Category Archives: Church News

Is the Feast of the Ascension a Holy Day of Obligation?

Ascension Thursday and Holy Days of Obligation

On May 30, the whole worldwide Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension. The account of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is found in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20.

Scripture scholars tell us that there are two great “faces” to the celebration. First, the mission of the apostles is transformed from being learners to being teachers. Jesus gave them the mission: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”

Second, there is a reminder for all the followers of Jesus in every age, that we are also responsible for carrying on the message of the Gospel through our words and deeds. Our mission is to prepare the world for the coming reign of God.

Certainly, the message of the Ascension is significant, but is the Ascension a “holy day of obligation”? Well, it depends on where you live. In 1991 the bishops of the United States established that Ascension Thursday was one of the six days of Obligation to be observed throughout the entire country.

Then in 1999, because of some differences of opinion, it was decided that the bishops of every ecclesiastical province of the country could make a decision about Ascension Thursday for their own people. (An ecclesiastical province is a group of dioceses. There are 33 ecclesiastical provinces in the United States).

So now, in 2019, Thursday, May 30 is a Holy Day of Obligation if you live in the six ecclesiastical provinces of the Northeast, or in Nebraska. The Northeast provinces cover eight states on the Atlantic Coast, from Maine to Pennsylvania, and Nebraska is the ninth. In the remaining forty-one states, the celebration of the Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

Whether the obligation is yours or not, the meaning and message of the Ascension are worthy of our attention and prayer.

~ Sister Elissa Rinere, CP

New Norms on Child Protection

New Norms on Child Protection

Recently, Pope Francis issued a legal new document about child protection and the manner in which allegations of sexual misconduct are to be dealt with in the Church. Commentators fall into two basic categories; those who say the new law is a great step forward, and those who say the new norms do not go far enough. Probably, both views are correct.

In the “norms are a step forward” category, the norms name all clergy and religious as mandated reporters in all instances of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. There are protections in place for these mandatory reporters, and courses of action to be taken in case of retaliation against them.

Minors are defined as those under the age of eighteen. Vulnerable adults are any persons over eighteen who are in a state of physical or mental infirmity or deprived of personal liberty in a way that limits understanding. Furthermore, victims must be listened to, respected and given whatever spiritual, medical or therapeutic assistance called for in the particular circumstance.
The norms also provide a framework for holding bishops accountable if they fail in their responsibilities to take action, or if they themselves are accused of misconduct.

In the “norms do not go far enough” category, is the fact that all the reporting and investigation of allegations remain within the Church, with bishops or archbishops or with Vatican officials. There is minimal possibility for the involvement of the laity in these processes, so for many, the new norms are not new at all.

There is one important point to be made here. Most dioceses in the United States have had a process for reporting sexual misconduct and investigating allegations in place since 2002. That was the year the Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) implemented what is referred to as the Charter for the Protection of Children. One of the deficiencies of the 2002 Charter is the lack of consequences for bishops who fail to take action when action is called for. The new norms issued by Pope Francis address this point of episcopal accountability, and the USCCB will work to amend the already existing Charter to include this essential point.

Even at this time in the life of the Church, many dioceses around the world have no norms in place for addressing this crisis of clergy sexual abuse, no system for reporting abuse, and no guidelines for carrying out investigations. As this new law is implemented throughout the entire Church, we pray that the scandal of sexual abuse will be rooted out completely and forever.
Note: The full text of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter issued “motu proprio” (by his own authority) is titled “Vos estis lux mundi” and available at or at

~ Sister Elissa Rinere, CP

elizabeth prout

Cause for Elizabeth Prout Moves Forward

Elizabeth Prout, also known as Mother Mary Joseph, was the founder of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. They own and operate Our Lady of Calvary Retreat Center. Elizabeth was born on September 2, 1820, in England. She died on January 11, 1864. At the time of her death, the religious community she founded was small and poor.

Read more about Elizabeth Prout: “A Victorian Mother Teresa”: Servant of God Elizabeth Prout (1820-1864)

At the end of the 20th century, a renewed interest in the life and work of Mother Mary Joseph provided the impetus for the cause for her canonization to be opened. Her body was exhumed on June 20, 1973, and on July 30 reburied beside Passionists Father Ignatius and Blessed Dominic in a new shrine at Sutton, England.

Now, the cause for the canonization of Elizabeth Prout has reached another milestone. Early in January the Positio, which is all the documentation concerning her life and acts of heroic virtue, was reviewed by the theologians of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints at the Vatican and approved. Later this year the Positio will be reviewed by the Cardinals and bishops of the Congregation. If approved again,  the recommendation will be given to Pope Francis that Elizabeth Prout be declared “Venerable.” It is hoped that this level of the process will be completed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Elizabeth’s birth in 2020.


The Year of Mercy Continues

Amoris Laetitia, which is Pope Francis’ official response to the Synod discussions on marriage and family seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy.

On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis issued a new document, an apostolic exhortation, titled Amoris laetitia (The Joy of Love). The roots of this document go back to 2013, when a questionnaire dealing with issues of marriage and family life was sent from the Vatican to all dioceses of the world for response.

The responses to these questionnaires formed the basis for discussion of marriage and family in two Synods of Bishops, one in October 2014 and the second in October 2015. Both Synods received fairly significant media coverage when they were in session because the issues raised during the discussions were so difficult and so contemporary.

Following after these two Synods, Pope Francis proclaimed the Jubilee Year of Mercy which began in December 2015. In the document of proclamation, Pope Francis stated: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”

Then, in August 2015, Pope Francis announced some significant changes in the canon law regulating annulments. These changes went into effect in December 2015. In the document announcing these changes, Pope Francis again explained his motives: “Charity and mercy therefore require that the Church, as a mother, make herself closer to her children who consider themselves separated.”

Now, following in a direct path from these events, we have Amoris Laetitia, which is Pope Francis’ official response to the Synod discussions on marriage and family. Here again, the motive is clear: “[The exhortation] seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect and lacks peace” (#5).

Pope Francis describes marriage as a gift to the Church and to society, and family as an “image of the Trinity, a communion of persons.” He expresses the hope that all who read the text of the document will “feel called to love and cherish family life.”

The text is lengthy, over 250 pages, but the introduction suggests a slow, almost meditative reading, even indicating which chapters would be more suited to married couples or those preparing for marriage, and which are more suited to priests or bishops in their pastoral ministry to married couples and families.

Chapter Four, entitled “Love in Marriage,” is a scriptural and theological study of the famous passage from 1Corinthians 13: 4-7 that begins “Love is patient, love is kind…” Each quality of love named in the passage is explained in a way that is both simple and profound, and is then applied to married life. Anyone, but especially married couples, will profit from a prayerful reading of the entire chapter.

Chapter Seven, directed to parents, discusses the education of children, in both morality with respect to the culture, and in the passing on of the faith. In the latter, Pope Francis states, example is much more effective than any words.

Chapter Eight, on “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness” is directed more to bishops and pastors, but contains very important teaching for any reader. The heart of this chapter, as many theologians have pointed out, is that mercy is the hallmark of the Church’s ministry, and mercy must never be subordinated to law. “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed,” the exhortation states (#325), and consequently pastors must meet their people where they are, in the midst of whatever trials or irregularities exist in their lives. No one, Pope Francis says, is excluded from grace if their intentions are sincere. Therefore, no one is excluded from the ministry of pastors.

Writing specifically of those married outside the Church, Pope Francis teaches that every situation is different. Consequently, not everyone in an “irregular” marriage can be put into the same category. Rather, he says, every situation must be considered separately, since each situation has its own roots and causes. Also, in addressing each complex situation, Pope Francis gives renewed emphasis to the role of conscience and use of the “internal forum” as a means for an individual to acknowledge his or her own failings and assess suitable participation in the life of the Church community.

Pastors, we are told, are responsible not only for upholding the teachings of the Church on marriage but also for the “pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality” (#293). The way of the Church is not to condemn forever, but “to pour out the mercy of God on all who ask for it with a sincere heart” (#296).

This extraordinary document makes no changes in Church teaching. However, it challenges each member of the Church to place mercy above judgment. Pope Francis teaches eloquently of the presence of grace in the sincere heart, whatever might be the circumstances of the person’s life.

May each of us take this teaching to heart, not only for others but also for ourselves.

Sister Elissa Rinere, CP