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This is a newsletter! Gower, Rosary mysteries, and the politics of 'family compact'

Hey everybody!

Today is the feast of the second joyful mystery — the feast of the Visitation — and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post, on Wednesday!

Eastern Christian fresco of the Visitation in St. George Church in Kurbinovo, North Macedonia. public domain.

There is, of course, much to be said about the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth — and I’ve learned a great deal about it from the Advent episodes of Sunday School, our Bible Study podcast. Today is a good day to give those episodes a listen.

But since this is a “mystery feast,” I wanted to mention something about the mysteries of the rosary and Pope St. Pius V.

The rosary, as you might know, has a long and beautiful history — early Christians used knotted prayer ropes to recite the Our Father, the Jesus Prayer, or the Psalms. The early prayer ropes, and later rosaries, had 150 beads, drawn from the recitation of 150 psalms by the Desert Fathers of the early Church. 

Over time, Catholics began to recite on their beads prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, including the Hail Mary. 

Longstanding tradition says that in 1214, the Blessed Virgin Mary conveyed the rosary as a prayer to St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. And the Dominicans became great champions of the rosary in the centuries after Dominic’s death.

In the same centuries, Carthusian monks began writing about a practice of prayer in which they meditated upon moments from the life of Jesus and Mary as they prayed Hail Marys — and over time, it became more customary to pray a more-or-less consistent set of mysteries, in sets of Hail Marys divided into decades.  

In 1569, Pope St. Pius V issued a decree which explained that the rosary properly involves both vocal prayer — recitation of the Hail Marys and Our Fathers — and mental prayer — meditation on the mysteries of the life of Jesus.

Pius, the Dominican pope celebrated the role of the Dominicans in advancing and propagating the rosary, and urged prayer according to the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries in the manner which is now the ordinary way of praying the rosary. 

“Pope Pius V.” Scipione Pulzone, 1578. Public domain.

The pope also attested to the power of the rosary for conversion, noting that: “Christ’s faithful, inflamed by these prayers, began immediately to be changed into new men. The darkness of heresy began to be dispelled, and the light of the Catholic Faith to be revealed.”

After Pius urged prayer of the “Dominican form” of the rosary, it became standard through the Latin Catholic Church, and changed significantly only in 2002, when Pope St. JPII urged prayer of the luminous mysteries of the rosary. 

So today, for the feast of the Visitation, pray the rosary — or at least the second joyful mystery. We’ve found that with restless kids, sometimes one family decade is more fruitful than pushing for the whole thing, and that might work for your family too.

Pray for the intercession of St. Mary and St. Elizabeth — and for the intercession of Pope St. Pius V, who helped us to know how to meditate on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her son Jesus.


The news

I went last week to take things in at Gower Abbey, a Benedictine monastery of nuns in rural Missouri, where the body of the late Sr. Wilhelmina Lancaster was recently exhumed, and is believed to be incorrupt — often regarded as an extraordinary sign of sanctity.

Indeed, I am not an expert, but I spent a fair amount of time in the direct presence of Sr. Wilhelmina’s body, and I was astounded by what I saw: Her skin, though now covered with a light transparent layer of wax, appeared to be intact and preserved, and limbs and hands and feet seemed not to have decomposed at all. I was most astounded that as I knelt directly in front of her body, there was no odor at all of decay or decomposition. 

Since the nun was not embalmed, buried four years ago, and found with a cracked coffin in wet and muddy earth, that seems extraordinary to me. Again, I am not an expert, and I allow that there might be some natural explanation of what’s happened to Sr. Wilhelmina’s body, but I was astounded — and as readers know, I’m often pretty cynical. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I drove to Gower Abbey. I half-believed there might be no one there at all. Instead, I came upon a crowd of thousands who had come to see the nun, and had come to pray. Some were devout Catholics, some were not Catholic at all. Some came skeptically, and some came hoping for a miracle. 

All of them waited in long lines, to kneel down in front of Sr. Wilhelmina’s body, to press rosaries and scapulars against her habit, or take with them a jar or bag of earth from the place where she’d been buried. 

The nuns of Gower Abbey were hospitable, and have been insistent that they’ll wait for the judgment of the Church about the possible miracle at their monastery. It’s not clear how that judgment might be made — we’ve learned there’s no protocol for investigating the possibility of an incorrupt body, especially before a cause of canonization has begun. 

That’s just one part of this story. Because the people who have come to Gower Abbey say they’ve seen God’s grace at work. Some talk about what it means to them that a Black nun might be incorrupt, in a country with few Black Catholics. Some talk about what it means that a traditionalist nun might be incorrupt, at a challenging time for Traditionalist Catholics. 

And others talk about the simple confirmation that God is real, and powerful, and that the hidden life can manifest extraordinary graces for the world.

I ended up writing a lot — as I sometimes do — 5,000 words or so, making this kind of a long story. 

But I wanted to give the experience of being at Gower Abbey, and taking in the mystery of Sr. Wilhelmina’s body, the hospitality and sanctity of the nuns, the vibrancy of the volunteers helping out, and the hope of the pilgrims I met. 

I hope you’ll read this report. And — while the Church is still investigating what’s happened at Gower Abbey — I can’t deny that it’s been a source of extraordinary hope for a lot of Catholics. Including me.

Read about it here.

Also, if you want to read a bit more about what the Church has to say regarding “incorruptibility,” here’s a great explainer from Michelle La Rosa.

And I should mention that it’s 1,000% because of our subscribers that when this began to unfold in Missouri, I was able to hop on a flight, rent a car, drive to Gower, and talk with dozens of people there to bring you a full, thorough, and fair report. Thank you.

No kidding — we’re really grateful that The Pillar is a subscriber-supported Catholic journalism. But if you depend on The Pillar, and you don’t subscribe, now’s the time — we really need you to be a part of what we do:

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Last week, we brought you a thorough report on the controversy — and the lawsuit — between the Carmelite nuns of Arlington, Texas, and Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth. 

This morning we bring you the latest: Olson wrote to the nuns on Friday confirming to them that he would not permit daily Mass at the monastery, or regular access to confession, until the nuns drop the lawsuit, or until it concludes.

The bishop said that the nuns’ lawsuit has incited “hatred and animosity against me” and “has hindered the freedom of my ecclesiastical power.”

As a result, he said, the nuns can have only Sunday Mass and periodic access to confession. The nuns, of course, are cloistered, which means that if Mass is not offered at their monastery, they can’t very well just go over to the local parish to worship. And the Eucharist, as you likely know, is the absolute center of their lives — the source and summit of their Christian life, if you will.

This is, in short, a big deal. The nuns have already initiated a number of appeals to the Vatican, and are likely to initiate a direct appeal of this decision as well. 

In Texas, this has become a serious standoff, and both sides seem dug in. It is unlikely to resolve until there is intervention from the Holy See. 

Read the latest.

The Holy See announced Tuesday that the Diocese of Las Vegas has been elevated to the status of an archdiocese — a metropolitan see — with the dioceses of Reno and Salt Lake City as suffragan sees.

We told you back in November that the bishops had been consulted about this possibility in the closed-door sessions of their fall USCCB meeting. After that consultation, the prospect went to Rome, and once the Dicastery for Bishops had a prefect settled into place, the decision moved forward to the pope. 

There are still some odds and ends to be worked through, but the move is basically a recognition of the booming Catholic population in the American West, and the need for ecclesiastical infrastructure to catch up. 

But if you’re wondering what a metropolitan archbishop does, or why this matters, read our report right here.

Yesterday was the feast of St. Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, who lived and died in the 1400s, and was canonized nearly 500 years later.

Joan of Arc is a symbol of French identity, and of the nation of France itself. But her popularity in France, and devotion to her intercession, have waxed and waned over the centuries, often in response to France’s political circumstances, and the prevailing social philosophy of the country.

And indeed, as Brendan Hodge explained, those factors played a role in the eventual push to see her canonized. 

If you’re interested in France, awesome saints, or the interplay between Church, culture, and state — read this analysis. It’s Brendan Hodge at his finest, really.

Next, an interview with Rocco Buttiglione, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and an Italian politician, who was nominated to become a European Commissioner but saw his nomination blocked controversy over his adherence to Catholic doctrine on sexuality. 

In an interview first published by the Croatian magazine Bitno, Buttiglione offered his views on Europe, his own political career, and the life of the Church. The Pillar republished the interview — Read it here.

After two years of evidence gathering, the first phase of the Vatican’s trial will end in June.

The trial will stop interviewing witnesses next month, and prosecutors will then begin making their arguments before a three-judge panel, followed by arguments from the defense.

The structure of a trial is different from an American trial, but suffice it to say, we might be in the home stretch now, two years after an indictment.

You can read the latest testimony from the trial, and what comes next, right here — because you’ll get a play-by-play of this trial, from soup to nuts, only at The Pillar.  

Finally, one other news item worth noting:

The pope on Tuesday announced his support for a Vatican project called the Family Global Compact, which is supposed to encourage collaboration between dioceses, university researchers, and the Holy See to “better promote a culture of life and family,” and to encourage better pastoral care in the Church for families. 

The initiative, organized by the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, is supposed to encourage research and discussion of pastoral care initiatives for families and public policy proposals, “so that the family can be better served in spiritual, pastoral, cultural, legal, political, and economic, and social spheres.”

It’s a nice idea, if not a bit ambitious for the Holy See to pull off. It’s the sort of Vatican project that likely has very good intentions, but is not likely well-funded, and will probably not become a major producer of very much — it will likely host a few conferences and release a few white papers, that sort of thing.

But there is one thing especially interesting about the project — it’s been undertaken as a joint initiative of the Vatican’s large laity dicastery and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

It does not include — as a few commentators have already pointed out — the Pontifical Academy for Life, even though the project would seem to be directly in the remit of that academy, and even while one might expect the involvement of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome, which was overhauled controversially a few years ago under the leadership of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who oversees the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Those figures and institutions might eventually pop up in the Family Compact project, but they’re not visibly involved ab initio. And it’s worth at least asking if that isn't because of the considerable controversy generated in recent months by the theological ambiguity of Archbishop Paglia on both euthanasia and contraception, and because of the cleric’s alleged financial misconduct, first reported by The Pillar.

Again, Paglia and his institutions might crop up in this project. But their absence at the beginning is worth noting, and could signify that the controversial Churchman’s star is fading.

We shall see.

We’ll have plenty more reporting coming to you this week, and we’re gearing up to cover the USCCB’s spring meeting in mid-June.

In the meantime, here are a few more photos from Gower, Missouri.

Thanks for making that reporting — and all of our reporting — happen. Be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.

In Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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