Category Archives: Sermons

Sermon preached for Pentecost XV

Image: St. Gregory Society Mass at St. Stanislaus Church, New Haven CT (2009)

By Fr. Richard Cipolla

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings. (2 Timothy: 3-4)

I have always loved this phrase “itching ears” in this passage from the Second Epistle to Timothy. These are those who hearing sound doctrine try to scratch what they are hearing because it interferes with what they want to hear, “to suit their own likings.” That the Catholic Church is in a time of crisis no one can deny. It is not the first time that the Church has been in crisis. Church history, which is not popular in a time of cancel culture, provides a good number of examples of crises that faced the Church. The age of the Church Fathers in the first seven centuries was a critical time for the Church, for the Church had to counter doctrines that would have contradicted the truth about the person of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Holy Spirit. The early Middle Ages had to confront false doctrine concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Protestant Reformation was one of the greatest of the crises the Church has had to face. And in the twentieth century Pope St Pius X had to confront the heresy of Modernism. That heresy, because it takes so many forms, is still with us today.

There are several elements in the crisis within the Church today. Many deal with the question of development of doctrine and how the Church should meet the challenges of a culture that is either uninterested in any form of religion or that is actively hostile to the teaching of the Catholic Church. But I believe that the deepest crisis facing the Church today is how the Church worships. Lex orandi, lex credendi. How the Church prays is the foundation of what the Church believes.

This Mass today that we celebrate in this church is the Traditional Roman Mass, which was and still is at the very heart of the Tradition of the Catholic Church. And this Mass today is made possible by the group known as the St. Gregory Society. founded in 1985 to promote the local celebration of the Traditional Latin Liturgy according to the Tridentine Missal in response to the Papal indult of October 3, 1984. Many of us here are indebted to the Society for having the courage and faith to begin the restoration of the Traditional Roman Mass to its rightful place in the Church after the imposition of the Novus Ordo Mass on the Church by Pope St Paul VI in the name of the Second Vatican Council. Without the St. Gregory Society you would not be here today. Without the St. Gregory Society I would not be here today. The most important day in my almost 38 years as a Catholic priest was the first time I celebrated Solemn Mass in Sacred Heart church in this city, a parish which no longer exists. It was at that Mass that I discovered the beauty and reverence of Catholic worship. It was at the Mass that I experienced for the first time in my priesthood the very heart of the Tradition of the Catholic Church. And I have never looked back.

The greatest crisis facing the Church today is the crisis of worship. Pope Benedict understood this deeply and tried to address the crisis in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. That act resulted in the discovery of the Traditional Mass by many Catholics, both lay and priests. Those of us who know the young priests and seminarians know of their interest in and love for the Traditional Mass. This, for those in the hierarchy who are committed to the Novus Ordo Mass – as what is called in Traditionis Custodes(irony of all irony) the ONLY form of the Roman Mass—this is a problem. And this latest Motu Proprio from Pope Francis, severely limiting the freedom to celebrate the Traditional Mass, is the answer of those who are blind to the disastrous situation where regular Mass attendance is below 20% in most of this country, and far below that in Europe. They claim that those returning to the Traditional Mass are denying the validity of the Second Vatican Council that asked for liturgical reform and renewal. Unfortunately, there are those who champion the Traditional Mass and who say nonsensical and blanket denunciations of Vatican II. That must stop, my friends. The Second Vatican Council is like all Councils. Most of what was said at Lateran II has been forgotten. What needed to be said has been remembered and has become a part of the development of doctrine. Our job is neither to be nostalgic about the past nor is it to condemn Councils. Our job is to allow more and more Catholics to discover the beauty and depth of the Traditional Mass, and to do so with a smile.

As more and more scholarship is applied to the Novus Ordo form of Mass, it is becoming more and more evident that there is indeed a discontinuity between the Traditional Roman Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass. One scholar opines that only 36% of the 1962 Missal was preserved intact in the Roman Missal of 1970. If I decided to do a new edition of David Copperfield and eliminated 60% of what Charles Dickens wrote and added chapters of my own making, would it be honest or possible to still call it David Copperfield? But let us be clear: there is no question of the validity of the Mass of Paul VI. And there should be no question of the rightful place of the Traditional Mass now and in the future.

This is why the St. Gregory Society is so very important today. It not only must continue doing what it has always done. But it must also realize that these are different times. We must no longer be content to have Masses on Sunday afternoon in a parish church that will allow us to celebrate this Mass. We must work for a permanent home in which the Mass can be celebrated in all of its beauty and truth. We must maintain a high standard in all that pertains to the Mass, including the music of Catholic Tradition, the training of servers, and yes even the priests who celebrate the Mass. This is not a time for negativity, not a time for looking back, not a time for discouragement. This is a time for joyful evangelization, with the emphasis on joy. This is a time to get Yale students, many of whom have been totally secularized, to come and see and to experience something that they will never be exposed to at a university that has turned its back on its Christian origins. This is a time to invite family and friends to this Mass, a time to do whatever we can not merely to make this Mass survive but primarily to help to make Catholics once again understand who and what are at the heart of Catholic Traditional: the person of Jesus Christ and the beauty and truth of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

Attend to the Lord

For My flesh is meat indeed: and My blood is drink indeed.
(Jn 6:56)

There is no question for the moment to expatiate on lengthy explanations, nor on sermons, but rather to praise and give thanks. Focus your attention on the Lord Who has visited you. You have in you at the present time the Master of all masters. Listen to Him. Listen carefully to what He is going to tell you in the innermost depths of your being, in a mysterious, yet very effective way. He will not talk to your soul through outer words, but He will stamp directly onto your heart the teaching that you need. Only, be very careful to keep inner silence, whet the hearing of your heart, incline your ear towards His mouth, and listen. (Theophan the Recluse, hermit of Vycha in the 19th century)

 Abbot Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
from a Sermon for Corpus Christi 2016

 Noli me tangere

Don't touch me“Why are you troubled, and there are doubts in your heart? Look at my hands and my feet, feel me and see”, says the Lord (Lk 24, 38f)

St. Augustine preached, “Was He perhaps already ascended to the Father when He said: ‘Touch me and see’? He let His disciples touch Him, indeed, not only touch but feel, to provide a foundation for faith in the reality of His flesh, in the reality of His body. The well-foundedness of the reality had to be made obvious also through human touch. Thus He let Himself be touched by the disciples”.

Will you touch the Lord, and more, will you allow the Lord to touch you?

Sermon: The Good Shepherd

Sermon on The Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16)
given by Fr. Dennis Kolinski, SJC
St. Stanislaus Church in New Haven, CT
The Second Sunday after Easter, 14 April 2013

The readings, which we hear every Sunday during Mass come from a different time and different culture, but they, nonetheless, tell us about things, which are still current. Perhaps, the context is different, but human nature has not changed. Listening to the Holy Scriptures we should see not only prophets and apostles, Jews and Greeks but also ourselves. Sometimes we see the connection right away but sometimes it isn’t as readily apparent. But the words of Scripture are words, which should always speak directly to us.

For instance, in today’s gospel from St. John Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd and us His sheep. “I am the Good Shepherd; a good shepherd is ready to lay down his life for his sheep. … I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own and my own know me. … they will heed my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”1 And in his first epistle St. Peter, the head shepherd of the Church after Christ’s Ascension into heaven, continued the same analogy that his Master used, writing, “For you were once like straying sheep, but now you have turned back to the Shepherd who watches over your souls.”2

Christ spoke about us this way because we are really very similar to sheep, which are very helpless animals. They need a sheepherder to constantly lead them to water and to pasture. Sometimes they wander far away from the flock and get lost. They can’t defend themselves. They can’t quite seem to make it on their own and are reliant on the shepherd for so many aspects of their existence. This doesn’t present a very flattering picture of how we are, but nonetheless, when we rely only on ourselves we are really very similar to sheep—helpless in many everyday matters and sometimes just plain stupid in some of the things that we do. We are constantly getting lost in the matters of this world and our earthly shepherds, who are acting in the name of the Supreme Shepherd, lead us back on the right road time and time again—just like sheep.

Christ remains the One True Shepherd of our souls, as both St. John and St. Peter wrote, but He knew that we would still need visible shepherds on this earth and that’s why He appointed other shepherds to act in His name, to take His place here on earth after He ascended to His Father in heaven. He left behind priests and bishops, who are called “pastors” from the Latin word for “shepherd.” And above all, He entrusted His sheep in a special way to the pope as His chief shepherd on earth.

There are those, however, who find themselves being led, not by the Good Shepherd and His appointed co-workers, but as St. John writes, by a “hired man,” who allows the wolf to ravage the flock and scatter the sheep, “for the hired man is not their shepherd and they are not his sheep.”3 The hired man is a false shepherd and the wolf that ravages the flock is the Devil.

We unfortunately have many false shepherds today and many of the sheep are being scattered. These false shepherds often imitate the voice of the True Shepherd and this is what makes them so dangerous. They fool the sheep into thinking that they are safe with them, but they actually lead them outside of the sheepfold, where they are left unprotected from attacks by the wolf. How many Catholics have been led astray by faulty or watered-down teachings? Many of them have believed their shepherds in good faith, just like sheep, not realizing that they have been led out of the fold.

And how many traditional Catholics have also been led astray because of those, who look like a true shepherd, or sound like a true shepherd, or act like a true shepherd, but are really only false shepherds, who are acting, not on the authority of the One True Shepherd, but only on their own authority? Beware! Just because it look right doesn’t mean that you are safe from false shepherds, who have also led many of Christ’s sheep astray under the pretext of tradition and orthodoxy.

Those, who have been seduced by false shepherds, find themselves outside of the sheepfold, no longer protected by the walls of the enclosure, which help guard against the attacks of the wolf. We have only one true shepherd here on earth that legitimately acts in the name of the Good Shepherd and that is Peter. And where Peter is, there is the Church. Whoever is not solidly with Peter is only a false shepherd, who “has no concern for the sheep.”4And if you aren’t solidly with Peter, then you’re acting like a Protestant, who is merely a sheep shepherding himself.

There will always be those, who don’t want to listen to the True Shepherd and lose their way. Modern man doesn’t like to think that he needs someone else’s guidance, much less someone to lead him. Modern man thinks that he is intelligent enough to decide for himself what is right. He doesn’t want to be shepherded and feels that he can lead himself. Wandering about thinking that he can shepherd himself and make his own decisions he may run into someone, who suits his own needs, thinking that this is a true shepherd. But before he knows it, he has wandered so far away from the flock that he can’t find his way back. This is precisely why Christ called us sheep and that’s why He said that we need a shepherd.

If we don’t find ourselves firmly within the sheepfold of the Church under its chief shepherd, our enemy, whose name is Satan, will sneak in and steal our souls. Because if we aren’t listening to the voice of the one, whom Christ left here to tend His flock in His place, then we are not listening to Christ. We must always be sure that we are the sheep, who listen to the Good Shepherd and follow Him, for if we aren’t we will we find out only too late that we have become the goats, who were separated from the sheep because they listened to the voice of another shepherd.

Christ called us His sheep and said that He is the Good Shepherd, who is ready to lay down His life for His sheep. He said, “I know my own and my own know me.”5 His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. “For you were once like straying sheep, but now you have turned back to the Shepherd who watches over your souls.”6 Let us always make sure that we remain within His flock. Let us always make sure that it is His voice that we are following, for then “there will be one flock and one shepherd.”7

1 John 10:11-16.
2 1 Peter 2:25.
3 John 10:12.
4 John 10:13.
5 John 10:14.
6 1 Peter 2:25.
7 John 10:16.

Sermon: Summorum Pontificum

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2007
Mass of Thanksgiving for Pope Benedict and the Motu Proprio
July 15, 2007
Rev. Richard G. Cipolla

It would be churlish and pedantic to point out that Mass of Thanksgiving is redundant since the Mass is essentially a thanksgiving for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a thanksgiving that is not merely an action of those giving thanks but also, and more importantly and essentially a thanksgiving that makes present the very act for which we give thanks, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. But to be a churl and pedant on this day of joy is impossible. There is no need here to rehearse the contents of the Motu Proprio and the letter to the bishops from the Pope that accompanied the major document. There certainly is need to do so in 99% of our parishes, in order to puncture the culture of ignorance that has grown up in the Church these past forty years. But not here and not now. And this not only because all who gather here for this Mass love the traditional Roman Mass and after September 14 will love the extraordinary use of the Roman rite. But also because this is the goal for which the St. Gregory Society worked for, many times not even daring to hope that something like this might happen, for years working to keep alive something precious, something important, something fundamental, the basic treasure of the Church that was in danger of being forgotten, and forgetting of a basic treasure is a sin.

It is important to place the Motu Proprio in its context. The context is not primarily the return of the estranged members of the Society of St Pius X. The context is not to satisfy the poor old souls who clung to the old form and could never quite give themselves over to the new order. The context is the good of the Church. Whatever the spin given by the secular media and the Church media, the context is the good of the Church. (As the Holy Father wrote in his letter accompanying the Motu Proprio: “It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.”)

But I would also suggest that the context is the reform of the Church, and specifically the Benedictine reform of the Church. Can it be an accident that the feast of St. Benedict on Wednesday fell in the middle of the octave of the promulgation of the MP? I think not. For this Pope chose his name as Pope for reasons that are very clear: just as St. Benedict and the monastic movement became the foundation for Catholic and Western culture, so too the Pope named Benedict is determined to lead the reform that will become the basis of the reflowering of the Catholic faith as an integral part of western culture and therefore will result in the reform of that culture itself.

The first sign, or salvo, of the Benedictine reform was the Regensburg speech. The integral relationship between faith and reason, and between philosophy and theology, was enunciated clearly and cogently. The disastrous divide between faith and reason, and between philosophy and theology, has had terrible consequences for not only Catholicism but for Christianity itself, yea, even for the very concept of faith, which has been reduced in so many places to something individualistic, irrational, emotional and unreal. The Pope’s words: “The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur—this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.”

The second salvo was the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum removing the shackles imposed by the ungenerosity of many bishops on the traditional Roman rite, admitting that the 1962 Missal was never abrogated, and encouraging priests anywhere at anytime to celebrate this Mass. Free at last, free at last. The third salvo was sounded just a few days ago with the publication of the Response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that re-iterated what the declaration Dominus Jesus said seven years ago but in a way that all may clearly understand what the Catholic Church teaches about her own self-identity as the true Church of Christ, never denying the presence of grace outside the Church, but always affirming the historical and doctrinal truth of the self-understanding of the Catholic Church as “the one Church of Christ.” Far from being un-ecumenical as some comments have claimed, this document dares to be honest, and there can be no progress in ecumenism without honesty and clarity.

I have no doubt that these three documents are just the beginning of what will become known as the Benedictine reform, joining those other great reforms of the Church, especially the two Gregorian reforms and the Tridentine reform, all of which are evidence of the vitality of the ecclesia semper reformanda. But today we want to concentrate on the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, that is the magna carta of contemporary liturgical reform. But like all such documents that give freedoms which make reform possible, they cannot bring about the reform itself. That always depends on people taking this freedom and using it and doing what has to be done, all for the good of the Church. Just as the freedom bought by Christ on the Cross has no meaning unless it is appropriated in faith, so too the freedom of the Motu Proprio has no meaning unless it is carried out by the Church faithful: the bishops, priests, religious, and especially the men and women who are the backbone of the Church, the laity.

There will be those traditionally minded Catholics who will find it very difficult to give up the bunker mentality of the past forty years. They have become so used to thinking of themselves as beleaguered, persecuted and the object of scorn; they have become so used to thinking about bishops and most priests as the enemy who could crush them if they tried to come out into the light of day; they have for so long a time feared to even hope for the restoration of the classical Roman rite; all of this bunker mentality attitude. This must be shed, for if it is not, that freedom to do what has to be done given in the Motu Proprio will lie fallow. There must be bridge-building, especially with the bishops. There must be a generous willingness to participate fully in the implementation of the real restoration of the classical Roman rite within and for the whole Church. The open hearts asked for by the Holy Father must be seen and encountered in those of us who love this Mass and know its great value for the whole Church of the future.

This means that organizations like the St Gregory Society must re-evaluate their role and their priorities. The courage and patience and fortitude grounded in love that has borne fruit in the Motu Proprio must now be channeled no longer to just maintain the presence of the classical Roman rite but rather to its implementation in the whole Church and the fruits of that implementation that will be the reform of the liturgy.

This also means that those priests, especially the young priests, who recognize the beauty and truth and goodness of the classical Roman rite, must display prudent courage in their own parishes, in seeing that the use of this rite spreads to the whole Church. This is not a time for waffling, it is not a time for wait and see which way the wind is blowing before I move attitude, this is not a time for assessing one’s clerical career. When the truth, goodness and beauty is shown to you in your face, as it were, you must respond with all that you have for the good of the Church. Always, always with prudence and love.

And this means that the laity who know and understand how important the presence of the classical Roman rite is to the future of the Church must abandon the friendly idol of convenience and sentimentality and take on the burden of sacrifice, a burden that is in fact easy and light.

I close with words from that sermon that inspired this sermon, a sermon preached 150 years ago in England to a group of clergy about to enter into a new time for the Church. The sermon is The Second Spring. The writer is one of the men to whom I owe my own conversion to Catholicism, John Henry Newman.

“And there on that high spot, far from the haunts of men, yet in the very center of the island, a large edifice, or rather pile of edifices, appears with many fronts and courts, and long cloisters and corridors, and story upon story. And there it rises, under the invocation of the same sweet and powerful name which has been our strength and consolation in the Valley. I look more attentively at that building, and I see that it is fashioned upon that ancient style of art which brings back the past, which had seemed to be perishing from off the face of the earth, or to be preserved only as a curiosity, or to be imitated only as a fancy. I listen, and I hear the sound of voices, grave and musical, renewing in old chant, with which Augustine greeted Ethelbert in the free air upon the Kentish strand. It comes from a long procession, and it winds along the cloisters. Priests and religious, theologians from the schools, and canons from the cathedral, walk in due precedence…and at last I see a Prince of the Church, in the royal dye of empire and of martyrdom, a pledge to us from Rome of Rome’s unwearied love, a token that that goodly company is firm in Apostolic faith and hope. And the shadow of the saints is there;–St Benedict is there, speaking to us by the voice of bishop and priest, and counting over the long ages through which he has prayed and studied and labored; there too is St. Dominic’s white wool, which no blemish can impair, no stain dim; and if St Bernard be not there, it is only that his absence may make him remembered more……And so that high company moves on into the holy place; and there, with august rite and awful sacrifice, inaugurates the great act which brings it thither….

“The world grows old, but the Church is ever young. Arise, make haste, my love…for now the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land…Arise, Mary…Arise, Mother of God! Shine on us, dear Lady with thy bright countenance….till our year is one perpetual May. From thy sweet eyes, from thy pure smile, from thy majestic bow, let ten thousand influences rain down, not to confound, not to overwhelm, but to persuade.. O Mary, my hope, O Mother undefiled, fulfill to us the promise of this Spring.”