Saturday, April 30, 2011

John Paul II to the Filipino people - Part 1: The Philippines deserves particular honor

The Philippine nation is deserving of particular honor since, from the beginning of its Christianization, from the moment that Magellan planted the Cross in Cebu four hundred and sixty years ago, on April 15, 1521, all through the centuries, its people have remained true to the Christian faith. In an achievement that remains unparalleled in history, the message of Christ took root in the hearts of the people within a very brief span of time, and the Church was thus strongly implanted in this nation of seven thousand islands and numerous tribal and ethnic communities.

The rich geographical and human diversity, the various cultural traditions, and the people's spirit of joy and sharing, together with the fruits of the missionary efforts, have successfully blended and have shaped, through periods which were sometimes not devoid of shadows and weaknesses, a clear national identity that is unmistakably Filipino and truly Christian. The attachment to the Catholic faith has been tested under succeeding regimes of colonial control and foreign occupation, but fidelity to the faith and to the Church remained unshaken and grew even stronger and more mature.

Due homage must be paid to this achievement of the Filipino people, but what you are also creates an obligation and it confers upon the nation a specific mission. A country that has kept the Catholic faith strong and vibrant through the vicissitudes of its history, the sole nation in Asia that is approximately ninety percent Christian, assumes by this very fact the obligation not only to preserve its Christian heritage but to bear witness to the values of its Christian culture before the whole world.

Although small in size of land and population compared to some of its neighbors, the Philippine nation has undoubtedly a special role in the concert of nations, in order to consolidate peace and international understanding, and more particularly in maintaining stability in South East Asia, where it has a vital task.

The Filipino people will always draw the strength and inspiration that they need to carry out this task from their noble heritage—a heritage not only of Christian faith but also of the rich human and cultural values that are their own. Every man and woman, whatever his or her status or role, must strive in all earnestness to preserve, to deepen and to consolidate these values—these priceless gifts—against the many factors which seriously threaten them today.

An extract from the message of John Paul II:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Archbishop Soc Villegas to Priests on the Celebration of Mass

A Meditation for Priests
Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, DD
8 April 2011

And the fire on the altar shall always burn, and the priest shall feed it, putting wood on it every day in the morning…This is the perpetual fire which shall never go out on the altar. (Lev 6:12-13)

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him …  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us …?” (Luke 24, 30-32)

Every now and then, a younger brother priest would come up to me with these words, “How can we keep the fire of our priesthood alive? After only a few months after ordination, I already feel bored. I feel dry. I am not excited anymore. I might not last.” A priest who is not at peace with himself will not be able to inspire peace in another soul. O priests, you bright candles enlightening human souls, let your brightness never be dimmed. (Divine Mercy in my Soul, Diary of St. Faustina, 75).

Lost Fire

Every priest knows that feeling of the well drying up and the fire dying. The ordination honeymoon seems to end so quickly and monotony soon sets in. Burning out, running on empty —the feeling is all too familiar

The onslaught of all these feelings boils down to prayer, or more specifically, the lack or neglect of it. Indeed, pastoral action is attractive and so emotionally rewarding, and priests tend to be consumed by it. But when we sacrifice personal prayer for the sake of pastoral action, burn out, boredom and monotony will set in fast.

Unfortunately, the first victim in this boredom and burn out phenomenon is the Mass. We offer the Mass haphazardly without noticing it because we no longer examine our consciences anymore. We rush the prayers and omit the songs forgetting that the face of God is more important than the face of our wristwatch. We rehash old homilies ad nauseam. We put on the Mass vestments like we put on our ordinary shirts and pants and after we unvest, we just throw them on the table of the sacristy, in a rush to go to another appointment. The source and summit of our Christian life has become just a duty to do and a source of revenue. Sad! Why? How can we reverse the path?

In our desire to invigorate our seemingly humdrum life we begin to indulge in “other pursuits”. We explore hobbies and sports – photography, golf, tennis … We pursue further studies. We join more socials. Buy more gadgets. Take longer and farther vacations.

But the happiness continues to evade us. “In our age, as in every age, people are longing for happiness, not realizing that what they are looking for is holiness”. (Jerry Walls). The fire cannot be ignited again. We become mediocre and lukewarm and get accustomed to bland, tasteless water. We just submit to the reality that the wine of the Lord is no more.

Find Him where You Lost Him
It need not be so. You will find God where you lost Him. You lost Him at Mass? You will find Him again there. “… The whole Church draws life from the Eucharist, all the more then must the life of a priest be “shaped” by the Eucharist. So for us, the words of institution must be more than a formula of consecration: they must be a “formula of life“. (Letter of John Paul II to priests on Holy Thursday 2005, n.1).

Where in the Mass can we recover the Lord? As a brother to a brother, I encourage you to look at the silent prayers at Mass that we tend to gloss over or even totally ignore or forget because of haste or lack of concentration. “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”(GIRM, 45)

The priest’s silent prayers in various parts of the Mass are personal prayers that will help us to see ourselves not just as ministers for the validity of the sacraments but as fellow worshipers of the priestly people. The silent prayers prescribed for the priests during the Mass are not for the people but for us. These silent prayers remind us that we are not only there to bless; we also need to be blessed. We are not just at the ambo to teach; we are there to be taught also. We are not just there by the altar to minister; we also need to be ministered to. We are not just functionaries. We are not just tools. The Lord has calls us His friends.

The silent prayers of the priest at Mass, if properly prayed, will open for us that sense of awe and amazement as we perform our holy duty. “This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 5).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Renovation of the San Lazaro Church in Manila

Since the 1990's a considerable number of Catholic churches in the Philippines have been adorned with stained glass, sacred art and church furnishings in traditional (normally Baroque) style, much of it lavishly gilded or made of precious materials. This trend developed independently of any "reform of the reform" or "new liturgical" movements in the Latin Rite, and by and large it has been divorced from liturgical discussions and developments, save for the vexed question of the proper location of the tabernacle in the Catholic sanctuary. (For instance, in many of the renovated churches, the tabernacle's central position in the sanctuary has either been restored or retained and enhanced, while in a number of churches the "tradition-oriented" renovation either retained the tabernacle at the side, or banished it to that location. It is also noteworthy that many of the enormous retablos that have been constructed in recent years have no high altar attached to them, thus leaving a post-1964-style "altar-table" as the main or only altar.)

I refer to this as a  "trend", and not as a "movement", because this revival of sacred art in the Philippines, far from being the object of a pressure group or school of thought within the Church in the Philippines, seems to be more of a cultural reaction -- with roots in traditional Filipino piety -- to the colorless, sterile and "modern" church architecture that had begun to spread in the Philippines beginning in the 1950's.  

As a lifelong resident of Metro Manila I have seen this trend spread from parish to parish, and I have witnessed several drab, sterile and lifeless church interiors (normally dating to the 1960's and 1970's) enlivened by this latter-day revival of Filipino church art. Hopefully, this trend will soon become the topic of a formal academic dissertation or two, before photographs and memories fade and fall victim to the strange Filipino propensity for not keeping records for long, thus forgetting any but the barest outlines of the past. 

Perhaps the most recent such renovation in Manila is that of the Spanish-era San Lazaro Church, located inside the Department of Health compound alongside Rizal Avenue ("Avenida") in the Sta. Cruz district of Manila, a stone's throw away from the Tayuman station of LRT-1. A new retablo based upon photographs of the Spanish-era retablo of this church (which was destroyed during World War II) has been set up (albeit without a high altar attached to it), along with a more elaborate altar-table and ambo.

The pre-World War II sanctuary:

The sanctuary until early this year:

The new retablo, ambo and altar-table:

A detail of the retablo:

The ambo, featuring the symbols of the Four Evangelists:

From the altar-table:

Many thanks to my Facebook friend Mr. Roberto Cruz for the photographs!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kudos to Fil-Am priest

Recently, a number of widely-read Catholic blogs, especially the New Liturgical Movement, drew attention to the resourceful and tasteful re-decoration of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana. 



This church happens to be pastored by a Philippine-born priest, Fr. Rommel Tolentino, who was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lake Charles in 2005 at the age of 32. (Scroll down this webpage to see a short biographical notice.) He is also deeply involved in the Traditional Latin Mass movement in the said diocese (see this for instance), and St. Peter the Apostle has the TLM every Monday evening and First Saturday.

Some of the comments in the combox below the NLM article about this feat, cast more light upon Fr. Tolentino's accomplishment:

This church parish has been flooded and completely rebuilt several times. The current church building is not old; it is a modern, plain, brick functional structure with absolutely no architectural features. It's basically a rectangle with a pitched roof. Thanks to the opportunity afforded by the last hurricane, Fr.Tolentino took a scant budget, a great heart and mind, and many volunteer hours, and literally had everything here (almost) built or fabricated using materials that were available. A local university student did the paintings on the walls. Women volunteers stenciled. The "tile" floor is not. The altar rails are salvaged from a demolished church . . . many of the other "cardboard" seeming structures remain from the original church building. In real life, one would never realize what imagination, will, and a good priest can do with the help of a willing parish. This church is much more beautiful in real life.


Father Tolentino has been labeled "the ebay priest"... i PROMISE you would be shocked if you knew the number of the final project...donations...outpouring of items sent from churches all over...Father Tolentino has brought back the true Roman Catholic Church in our small community...He has taken on the responsibility of our Shepard and is taking very good care of our spiritual growth...


The renovations were made within a very strict budget provided by insurance proceeds following Hurricane Rita. The ceiling was not part of the damage therefore there were no monies for the very expensive process of refinishing. Note the added elevation to the alter, the columns, the stenciling etc. Considering the limited funds Fr. Rommel had to work with and the pre-existing structure, he did an amazing job of enhancing the beauty of St. Peter's. Walking in ones eyes are immediately drawn to the alter, tabernacle, crucifix and canopy. Knowing him I am sure there is more to come. :)


Kudos to Fr. Tolentino!

NB: His seminary paper on seafarers can be read here.