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What you need to know: Mass prayers to change, and a synod in Germany

Hey everybody:

Happy Tuesday. Here’s what we’ve been working on at The Pillar:

On Ash Wednesday, the words of the “collect” prayer, part of the introductory rites of the Mass, will change. Or, well, just one word will change. Here’s why.

Since 2019, the Vatican and the German bishops’ conference have been at odds over the German “synodal path,” a multi-session meeting of bishops and German laity that aims to pass structural and doctrinal changes to the Catholic Church in Germany.

The Apostolic See has said that plans by the Germans to make changes to universal laws and doctrine of the Catholic Church are unacceptable, and the Germans have persisted in moving forward with their synod plans.

The Congregation for Bishops told The Pillar this week that the Vatican is reviewing a set of proposal produced by a working group of the German synod. The document under review calls for committees at the parish and diocesan level to be given the power to overrule decisions made by bishops, and calls for the election of pastors and bishops, and for a vote by German Catholics on the ordination of women to the priesthood.   

Those ideas will almost certainly be seen in Rome to contravene the Church’s doctrinal correlation between the power of ecclesiastical governance and the sacrament of orders, and to contradict other direct doctrinal teaching of the Church.

Absent some Vatican intervention, the proposals are expected to be scheduled for debate and a vote this spring by the entire German synodal assembly.

Read more reporting on the story here, and then read this analysis from Ed, which asks what the Germans might hope to achieve by pressing ahead with proposals Rome seems sure to reject?


On Monday, Bishop John Brungardt of Dodge City, Kansas, voluntarily stepped aside from diocesan leadership while he is investigated by law enforcement and ecclesiastical authorities for an allegation of sexual abuse against a minor.

The bishop denies the allegation.

Since 2018, at least 10 U.S. bishops have been subject to Vatican investigations for allegations of abuse, sexual misconduct, cover-up, or grave administrative negligence on matters pertaining to the sixth commandment. Four of those investigations remain ongoing. At The Pillar, we’ve published a list, which we’ll continue to maintain and update as new developments become available.

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Pope Francis on “the crisis of human relationships”

Pope Francis yesterday gave his annual address to the entire corps of ambassadors sent to the Holy See from the nations around the world. The speech gives a helpful snapshot of the pope’s sense of the major issues facing the Church around the world, and the areas of success and growth.

Unsurprisingly, the pope discussed at length the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on world affairs, and especially on various social and economic issues. The pope noted especially “the crisis of human relationships, as the expression of a general anthropological crisis, dealing with the very conception of the human person and his or her transcendent dignity.”

“The pandemic, which forced us to endure long months of isolation and often loneliness, has brought out the need of every individual for human relationships,” Pope Francis said.

He mentioned especially the isolation of children unable to attend school, and the victims of domestic violence of who have suffered especially during pandemic lockdowns.

The pope also reflected on religious freedom, which, he said, “ is a fundamental aspect of the human person and of society, and cannot be eliminated. Even as we seek ways to protect human lives from the spread of the virus, we cannot view the spiritual and moral dimension of the human person as less important than physical health.”

In short, you should read this speech, most especially the concluding section on human relationships. There’s a lot to think about.

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More things to read

In his speech, the pope made reference to a letter from Dante Alighiere’s Letter to Lord Can Grande della Scala. It was, to me at least, an unfamiliar reference, so I found and read the letter. The letter is largely Dante’s own commentary on the Divine Comedy, which I found rather interesting, especially his reflections on the senses in which literature can be read.

You might find it interesting, if you have the time

By the way, Pope Francis frequently recommends a favorite novel, “The Betrothed,” which I have read and enjoyed a few times. It is the best pandemic novel you’ll probably read, so now might be an especially good time to pick it up if you haven’t. 

Part of my own Lenten reading this year will be the prison writings of Fr. Alfred Delp, SJ. A German Jesuit, Delp was falsely implicated in a 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, and was executed in 1945. The book I intend to pick up is focused on Advent —  the season in which Delp was in prison — but I’ve been told Delp’s reflections on the cross can be equally fruitful spiritual reading in Lent. Plus, I meant to read it in Advent, and that didn’t happen, so I’m trying again. I’ll let you know.

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Halley’s Comet

Halley’s Comet is, well, a comet, visible with the naked eye every 75 or 76 years, making it the only naked-eye comet that might be seen twice in the same lifetime.

The last time it became visible from earth with the naked eye was February 9, 1986, 35 years ago.

I’ve long thought that standing outside to see Halley’s Comet in 1986 was one of my earliest memories; I was three at the time. But I asked my dad last night, and he was skeptical I actually remember that. My dad is an astronomy geek, and he reminded me that standing outside late at night in some field far from city lights was a pretty typical experience in my childhood. Plus, my dad said, it was pretty cloudy the night we looked at Halley’s Comet, and so the experience left a lot of people somewhat nonplussed.

I think this means I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to see the thing in 2061, when next it comes around. I hope my dad comes with, but if he does he’ll be 105.

As a final note, we changed some back-end web hosting things at The Pillar this week, and that’s led to some unexpected lapses, for some people, of being unable to view the site. The problem is the kind that mostly sorts itself out, and should be entirely resolved by now. But if you find you can’t access The Pillar from your browser, give it a few hours, and the issue should be resolved.

With a month behind us, Ed and I are at work digging into a number of important issues in the Church, and we’ll keep reporting them as we’re able. Thank you for your support.

Please continue to pray for us, and be assured of our prayers.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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