An emotional high point of yesterday All Souls Mass at the church of Saint Francis here in Groningen. Fauré’s Pie Jesu was sung a cappella after Communion. In the prayerful silence the lone soprano voice called to my mind the imagery of a departed soul leaving everything earthly behind and rejoicing in the glory of the Lord.
Tomorrow is Ascension Day, and since it doesn’t look like I’ll have much of a chance to be online (rather like today, then), here is a text I wrote for the website of the St. Augustine parish for students in Groningen:
This Thursday we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Catholic Church that day counts as a Sunday. Because just like every Sunday this is a feast day which we specifically celebrate. And of course such a Sunday is more than just a day off. The Church asks us to keep the Sunday holy because of the importance of what we celebrate. That is taken directly from the Ten Commandments. How do we keep that day holy? By showing that we know what we celebrate and that we thank God for it. And we best recognise, celebrate and thank when we attend the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass. That is why there is a Sunday obligation for Ascension Day. We are expected to attend Mass that day. Not because the church has to be full, but because it is important for us, as members of the Body of Christ. Becoming aware of God’s acts is a first step towards the sanctification of our own lives.
There will not be a student Mass on Thursday. Instead you can go to the High Mass at the cathedral at 11:00. If you want to go before that, the doors of the St. Francis church, at the Zaagmuldersweg 67, are open for Mass at 9:30.
The Ascension of Christ is the conclusion of His work here on earth. Not that everything was now done and eternity was ready to begin; far from it. Things were really only starting for the Apostles. Just before ascending into heaven, Christ told them: “You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end” (Acts 1: 8). And that is exactly what happened at Pentecost, which we celebrate in almost two weeks. The Holy Spirit came over the Apostles and they become that strong witnesses of the faith who we find in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Ascension is therefore a new beginning. After the new Covenant had been established at the Ressurrection, it can now be put into practice. Jesus promises is that He will send us a helper: The Holy Spirit. We received Him ourselves at our personal Pentecost: the sacrament of Confirmation, and we can always ask the Holy Spirit to come over us anew, to guide and inspire us.
That is what the Ascension already indicates. But until Pentecost we stare up at the empty sky, with hope and faith in the promise made by two angels to the Apostles. And what a promise!
“Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven” (Acts 1: 11).
The news of the death of many of Poland’s highest-ranking government and military officials was hard to avoid today. Of course, most attention goes to the President Lech Kaczynski and his immediate entourage, and obituaries may be found here and there already. Military officials and members of parliament are undoubtedly also remembered by people and institutions close to them. Here in my blog I want to give some specific attention to Bishop Tadeusz Ploski of the Military Ordinariate, who was also aboard the doomed Tupolev that crashed today near Smolensk, Russia.
A short overview of his life:
Bishop Ploski was born in 1956 in the town of Lidzbark Warminski in the northeast of Poland. He entered seminary in Olsztyn in 1976 and was ordained to the priesthood of the Diocese (later archdiocese) of Warmia in 1982. From 1983 to 1986 he studied Church Law at the Catholic University of Lublin, after which he started working for the Polish bishops as a Church lawyer. From 1986 to 1992 he was editor of the Warmian diocesan newspaper as well as chaplain for the College of Education and the Academy of Agriculture and Technology in Olsztyn. In 1992 he was detached to the military. A year later he got his doctorate in Canon Law. In the years following he worked in various functions, always attached to the military, but also as a correspondent for Radio Vaticana and the Catholic News Agency. In 1998 he became a Professor in Religious Psychology in Olsztyn. He published some 150 articles about Canon Law and took part in numerous symposia and conferences about pastoral care and law in the military. On 16 October 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed him as bishop of the Polish military; he was installed on the 30th of the same month. Bishop Ploski was 54.
I’ve read rumours that Archbishop Henryk Muszynski, the Primate of Poland and as such the country’s highest cleric, was also considering joining the delegation to Katyn in Russia, which would join Russian officials in a remembrance for the Polish and Soviet victims who were murdered there in World War II. If true, the Archbishop evidently elected to stay at home, so avoiding a virtual disabling of the Church in Poland, not unlike the government has now been disabled.
Also on board the Tupolev were the following representatives of the Polish Churches: Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox chaplain to the Polish military; Father Jan Osiński, field chaplain; Father Bronisław Gostomski, Father Jósef Joniec, Father Zdzisław Król and Father Andrzej Kwaśnik, priests.
I live in a city where there is a large Polish Catholic community. Judging by what I read on the Internet I can only imagine how they must feel. In a sign of solidarity I will join them for their Mass tomorrow morning at 11:15, at the church of St. Francis.
If you’re active in the Church, in whatever capacity, the coming days are the busiest of the year. I don’t expect to catch much sleep, especially around Good Friday. There have been cases where I had a full workday, an all-night vigil and another full workday, totalling over 36 hours without sleep. A minor sacrifice.
Here is my schedule:
19:00: Mass. The last Mass before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper. It also includes the Washing of the Feet. The Blessed Sacrament is relocated to the Altar of Repose, as Jesus goes to Gethsemane and ultimately His death and resurrection.
20:30: Start of the vigil. With a friend I’ve organised this all-night vigil for the third time. We watch and pray with Christ in Gethsemane. The cathedral will be open until midnight, although anyone is welcome at any time.
07:00: End of the vigil with Lauds.
15:00: Stations of the Cross. In fourteen stages we relive the journey of Christ to the Cross, from His conviction by Pontius Pilate to His burial. It’s always an emotional experience.
19:00: Serving at the Service of the Passion of the Lord at St. Francis. Not a Mass, since the Lord is not there anymore. We venerate the Cross, tool of our salvation, during this service.
20:30: Serving at Easter Vigil at St. Francis. The early vigil where several catechumens will be baptised and/or confirmed. Always special to be a part of that.
23:00: Easter Vigil at the cathedral. A long Mass, the high point of not just our liturgical year, but our entire existence: Christ is risen! The rituals and music are always fantastic.
11:00: High Mass, offered by Bishop de Korte. Easter continues unabated and we still celebrate.
18:00: Mass for students. Which will be interesting because of a distinct lack of volunteers… But we’ll manage.
11:00: Serving at High Mass.