July 6: Maria Goretti beyond the “Virgin and Martyr”

Today, the liturgical calendar asks us to remember a 12-year-old Italian girl, Maria Goretti, who died on this day in 1902 after being sexually assaulted by an older boy. On her deathbed, she explicitly forgave her assailant.

Extending forgiveness to her murderer definitely is a holy act, a sign of a deep following of Gospel-mandates. But to think of Maria Goretti’s resistance to sexual assault as a heroic battle for her “purity” or “chastity” — rather than as a twelve-year-old’s struggle against sexualized violence — betrays a serious mis-construal of rape that many today find deeply troubling. Sadly, listing Maria Goretti as a “Virgin and Martyr” in the liturgical calendar of saints does not help to shift this mis-construal, and that of Maria Goretti as a martyr of chastity (it is troubling to think that priests today might use the recent new texts for a votive Mass for Chastity today!).

I find myself in need of different texts to think and pray with today. I offer a stanza from the hymn text, “Sacred the Body” by Ruth C. Duck, as a counter-narrative for all those similarly troubled by established narratives in the church of what it might mean when a 12-year-old girl struggles against sexualized violence:

Sacred the body
God has created,
Temple of Spirit that dwells deep inside.

Love does not batter, neglect, or abuse.
Love touches gently,
Never coercing.
Love leaves the other with power to choose.

In my reading of her story, Maria Goretti resisted sexualized coercion and violence (I do not know of any 12-year-olds who would actually welcome that kind of violence). The real spirit of Maria’s holiness becomes visible to me not in her safeguarding her “purity,” but in her forgiving her assailant before she died. Alessandro, after having served his prison sentence, became a Capuchin brother.

Did you Celebrate the Vigil of Pentecost?

Paschalis Sollemnitatis, the 1988 CDW letter on the celebration of Easter, suggests that we should celebrate a Vigil at Pentecost:

Encouragement should be given to the prolonged celebration of Mass in the form of a vigil, whose character is not baptismal as in the Easter Vigil, but is one of urgent prayer, after the example of the Apostles and disciples, who persevered together in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as they awaited the Holy Spirit

Notitiae the official journal of the Congregation suggests how to celebrate such a prolonged vigil [259 (2998): 156-15]. This allows for the use of all four options for the Old Testament reading given in the Lectionary for the Vigil Mass. As in the Easter Vigil, there are prayers after each reading and then the Gloria is sung. This is followed by the Collect, a New Testament Reading and the Gospel. First Vespers of Pentecost may directly precede this celebration.

In 2008 the second edition of the third edition of the Roman Missal in Latin (the Supplementum  to the editio typica tertia), added the material from Notitiae and formalized it into the text of the Roman Missal. These were in turn translated in the current 2011 English translation of the Roman Missal.  In the United States, the 2017 Supplement to the Lectionary for Mass provide a clear arrangement of all the readings of the prolonged vigil.

This is all well and good.  But I personally have never heard of such a prolonged vigil being celebrated in a parish context. So, the question I am posing in this post is whether any parishes actually take advantage of this possibility of a prolonged vigil? I hope that other PrayTell readers have experienced this, but I suspect that in most places it is a casualty of the attitude that sees any change to the regular Sunday liturgy as being simply too bothersome to implement and that especially something optional will rarely be celebrated.


Cover image by geralt at Pixabay.

We are living in “The Era of the Holy Spirit”

The following reflection on Pentecost comes from Fr. Gerard Austin, OP, scholar in residence at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Father Austin was one of the co-founders of the liturgy program at Catholic University; he is a teacher of countless students, and an esteemed scholar of the liturgy. His writings continue to inspire and enlighten those who seek to understand the liturgy’s history and its meaning today for the life of faith. This passage first appeared in the newsletter of the Dominican province of St. Martin de Porres, New Orleans, LA. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.


For the first generations of Christians of the early Church, the liturgical year consisted of only a weekly celebration of the Resurrection: the Day of the Lord, the Sunday. At this celebration all the various elements of the Paschal Mystery were recalled. God was blessed, thanked, and praised for all the wonderful works of creation and redemption – especially for the wonder-of-God par excellence, God’s only-begotten Son, who gave of himself for us.

By the end of the second century, we see attestations of an annual celebration as well. It was modelled upon the weekly celebration, but it lasted for a period of fifty days, thus being referred to by St. Athanasius as the “Great Sunday.” Thus our present “Norms Governing Liturgical Celebrations” state: “The fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful expectation as one feast day, or better, as one ‘Great Sunday’.” This fifty-day period has its roots in Jewish tradition, sharing for example, in the notion of being a “seal,” a completion.

At first, no particular day or days of the fifty-day period was privileged; rather, during the entire period was celebrated: the death, the resurrection, the later appearances, the ascension, the sending of the Spirit, and the waiting for the final coming of Christ. Nevertheless, before the second half of the fourth century, certain churches and certain Fathers of the Church did emphasize different aspects of the Paschal Mystery on particular days (as the Ascension on the fortieth day, the sending of the Spirit on the fiftieth day), but never destroying the notion of whole as whole. This approach was called the “global view of the Great Sunday,” and during this time the notion of “Pentecost” extended to the entire fifty days. The entire period was a “period of the Spirit.” Jesus had promised his followers that he would not leave them orphans; he would stay with them but in a new way: through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, which he would leave to them as his departing Gift.

Thus, one can well argue that the entire period from the Ascension of Christ to his Final Coming at the end of time is the “Era of the Holy Spirit.” This era, in which we are now living, is an era where Jesus is no longer with us in bodily form, but in a new way— in the presence of his Spirit. We have been assured the Gift of that Holy Spirit, but still down through the ages the Church never ceases to cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit, come”- not just on Pentecost but each and every day.

I think my favorite book on the Holy Spirit is I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT by Fr. Yves Congar, O.P.  I find it significant that the final chapter of that highly respected three-volume work is entitled “The Life of the Church as One Long Epiclesis” (the Greek word meaning ‘invocation’ of the Spirit). We know that Jesus ‘promise not to leave us orphans is true, but still we pray each day that the Holy Spirit who already abides within us (and among us), might penetrate even more deeply into every fiber of our being! Yes, Pentecost is not just a once-for-all event of history; it is an ONGOING MYSTERY OF FAITH.

Let us allow the global view of the Great Sunday, the view that contains all the multiple aspects of the ‘Paschal Mystery’ to be reflected in our own private prayer as well. In conclusion, may I suggest your praying slowly the following trilogy of mantras:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

“Lord Jesus, Crucified and Risen Lord, send me your Spirit.”

“Come, Holy Spirit, come!”

May Day versus Labor Day

Today the General Roman Calendar celebrates St Joseph the Worker as an Optional Memorial. The observance is marked with more or less solemnity in different places. But I have always wondered why it is celebrated on May 1 in the United States.

Even though I am currently ministering in Ireland, the land of my birth, I hope that US readers will accept my reflection as a naturalized US citizen who had spent two thirds of my adult life in the US and as a presbyter ordained (and incardinated) in a US Archdiocese.

Simply put, I have always thought that the observance of St. Joseph the Worker would be better celebrated in the US on Labor Day.

Before Pius XII introduced this observance in 1955, May 1 had different emphases including Our Lady, St. Walpurga, as well as many other themes. However, since the late nineteenth century, May 1 has been observed as the International Workers’ Day. This civil observance had Marxist overtones in its origins, but today it is observed in most countries of the world. The Catholic liturgical observance is undoubtedly to counterbalance the Marxist origins of today’s International Workers’ Day.

However, May 1 it is not observed in the US and there is no need for a Christian counterbalance on that day. In the US, Labor Day has a similar function.  Therefore, I would propose that the US Church observe St. Joseph the Worker on Labor Day. Perhaps in certain parishes the May 1 modern liturgical observance is indeed popular (although I have never seen any evidence of it). But I would purpose that moving it to Labor Day would allow US Catholics to celebrate it better and would be a better opportunity for catechesis on the importance of work and the dignity and rights of workers.


Cover art: Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-1850) by John Everett Millais from Wikimedia.

Easter Egg in the Desert

Our children had a pretty fantastic Easter.  Their Easter was primarily spectacular due to the FOUR Easter egg hunts they enjoyed.  With the blessing of seeing two aunties and a family friend, our son and daughter made out like Easter bunny bandits—chocolate chicks, jelly beans, bubbles, and various assorted treasures…at least if you’re between 3 and 5 ½.

And yet, all of these delightful goodies were contained in eye-popping plastic eggs.  These weren’t real Easter eggs.  We had decorated eggs, and the children wanted to know when we would hide those eggs.  The real ones.

I, who had never hidden a real Easter egg in my life (because I intend to eat them) tried to shift the children’s attention elsewhere—but this would not do.  After what turned into tears of pleading, I finally agreed to let them hide our painted eggs (Dad was away, mind you).

The children hid eleven eggs.

We found ten.

Here we are now, in the midst of our Easter season.  By Easter IV, our initial Easter exuberance may have begun to wane.  People seem increasingly nonplussed when you say “Happy Easter.”  We start to spot more dead lilies.  (Or maybe your parishioners scuttle off with the dying plants before the arts and environment committee tosses them in the dumpster.)  With hope, if you also dyed Easter eggs, you have long since eaten them.  We ate ours.  Well, ten of them.

And yet, we still have a long way to go in the Easter season.  How can we sustain that Easter joy in the midst of what seems to be a rapidly normalizing life of struggle, work, and hope sometimes dashed?

It has occurred to me recently that there’s perhaps a reason why walking through the raucous wonder of the Paschal Triduum into the Easter Season sometimes feels like entering a quietly deadening desert—a strangely quiet setting, given the joy the liturgical texts suggest we should be experiencing.  When our ancestors in faith walked through their own Passover night into the life of Exodus…they were not walking into unrelenting joy.  They walked into a desert.

Granted, the People of Israel had just witnessed untold miracles of God, were benefitting from the leadership of Moses, and had a literal pillar of fire to guide them.  Perhaps the exuberance they first felt when crossing the Red Sea should have sustained them.  Yet, it did not.  They also felt nonplussed by rejoicing, and wondered with increasing grumbling about the labor of freedom that lay before them.

Yet, the Easter season unrelentingly invites us to remember the joy of the Gospel—the joy that Christ alone brings.  The joy that can only come when you find that treasure in the field, that lost coin, that lost sheep…or that lost Easter egg….

That joy and relief at discovering what we thought had been lost—invites us to hold on to it.  And, unlike our Easter egg (which I would NOT recommend eating), we are invited, again and again, to dine at the Supper of the Lamb.

Happy Easter.