directives pertaining to posture. These directives have as their intention to assure consistent practice and conformity with the universal law of the Church. This is very important. The oneness of our faith is to be apparent in the unity of our gestures and posture at the Sacred Liturgy.

This moment of change is a wonderful occasion for a renewed appreciation of the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. For a while we shall naturally be focusing upon what to say, not to say, when to kneel, stand, sit and so on, but let us not forget the sublime mystery that underlines it all. In the celebration of Holy Mass, the Lord himself is present to us, present with us. In the transformed gifts of bread and wine, the sacred body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ becomes truly and really present. In the Mass, we worship God, we give thanks for his countless gifts, especially the gift of salvation, we listen to his Word, we receive from the altar the sacred body and blood of Christ, and we are sent forth to be his agents of love in the world.

The Mass is the central event, the highlight, in the life of every Catholic. In its celebration we encounter our Lord and draw life and strength from his love. For this reason, our liturgical celebrations must be beautiful and dignified. For this reason, we must give careful attention not only to the way we celebrate but also to our interior dispositions as we approach the Mass and enter into its celebration. Have I reviewed the readings for Mass before coming to Church? Have I made an examination of conscience and confessed serious sin? Have I reflected upon the countless blessings that God always pours out upon me and offered thanks?

Perhaps the most important question for us is this: how shall we translate our encounter with the Lord into the way we live our lives? The new Missal is a translation from Latin to English. Yet this is in service of a much deeper and more significant translation that must take place: the translation of the mystery of the Eucharist into daily living. Here we meet the love of God for each of us. Do we translate that into love for others? Here we encounter the mercy of God towards us sinners. Do we translate that into the forgiveness of those who have hurt us? Here we receive the gift of salvation. Do we translate that into lives of hope? In the Gospel for Sunday we heard Jesus tell us to be ready to meet him when he comes again. His return will be at a time we simply do not and cannot know. This means to be ready now. As we enter this holy season of Advent, may the Lord help us ready ourselves by translating the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist into lives of Christian holiness.

On Saturday night I gathered at our Basilica with a group of people who translate their encounter with Christ into work and prayer for the protection of all human life. We marked the beginning of the new liturgical year with solemn evening prayer for nascent human life. This event springs from an initiative of Pope Benedict XVI himself, who last year invited all dioceses to gather for this prayer. We repeated it again this year and plan to do so henceforth every year at the beginning of Advent. We must not fail to pray for nascent human life, for life in its beginning stages, initiated at fertilization and now wondrously developing in the womb of the mother.

We are all called to speak in defense of this life and to witness to its beauty in the face of so many threats against it. Yet without sustained prayer such efforts will bear little fruit. What is needed in our society is an awakening of conscience and a profound conversion of heart. This is brought about by the grace of God, and so let us ceaselessly implore the Lord to touch the hearts of all people and effect a new beginning of respect for all human life, especially at its most vulnerable stages.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Always a Gift

I returned to Edmonton late Saturday evening. The minus-30 temperature was sure a shock to the system, but – hey – this is home and I’m glad to be back.

This evening (Monday) I have the great privilege of joining with the priests of the Archdiocese to celebrate a Mass in honour of those of our number celebrating this year important jubilees of ordination. It is perhaps providential that our Mass occurs on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. The traditional teaching that Mary was brought at an early age by her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, to the Temple has been handed on in the Church since the early centuries.

Although it stems from non-historical sources, nevertheless it has been kept and honoured liturgically because it reflects an important theological intuition of the Church, namely, that Mary, from her earliest years, was entirely dedicated to God. It complements and flows from the truth of her Immaculate Conception. Mary was prepared from the beginning by God for her unique role in salvation history, and when that message from Gabriel came to her, she said yes. It is a pleasure to honour the men who have modeled their priestly lives on Mary’s docility to the Word of God and who have thus greatly enriched the life of the Church and the lives of the countless people entrusted to their care.

Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King, and heard the passage from Saint Matthew concerning the Last Judgement. It is a story that never fails to rivet our attention, because it spells out clearly that for which we shall be held to account by the Lord: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…” Students at exam time would give almost anything to see the examination questions in advance so that they can prepare. That seldom happens. Yet that is precisely what Jesus is doing for us in this Gospel passage. He is giving us the questions in advance. How have you loved?

In other Gospel passages he tells us that the greatest of all commandments is love of God and of neighbour, and in this one from Matthew he spells out that we obey the greatest commandment through the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner, and so on. Furthermore, he so identifies himself with the needy that, in our care for them, love of God and love of neighbour mysteriously become one: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.”

Last week brought to our attention brothers and sisters in particular need of love and mercy: the dying. A report by a special parliamentary committee that was examining the state of palliative care services in Canada was released. I was encouraged by its obvious deep concern for the terminally ill and by its call for adequate compassionate and palliative care services. A statement by the CCCB in support of the report can be found on our Archdiocesan website. By way of very stark contrast, a report by a panel of persons commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada was released only a couple of days prior. It calls for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. I was able to give it only a quick read, but even that was enough to make me heartsick. It is not too difficult to find in it the not-too-subtle suggestion that helping people kill themselves or allowing doctors to kill them would help to ease the “burden” of care felt by families or the financial “burden” placed upon our health care system. The human person at any age and in any circumstance is always a gift, not a burden, and we should aim, as the parliamentary committee’s report says, at ever new ways for social inclusion of our weak and vulnerable, not exclusion.

We need to keep our eyes on this issue and be ready to speak out in defense of life. I recommend you keep abreast of this by referring to the website of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition(check out Alex Schadenburg’s blog). For reference I also recommend the statements issued by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, which you can find at

God bless and have a good week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adapting to Conditions

Still in Rome for meetings of the Presidency of the CCCB with the Holy See, I read this morning in an online report of some nasty road conditions in Edmonton as the result of snow and icy roads. According to the report, civic officials were at pains to remind people to adapt to the conditions as they drove their vehicles. Pay attention, they said, not to the speed limit but to the conditions and adjust your actions accordingly. Just plain common sense, that. Yet, remarkably, many of us continue to be governed by habit and proceed as if nothing around us has changed. Cruise control with blinders. A commute along icy winter roads will demonstrate very quickly just how dangerous an attitude that is.

Harmful oblivion to our surroundings is not limited to winter driving. It is sadly characteristic of a society marked by self-focus and self-absorption. Often we need a rather unpleasant "wake up call" to bring us out of ourselves, notice what is happening around us and adjust our behaviour. A sudden fender bender on the highway is one example. The global financial crisis is another. The world is now suddenly alert to the interconnectedness of lifestyles, both individual and national, and realizing that we need to "adapt to conditions", such as we see happening through governmental change in Greece and here in Italy, and the imposition of financial austerity measures.

In the Gospel for Mass on Monday of this week (Luke 18:35-43), Jesus turns to a blind man who had been calling out to him and asks what he is seeking:  "What do you want me to do for you? The blind man replied, Lord, please let me see.

It seems to me that this is a request we would all do well to bring to the Lord. Please let me see. Please let me see, Lord, the reality around me. Let me not be so closed in upon myself - my desires and preoccupations, my worries and fears - that I actually become blind to the world around me. Please let me see, and help me adapt to the conditions around me - the conditions of the poor, the homeless, the sick, the lonely, the despairing. Help me so to adjust my lifestyle that they have a place in the ordering of my life. Open my eyes to the wondrous beauty of human life; help me to see clearly the current threats against it, and so to adapt my life that I do not neglect to speak and act in its defense. Expand the horizon of my view beyond the immediate. When I watch news reports of poverty and hunger in the Third World, help me really to see what I am seeing: one in desperate need who is, in fact, my brother or sister, and whose plight may in large part be due to lifestyle choices here at home. Assist me to know how I must adapt to these conditions and give me the desire and determination to do so.

Please, Lord, help us to see and to adjust our lives to your will and to the conditions of our brothers and sisters.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gift of Wisdom

The Gospel passage from yesterday's Sunday Mass (Matthew 25:1-13) ended with these words of the Lord: "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." When I hear this teaching I often go back in my mind to visits I would make as a parish priest to the homes of my parishioners. I would usually do so in one of two ways: I would either call ahead and make an appointment, or I would just show up unannounced. You can imagine the difference between the two in the reception I received. In the first case the door would be opened immediately as the people welcomed me into their immaculately clean home. In the second, the curtain of the living room window would be pulled slightly back to allow one eye to peek out, followed by muffled cries of panic within. The Lord is teaching us that he will come again, but without calling ahead. We need to be prepared NOW to receive him.

We heard St. Paul (1Thessalonians 4:13-18) refer to this return of the Lord in terms both of our own death and of the end of time. We know also that the Lord, faithful to his promise never to abandon us, is with us even now, especially through the gifts of the sacraments and through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In the passage from Saint Matthew the parable told by Jesus unveils the deepest purpose of the Lord's return. He comes to us as the bridegroom. In other words, he will come to us in love, seeking a communion, or covenant, of love with his people. That same parable uses the image of ten bridesmaids waiting with lamps lit so that they could go out to meet him when he arrived. The point here is the meeting. Christian life begins with and is nourished by the encounter with Jesus Christ (Deus Caritas Est, 1). Jesus desires to encounter us with his love and to draw us to himself, to a share in his own life.

A distinction is made in the parable between the five bridesmaids who are wise and the remainder who are foolish. The wise are those who brought extra oil and were prepared to wait. This is an important image for us, especially today as we find ourselves in the midst of so many crises. This extra oil symbolizes human limit. It represents a recognition that the Lord is in charge, that he acts in accordance with his wisdom and providence and at his own determination, and that, therefore, we can but wait upon his guidance and action. The Lord is not on call, responsive to our whims and determinations. Wisdom recognizes the truth of God, the truth of ourselves, and the truth of our dependence upon him. Folly is the illusory presumption that we can determine actions and outcomes on our own without needing to be prepared to wait for the Lord, to rely on his providence, and to trust in his wisdom. We are witnesses to the tragic results of such folly in the economic and political crises of our day.

The first reading from Mass yesterday taught that true wisdom is God's gift. It is clear that this gift has been bestowed in abundance upon our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. As I mentioned in my last post, I am in Rome right now for a series of meetings that are undertaken in the course of an annual visit to the Holy See by the President, Vice-President and General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. We shall have about twenty-seven meetings in all by the time we leave here. The highlight occurred today. I am speaking, of course, about the audience granted to us by the Holy Father.

He welcomed us very warmly to his office, where we had the great honour of presenting him with official copies of the new English-language Roman Missal approved for use in Canada and of the book produced by the CCCB Publications Service to commemorate the dedication of the new St. Joseph Seminary.

God has, indeed, greatly blessed us with the gift of Pope Benedict. We are in such good hands! He listens to his people with great attentiveness, manifests always a profound respect for each individual, and, as we know from his teaching, guides us with unparalleled insight into the human condition and the circumstances of the day, interpreting all in the light of the Gospel. Let us not fail to continue to support him with our love and prayers.