Institution as Acolytes

Last week, my brother formation classmates and I each received letters from our Bishop in response to our recent letters to him.

Mine read, “I have received your letter… petitioning to be instituted in the Ministry of Acolyte and confirming your intention to continue formation for the permanent diaconate. I have also received the letter from your wife, Suzanne, endorsing your petition… After receiving the endorsement of your petition by those entrusted with your formation, I am happy to inform you of my intention to institute you in the Ministry of Acolyte on September 12, 2020.”

We’re excited for this next step in our formation, the formal rite by which we will be instituted as acolytes in service of the church. This is the third and final “minor order” to receive prior to diaconate ordination (the other two minor orders are the Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders and the Institution of Lector, both of which we have already received.)

What is an Acolyte?

Here’s some relevant information from the Ceremonial of Bishops:

27. In the ministry of the altar acolytes have their own proper functions and should exercise these even though ministers of a higher rank may be present.

28. Acolytes receive institution so that they may help the deacon and minister to the priest. Their proper ministry is to look after the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and priest in liturgical services, especially the celebration of the Mass. In addition, acolytes may serve as special ministers of the eucharist, giving holy communion in accord with the norms of the law.

When necessary, acolytes should instruct those who serve as ministers in liturgical rites by carrying the book, the cross, candles, or the censer or by performing other similar duties. But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that all such ministerial functions be carried out by formally instituted acolytes, and if a number are present, they should divide the ministries accordingly.

29. So they may fulfill their responsibilities more worthily, acolytes should take part in the celebration of the eucharist with ever increasing devotion, as the source of their spiritual life and the object of an ever-deeper appreciation. They should seek to acquire an interior and spiritual sense of their ministry so that each day they may offer themselves wholly to God and grow in sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, and especially for the members who are weak and infirm.

From the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM):

Additional responsibility at the altar, including purification of the sacred vessels is a key added responsibility as an acolyte.

190. If no deacon is present, after the Prayer of the Faithful is concluded and while the priest remains at the chair, the acolyte places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar. Then, if necessary, the acolyte assists the priest in receiving the gifts of the people and, if appropriate, brings the bread and wine to the altar and hands them to the priest. If incense is used, the acolyte presents the thurible to the priest and assists him while he incenses the gifts, the cross, and the altar. Then the acolyte incenses the priest and the people.

191. A duly instituted acolyte, as an extraordinary minister, may, if necessary, assist the priest in giving Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, when no deacon is present, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction.

192. Likewise, when the distribution of Communion is completed, a duly instituted acolyte helps the priest or deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. When no deacon is present, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes, and arranges them in the usual way.

279. The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then drunk by whoever does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator.

Text for the Institution, from the Roman Pontifical:

Bishop: Dear sons in Christ, as people chosen for the ministry of acolyte, you will have a special role in the Church’s ministry.  The summit and source of the Church’s life is the Eucharist, which builds up the Christian community and makes it grow.  It is your responsibility to assist Priests and Deacons in carrying out their ministry, and as special ministers to give Holy Communion to the faithful at the liturgy and to the sick.  Because you are specially called to this ministry, you should strive to live more fully by the Lord’s Sacrifice and to be molded more perfectly in its likeness.  You should seek to understand the deep spiritual meaning of what you do, so that you may offer yourselves daily to God as spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Jesus Christ.  In performing your ministry bear in mind that, as you share the one bread with your brothers and sisters, so you form one Body with them.  Show a sincere love for Christ’s Mystical Body, God’s holy people, and especially for the weak and the sick.  Be obedient to the commandment which the Lord gave to his Apostles at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I also have loved you.”

Brothers and Sisters, let us pray to the Lord for those chosen by him to serve in the ministry of acolyte.  Let us ask him to fill them with his blessing and strengthen them for faithful service in his Church.

God of mercy,
Through your only Son
you entrusted the bread of life to your Church.
Bless + our brothers
who have been chosen for the ministry of acolyte.
Grant that they may be faithful
in the service of your altar
and in giving to others the Bread of Life;
may they grow always in faith and love,
and so build up your Church.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Each candidate goes to the Bishop, who gives him a vessel with the bread or wine to be consecrated saying:

Take this vessel with bread (wine)
for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Make your life worthy of your service
at the table of the Lord and of his Church.
Amen.

In your charity, please continue to pray for my brother classmates and me as we enter this final year of formation, and increase our ministry and service.

On Moving…

Our years of formation for the diaconate are focused on four dimensions, or pillars, of focus and growth, which weave together to help us integrate them into our whole selves: Academic (our monthly coursework in various areas of faith, theology, and Scripture), Human (our continued growth in our human lives and relationships and integrated responsibilities), Spiritual (our growth in our spiritual and prayer lives), and Pastoral. The Pastoral dimension is supported by assignments within parishes to get comfortable in various aspects of ministry, help in specific areas, and “grow into” the practice of ministry.

It’s bittersweet to share that after two years at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alton for pastoral formation, I’m moving to a new assignment at Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church at home in Granite City for my final year of diaconate formation, starting August 1.

I will miss the wonderful, faith-filled people of St. Mary’s, especially the community of Oblate priests & brothers, Deacon Jim, my fellow PSR catechists, Dennis & his wonderful music, and the many, many awesome families. I’ll be forever indebted to my pastor-supervisor Father Jeremy, to Fathers Ben, Paul, Dave, and John, and Brothers Leland and Jay-Ar, for the opportunities I’ve had to learn and grow – from helping lead the PSR program & teaching 7th grade, to assisting at baptisms and marriages, to occasionally helping with RCIA, to scheduling and communicating with those in the various liturgical ministries, to occasional visits to take Communion to the home-bound, and so much more.

I’m excited, though, to return to service in my hometown, in the parish in which I was baptized and began my Christian journey. I know the people of St. Elizabeth so well… I grew up with many of them, and call many of them friends and neighbors. I’ve worked side-by-side with many of them in starting the Koinonia retreat community in town, and in many other joint efforts between them and my family’s home parish.

I don’t start until August 1, but am already grateful for the time I’ve spent with my new pastor-supervisor Father Alfred, understanding the areas in which I’ll be able to help – helping to lead RCIA and PSR, helping with Baptism preparation, forming a bereavement ministry to help with funeral planning and families’ journey of grief, and helping to build up a crew of junior sacristans and recruit and train a new generation of altar servers. I’m so thankful to have such an opportunity 5 minutes from home for this last year of my formation!

Please continue to pray for my brother candidates and me as we continue this journey of discernment and formation, for our families, and for the people of the parishes in which we’re blessed to serve.

On New Pastors

Holy Family Church, Granite City, Illinois

Our home parish welcomes a new pastor today. In fact, all around our diocese, parishes are welcoming new pastors. Today is the “Day of the Big Move” each year, and this year is the biggest in about a decade in our diocese.

The last move ten years ago was tough on us. We deeply loved our pastor at the time, and he had been instrumental in bringing both Suzanne and me back to the church, and led us through marriage prep and presided at our marriage.

But on Day 1 when our new pastor Father Jeff arrived, there was no question that he was our pastor. The Holy Spirit had sent an amazing priest who we also came to love deeply. I still remember that on his very first Sunday, he made a point at the 11:00 Mass that pastors shouldn’t change anything big for their first six months or so, but there was one thing that he absolutely had to change immediately: The tabernacle was tucked away to the side in our church on Mary’s altar, and he insisted that we move it back up to the center immediately. (YES!) Right after Mass, I remember running around the church to gather a crew of the strongest men I could find, and then leading them over to Father and saying, “we’re ready to help you move the tabernacle.” Such is the spirit of our parish.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Father Jeff as our pastor. The last few times our Joseph (3rd oldest at 10 years old) saw Father Jeff, he just wrapped his arms around him, eyes filled with tears. Father Jeff is the only pastor Joseph has ever known, and Father Jeff has fostered a love of serving at the altar in Joseph and my other sons, and the seeds of possible vocations in them. This has led to a lot of great discussions about different priests and pastors we’ve known, and the different strengths and talents they bring, as well as the different memories we have with each of them.

Father Jeff has been such a wonderful priest and extended member of our family. We’re so thankful to God for his time with us, and we’re going to miss him terribly. But we also know that he has gifts that a new parish needs.

Today we welcome our new pastor Father Steve. We’re eager to see what gifts the Holy Spirit is sending to our parish with him! We can’t wait to meet him and welcome him in a special way into our parish and our family.

Whatever you do, remember that these moves are hard on our parish families, but they’re also hard on our priests. Pray for your parish, and pray for your priest and all priests! Introduce yourself to your new priest. TELL them you’re praying for them – and then DO it! Welcome them. Invite them over to dinner. Share with them a gift card to your favorite local quick bite or ice cream shop. Ask what you can do to help – and then do it.

We’re on this journey of intentional discipleship together. The Holy Spirit has worked through our bishop to send these men to new places where they’re needed. Let’s continue to pray and work through how these changes help make us stronger parishes and stronger intentional disciples.

Hairs on Your Head

Let’s see if we can really get the podcast rolling now that we’re in Ordinary Time!

I’m trying something new: At least one of our sons has asked if he can jump in and be a part of it, so he (and maybe eventually others) and a discussion between us of the Sunday Gospel may be our ongoing approach.

I’m eager to hear your feedback!

The BreadAlive Podcast is now listed on Spotify and Stitcher, and should be coming soon in both Apple Podcasts and Google Podcast (I’m just awaiting their review.) You can also add the direct RSS to your podcast player if you prefer.

A Juneteenth Reflection

In the Church’s calendar today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We reflect upon how the heart of Christ, pierced on the cross, overflowed with love and healing for all humankind.

In America today, many celebrate Juneteenth, the effective end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day when the last slaves in Texas were finally made aware that they were free, almost 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I had not paid much attention to this holiday before now. I’m thankful that this year, Adobe has given all employees globally the day off for reflection and advocacy.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflection the last few weeks as a switch has flipped in our culture and coworkers of color have suddenly felt much more comfortable sharing with us their stories of discrimination and fear – in their homes, their cities, and yes, even in our workplace. These are coworkers who have been my collaborators, bosses, and friends. They have continued to open my eyes to privilege that I have enjoyed because of where I was born, the color of my skin, and the hard work of my parents to provide safety and opportunity.

Let me be clear on two points, though: First, safety and opportunity don’t start and stop somewhere on a socioeconomic continuum. I have heard the heart-wrenching story of at least one coworker of very fortunate economic circumstances who has faced racism on his own doorstep because “he doesn’t belong” in his neighborhood.

Second, while extremely gentle set against the experiences of so many, I do have at least some firsthand experience of what discrimination and racism can feel like. I knew very well growing up of what my Grandpa and Grandma Halbrook faced when he brought her home to Granite City from Japan during the Korean War, in the wake of the World War. I still remember the emotion of my grandma as I interviewed her about it for an essay in 5th grade. Racism and discrimination have no boundaries either, save those we build to stop them.

Today, I’m reflecting upon moments in my own life where I recognize that privilege helped me in situations (many, many situations.) I’m reflecting upon the stories I’ve heard of coworkers that give me pause and make me wonder what else I can do.

I’m reflecting upon Father Tolton, the first known black priest in America, ordained in our diocese in 1854, who “believed that the Catholic Church had the means, really, to unite people of every race and give everybody the dignity that’s due everyone.. and drew men and women of whatever skin tone together under one roof,” (and the trouble into which that got him.)

[Read: What Would Tolton Think of Today’s Crisis of Racial Injustice?]

I’m reflecting upon the liturgy of the Stations of the Cross that the bishops of California will be hosting, focused on racism. [Read more]

I’m reflecting upon the difference in violent, destructive protest and peaceful protest, and praying that more see the importance and value of peacefully standing up for change.

I’m reflecting upon the importance of the front-line responders out there – the vast majority of them good, upstanding, and loving of all people – how hard it must be on them right now, how we need to help them set up systems that keep them and their communities safe from the “bad cops,” and how we also have to help set up support structures to help them deal with the ongoing stress that our society asks them to deal with in their jobs.

I’m reflecting upon the importance of doing my very best to raise our own sons to see all men as brothers and equals, and to recognize that they still have a level of privilege that they can use to make a difference.

I’m reflecting upon how all won’t truly be free until we respect all stages of life, from conception to natural death, and reinforce a culture and laws that ensure just support throughout life.

I’m reflecting upon today’s Solemnity – that of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, the heart which overflows with love for all men and women. “Jesus, meek and humble of hearts, make my heart like unto thine.” O Sacred Heart of Jesus, open our hearts to be unselfish in love for those around us.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Streaming @ Holy Family “101”

With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic and the closure of church gatherings, I was thankful to be called into a new kind of service, putting my liturgical & technical knowledge to use streaming some liturgies from my home parish of Holy Family in Granite City, Illinois. (Web | Facebook | YouTube)

While I’m currently assigned at St. Mary’s in Alton at the moment for pastoral formation in our diaconate formation program, my pastor-supervisor there told me when this started that it’d be best to stay close to home, safe with the family. It took a couple of weeks, but when the pastor of my home parish, Holy Family, called and said he was interested in streaming liturgies so the parishioners could take part and feel connected, I was thrilled to be able to help.

I thought it would helpful to share an outline of our setup and how we’re accomplishing the streaming for anyone else who might be interested or might find it helpful.

First things first… I started with a quick read of a blog post from Jeff Geerling from back when this whole “no church” thing started. Reading his post got my brain going about how to piece together a system. Thank you, Jeff!

Luckily, almost everything we needed was already laying around my house from past projects or tinkering. Here’s the end-to-end run-down, though:

Video Sources: Webcams & Pixel Phones

The two primary video sources are a couple of older Logitech C930e 1080P HD Video Webcams on tripods (1 in the image above.) I had these sitting in storage with the plan to install them in a video studio set up in the boys’ school’s media lab once Suzanne told me they were ready to redo it.

Two additional video sources we added on Good Friday and plan to use on Easter Sunday are our Google Pixel Android phones (2). This thread/tutorial tipped me off to this idea. It leverages the phones and laptop on a basic standalone WiFi network (3, using an old wireless router I had laying around) with the IP Webcam App running on the phones and alex.info’s IP Video Source 64bit (4) running on the laptop. The apps on the phones then broadcast constant video camera streams across the WiFi into the computer as a video source.

Computer & OBS Studio

The computer (5) running open source OBS Studio forms the heart of the system. OBS provides all of the switching and mixing of the various sources and encodes into an outbound stream. It’s nothing special – just a Dell XPS 13″ (a couple of years old) that I use for all of my personal stuff.

Imagery

I have been taking some photos around the church to use (i.e. for during the stations, as image inputs in scenes in OBS), as well as leveraging some imagery from Adobe Stock to create some of the before and after images, or the lower-thirds (when we put the citation of the reading, etc.) Of course I’m doing all of the image prep in Adobe Photoshop (shameless plug for my day-job/employer.)

Audio

For audio, we wanted to have the best we could, so we decided to use the existing church sound system (6), with the wired (ambo, choir loft submix) and wireless (priest & deacon) mics and other sources. A simple XLR mic cable from a spare output of the main church mixer into a Focusrite Scarlett audio interface (7). This, plus an additional mic directly into the Scarlett, allow basic audio control and monitoring, and then is fed into the computer as the audio source for OBS.

We also took the step of turning off the main amplifier & speakers in the church, so that we get just the sound from the microphones and the natural echo in the space, and not a bunch of additional sound from the amplified sound reverberating around. (It is basically a structure of brick, marble, and wood, with some plaster above.)

Streaming

When we’re ready to stream, we click “Start Streaming” in OBS, which we have configured to send the main stream to an account at castr.io (8) which makes easy work of “watching” for the stream from the church, then simultaneously sending it out to pre-configured streaming properties. We’re sending from castr.io to (9) Facebook video streaming on the church’s Facebook page and to YouTube, on a channel that we set up when this need arose.

(I also have an additional Facebook stream going out to a live video on my personal Facebook profile, that only Suzanne can see, that we’ll now use to test before we go live.)

Learnings & Gotchas

A few key learnings / gotchas…

  • The first “aha” I noticed from Jeff Geerling’s blog is that YouTube live streams take a 24-hour period to set up. So if you’re going to do this, get your Channel squared away immediately and make sure you validate and request live streaming. It’ll definitely take 24 hours from that moment until you can even think about streaming to YouTube.
  • The out-of-the-box config in OBS had a screen resolution and frame rate that killed the processor on the laptop, so I’ve been using a smaller video resolution of 1280×720 at 30fps.
  • We also initially tested sending from the laptop to the internet and castr.io via a wifi connection to the Internet. Not only was the router about 100′ away, but it was through a couple of brick walls, and we just couldn’t keep reliable enough of a connection. We kept seeing drops in the broadcast in the monitor at castr.io, so we knew it wouldn’t work reliably. Luckily, the local Best Buy had a 150′ cat6 cable available for same-day curbside pickup. A wired connection from the streaming computer to the Internet proved key for us.
  • On Good Friday, we had a good old fashioned issue with a microphone in the church system. We hadn’t even spent time testing that out before we started on Friday, but if it could happen any given Sunday at church, it could happen in this setup. This comes with all the usual caveats like fresh batteries in the mics’ battery packs, etc. Now we’re going to do some good old fashioned sound system debugging before Sunday.

That’s all for now. I hope it’s helpful or interesting. If or as we add or think of more, I’ll add it as updates below. Who knows how long we’ll be at this…

Let’s pray for a quick resolution to this pandemic, for comfort and recovery to those affected, and for strength for those caring for them.

Stay home, stay safe!