Pentecost in Ottawa

A moment of recognition came to me during the first reading at Mass yesterday, the Feast of Pentecost. The reading concludes:

Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts, 2:7-11)

Our congregation that day, as on every other Sunday, was as diverse as the crowd in Jerusalem. The lector proclaiming the reading was from Liberia. The celebrant was from the US; he was assisted by a priest visiting from Ethiopia. The choir included musicians from Indonesia, the Philippines, and St. Lucia. The volunteer who trained the altar servers was from Pakistan. Two people in the pew behind me were from Holland. Other families I know hailed from Cameroon, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Scotland, India, and nearly every province and territory in Canada.

On a Sunday morning in suburban Ottawa, united by the Spirit,  attentive to the Word, one in our diversity … home.


Requiem: Consolation and Contemplation

CD Requiem, Priestly Fraternity of St PeterA beautiful and timeless addition to my music library arrived this week. The liner notes for Requiem, a recording of the Gregorian chant repertoire for the Mass and burial of the dead, promises that “the calmness of the chant reveals a spirit of rest or repose.” The recording delivers on its promise.

Dies iræ carried me back to my younger days, when I assisted at funerals in a country church, and forward through the years, bringing to mind so many final partings. Most moving was In Paradisum: “May the Angels lead you into Paradise,” our fondest wish for those we have lost.

Recorded by priests and seminarians of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter at their seminary in Denton, Nebraska, Requiem is available directly from the Order or can be purchased on Amazon. A feature article in the Miami Herald supplies interesting context; the following video describes the recording project and provides samples of the chants.


Three presentation tips I learned from a group of seven year old children

Fr Dominic presents a certificate

Fr Dominic presents a certificate to a young girl who received her First Communion, 2017

If you want a dose of humility or need practice with your presentation skills, I have the audience for you: seven-year-old children, in the evening, preparing for First Communion.

My parish asked me to lead the preparation course this winter. I didn’t say no because, after all, how hard could it be?

Plenty hard.

I did manage to teach the kids a few things. Mostly, though, they taught me some hard lessons about public performance.

  • If you live by the technology, you’ll die by the technology. One evening, I presented a Brother Francis video from Herald Entertainment on the topic of the Eucharist. Naturally, my DVD player acted up and, as I was fiddling with the system, one of the young lads called out “You’re wasting our time!” He was right. I had prepared and tested everything in the afternoon and again just before the presentation. Still it went wrong at the moment of truth.
  • You can’t deliver the message if you don’t hold their interest. It was amazing to see children who didn’t know each other become fast friends as they tied and untied their shoes, kicked the kneelers, yawned in unison and turned their rosaries into lariats whenever the presentation dragged. (At least they weren’t stealing glances at their cell phones.)
  • Calmness is the golden key. Picture getting 28 youngsters, each with a lit candle, to form a line for a solemn procession. Nothing could go wrong, could it? Do you see the children milling around, fascinated with fire, bumping into each other; harried volunteers getting them back into line and relighting the candles they had blown out; parents distracting their kids with baffling hand-signals? Yet there they go, down the aisle, decked out in their finest clothes and angelic smiles.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. The kids are the best teachers and there’s so much to learn.

Magnificat – food for the mind and spirit

Each month, a deceptively simple envelope arrives from Belgium. Hidden behind its plain exterior lies one of the riches of Catholic publishing, Magnificat. Physically, the book doesn’t promise a great deal. At 4.4″ x 6.6″ and 476 pages, it fits comfortably in my jacket pocket. Weighing only 178 grams, it is light enough to hold in one hand for an extended period. And hold it I do, three times a day.

Magnificat envelope

It would be fair to describe Magnificat as seductive. The seduction begins with the beauty of art. Each month, two artworks are featured. A brief essay comments on the cover art, and an extended essay explores the masterpiece reproduced near the end of the book. In the May 2015 issue, the cover reproduces Adoration by Giuseppe Magni (1869-1956) and the featured artwork is The Ascension of Christ, a terracotta sculpture crafted by Luca della Robbia in 1446 in Florence.


Each day, Magnificat leads the reader through morning prayer, the daily Mass readings and evening prayer. Taking May 1, the Feast of St Joseph, as an example, the reader would encounter:

  • John 14:2, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house….”
  • Psalm 131, “O Lord, remember David and all the hardships he endured…”
  • Revelation 21:3, “…his name is God-with-them.”
  • The Canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:68-79) “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel! He has visited his people and redeemed them….”
  • General intercessions: “You have chosen us as your resting place for ever: grant us peace in your presence.”
  • Acts 13:26-33, “…this message of salvation is meant for you.”
  • Psalm 2: “The Lord said to me: ‘You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day.'”
  • John 14:1-6, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.”
  • Meditation of the Day: a brief essay, “United with Saint Joseph the Worker” by Anthony Esolen.
  • Matthew 6:20-21, “Store up treasures for yourselves in heaven….”
  • Psalm 48, “Why should I fear in evil days the malice of the foes who surround me.”
  • 1 Peter 1:17-21, “If you are acknowledging as your Father one who has no favourites….”
  • The Magnificat, Lk 1:46-55, “My soul glorifies the Lord….”
  • A brief essay on saints who were physically disabled.
  • A two-page essay about Sister Ida Peterfy

During May, one would encounter 46 of the Psalms, various essays and a close reading of the Gospel for the sixth Sunday of Easter. The saints one would meet include St Gilbert of Sempringham (died 1189), St Charles Borromeo (died 1584), St Bede the Venerable (died 735) among many others. Meditations are drawn from St Alphonsus Liguori, Willa Cather, St Catherine of Siena, Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, St Philip Neri, St Symeon the New Theologian and twenty-five other writers.

For those who wonder about our Latin heritage, the Kyrie, Gloria and Creed are provided in Latin and English.


A short note about the versions. Magnificat in English is available in an American and an International English version. The American version uses the New American Bible while the International version uses the Jerusalem Bible. Since the Canadian lectionary is based on the NRSV translation, I felt free to indulge myself and choose the version which includes “Glory be to the Father…” in the formula I grew up with. If you recognize the reference, you would probably make the same choice.

Magnificat is also available in French and Spanish versions. A subscription to the printed edition includes access to the online version. A iOS app is also available on the rare occasions when the book is not close at hand.

Extending charity, one ticket at a time

Knights of Clumbus charities raffle drum, Toronto, May 19, 2013

Charities raffle drum, Toronto, May 19, 2013

You may have seen us in shopping malls and other public locations, selling tickets for the Knights of Columbus charities raffle. You know the scene: one or two people at a table greeting you as you approach, offering a $2 ticket or 3 for $5, filling in your contact information, wishing you luck and thanking you for your purchase.

What you may not know is how much work goes into administering the raffle and how much good the proceeds accomplish. At the local level, our work begins in late October when the tickets arrive. From then until late April, we have crews of volunteers scheduled in 3-hour or 4-hour shifts, offering tickets to the public. Other volunteers account for the tickets and the money, reviewing each day’s sales and submitting the proceeds to our council’s financial secretary and treasurer. The final accounting is carried out in mid-May and the tickets are turned in at the Knights of Columbus annual convention the day before the draw takes place. This year, the draw was held on May 19; the list of winners is published on the Ontario Knights of Columbus website.

Member of the Knights of Columbus selling raffle tickets at a pancake breakfast

Ray, selling raffle tickets at a pancake breakfast

At the annual convention, representatives of some of the charities we sponsor speak to the delegates about the impact of our charitable giving. Margaret Wills of the Arthritis Society reported that with the money we provided last year, the Society launched a chronic pain management program for children; they also supplied children with ergonomically-designed backpacks filled with information and tools for those recently diagnosed with arthritis. Taylor Redmond, a young athlete from Guelph, spoke eloquently about what Special Olympics has meant to him. A competitor in basketball, track and swimming, Taylor believes he can do anything the rest of us can do but he knows that he needs help and patience. He thanked the Knights in Guelph for helping him along his entire athletic career. There weren’t many dry eyes in the room when he finished speaking.

Our volunteers are taking a break over the summer. We’ll be back in the fall, looking to raise much-needed money for charities that make a difference in our community. When you see one of us, drop by to say hello and, if you can, pick up a few tickets. Your smiles keeps the volunteers coming back and your dollars help in many ways across the province.

Appreciating the new translation of the Roman Missal

For eighteen months, the Catholic Church has used a new translation of the Roman Missal, a translation meant to be used not only in North America but Great Britain, Ireland, South Africa, Singapore, China and other countries whose idiomatic English differs greatly from our own. In the run-up to its adoption, parishes conducted workshops and distributed explanatory texts to prepare us for the dramatic change in the prayers we had become accustomed to.

At a workshop in our parish, opinion was clearly divided. Some argued that the return to an elevated language was a mistake, a turning back from the advances of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Others welcomed the changes in general but objected to particular words or phrases.

At the first Mass with the new translation, my doubts were erased. The words soared. Layers of meaning were exposed as clause built upon clause. And long-forgotten phrases, set aside so many years ago, came back with an unexpected freshness. I wondered why I was so taken with the revised language but had no clear answer until I acquired The Beauty of the Word by Anthony Esolen. His work examines the principles of translation, the oratorical strategy and many of the scriptural references.

Cover page of The Beauty of the Word, published by Magnificat

Cover page of The Beauty of the Word, published by Magnificat

I found the key  to understanding my fondness for this translation in Esolen’s explanation that the sentence structure was designed with the demands of oratory in mind. Oratory requires “repetition of key words, parallel structures in grammar and sense, balance of idea with idea and image with image, and – something that people unused to oral poetry do not suspect – a minimum of full stops that interrupt the flow of declamation and meaning.” He cites the examples of Homer – who composed with his mind, voice and ear but not his hand or eye – and Martin Luther King, whose long sentences exhibited the balance and repetition familiar from the writings of Jeremiah and Isaiah. In an arresting image, Esolen describes a series of four simple declarative sentences as “disconnected boxcars bumping into each other on a track.” The sense of the progression is most easily acquired when the sentences are connected, like boxcars pulled by the same engine.

Esolen’s explanation makes sense to me because it fits with my recent experience. In the past few years, I have memorized passages of 800 and 1400 words, to be recited – without visual aids of any sort – in Knights of Columbus ceremonies. With no background in drama, I was expecting the process to be an ordeal. Instead, memorizing and delivering the long passages has been a pleasant experience. The passages employ parallelism, imagery and repetition to great effect, making it easy for the speaker to memorize and the listener to follow.

In my view, the translation has been a great success. I recommend Esolen’s book to anyone who wishes to study the translation more closely.

Mothers Day tribute from the Knights

This weekend, after all Masses, our Council distributed flowers to the mothers in the congregation. It’s a symbolic gesture that reminds Knights not only to honour the mothers among us but also that our order was created as a fraternal benefits organization charged with the care of our deceased members’ widows and children.

Knights distribute flowers for Mothers at Holy Cross Parish

Members of Holy Cross Council distribute flowers for mothers at the entrance to the church.

Spring cleaning the capital

Holy Cross Council took part in the semi-annual Cleaning the Capital campaign again this spring. Saturday, May 4, was a perfect day for the event: a clear sky, no wind, dry ground and temperatures in the high teens in the morning. Twenty-one Knights and family members picked up litter along the Airport Parkway between Walkley Road and Hunt Club Road. As usual, the spring cleanup was more demanding than the fall session; Canadians seem to throw out more litter during the winter.

Holy Cross Council team prepares to pick up litter along the Airport Parkway

Holy Cross Council team prepares to pick up litter along the Airport Parkway

Members of the team relax over coffee and donuts.

Members of the team relax over coffee and donuts.

Pancakes and ham, free for the taking

The knights at our council, 10617, hosted another in our series of pancake breakfasts this morning. Parishioners come down to the church hall after each morning Mass to enjoy pancakes, ham, coffee, tea and juice with their families and friends. They linger to catch up on the latest doings with their friends, and they visit with people they otherwise wouldn’t meet.

Behind the scenes, there’s a flurry of activity involving a team of about 20 Knights. The shopping gets done on Friday morning, tables are set up on Saturday, and the cooking, serving and clean-up all happen Sunday. The coffee is on by 7:00 a.m., the cooks start flipping pancakes by 8:00 and the first guests arrive by 8:45. It’s generally 2:00 p.m. before the last guests have left and the clean-up is complete.

Part of the team that hosted the pancake breakfast, April 21, 2013.

Part of the team that hosted the pancake breakfast, April 21, 2013.

Our breakfasts are fundraisers, with a twist. Instead of setting a price for the meal, we simply accept a free-will offering. People offer what they can and no one is turned away for lack of a donation. Each event is devoted to a particular cause. During this fraternal year, our causes have included purchasing wheelchairs, contributing to the education fund of a deceased member’s children, buying winter coats for a dozen needy children and supporting the education of seminarians.

Council hosts First Degree for six new members

Last evening, Holy Cross Council’s team presented a First Degree, during which six new members were accepted into the Knights of Columbus. I was struck by the variety of life experiences the new members have brought to their councils:

  • a young priest from Kuala Lumpur who is studying canon law at St Paul University
  • a retired grandfather of Hispanic origin
  • an employee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • a pediatrician who works at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
  • a military surgeon  who recently returned from two tours of duty in Afghanistan
  • a small business owner from Wendover

Everyone in the room identified, in their own way, with the words of the military surgeon: “I’ve seen the horrors of the battlefield and the good that people can do. I’m here to do all the good I can.” Amen to that.