We are going begin a new liturgical year with Advent season beginning on 1 December, with cycle A. December reminds us of the joyful message of the birth of Our Lord, the mystery of incarnation of the Son of God, which we have come to know through the message of Archangel Gabriel. When God wants to become other than himself, he becomes man. He did not choose to be an angel or any subhuman reality. He became man and dwelt among us and thus he has raised the dignity of humanity. God desired to come out of his Mystery to mingle with our reality. “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’: ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God’. ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God’. ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods’” (CCC 460).

Advent has two characteristics: on the one hand we prepare ourselves for the first coming of the Lord and the summit is Christmas. On the other hand, we wait for his second glorious coming as the Judge of the living and the dead as he draws our minds and hearts to receive the reward he has promised to those who remain faithful to him.

During Advent we celebrate two important days: the feast of St Francis Xavier and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Francis Xavier’s body is preserved incorrupt on this earth and he reminds us of God’s fidelity towards those who work for evangelization of the world. Mary’s body also does not see corruption thanks to the preventive redemption she experienced through the merits of Christ and her immaculate conception becomes one of the principal reasons for her assumption into heaven where she goes to enjoy the eternal glory with body and soul.

Pope Pius IX who solemnly defined this truth of Mary is confirmed by herself at Lourdes where she addressed herself as the Immaculate Conception. Pope John Paul II taught that Mary was not only preserved from original sin but also from sinful tendencies. During the general audience on 12 June 1996 he taught: “Pius IX’s definition refers only to the freedom from original sin and does not explicitly include the freedom from concupiscence. Nevertheless, Mary’s complete preservation from every stain of sin also has as a consequence her freedom from concupiscence, a disordered tendency which, according to the Council of Trent, comes from sin and inclines to sin (DS 1515)”. This gives us the insight that God has been so gracious to her and the All Holy Mary deserves the name, “Full of Grace”.

Clarification regarding Permanent Graves: Certain queries were asked regarding the permanent graves and tariffs. I desire that the Parish Priests explain to people the spirit behind the raising of tariffs and regulating the years when graves are reserved. The tariffs are raised so as to discourage the reservation of graves. But it must be emphasized that the grave space for the burial of the mortal remains is FREE for every one of Christ’s faithful if one does not select the place nor does one reserve the space.

As regards permanency, the former understanding was that the permanency lasts for 49 years from the first burial, with the possibility two more burials. However, the present rule says that the graves are reserved for 30 years after the 5th burial. There is a doubt in the minds of some regarding the graves reserved in the past and have already completed 30 years, with or without the second or third burial: whether they are going to lose the prescribed permanency intended earlier? I would like to request the Parish Priests to inform Christ’s faithful that the graves reserved before the present decree, will not to be assigned to others before the completion of 49th year from the first burial. However, the family can utilize the same grave for further burials as stated in the present norms. When new burials take place in the same grave, the duration is to be counted as per the present decree for the new burials. The fee for the second or subsequent burials remains at 50% of the fee for the first burial existing at the time of the respective burials.

Clarification regarding the Mass Offerings: From 1 January, the Mass stipend is raised in some cases 100%, for normative Masses and fixed Masses. The general principle employed in determining the offering for a normative Mass is the amount an ordinary labourer should get as wages for a day’s labour. Today, an ordinary labourer gets more than Rs 400 as wages. But the Mass stipend is not raised to that level for the daily normative or fixed Mass.

We need to understand that Mass offering to given to pray for the intention of the giver at the Mass springs from the ancient custom when those faithful taking part in the Mass provided the necessary gifts for the celebration (especially the bread and wine) as well as other gifts meant to sustain the clergy and feed those most in need. Mass offering is an optional and free contribution. It is not a payment for the Mass. Moreover, no one is compelled to give Mass offerings. The amount prescribed for Mass offering remains within one’s bound of economic capacity as it does not go beyond a day’s wage. When some are not capable of providing Mass intentions, they are not excluded by the priest in his prayers. Every Parish Priest is obliged to pray for all the people’s intentions every Sunday and holydays of obligation during one Mass (Missa Pro Populo). An active and devout participation in the celebration of Mass counts more than just giving a Mass offering.

Diocesan Eucharistic Procession: On Sunday, January 5, 2020, the Feast of Epiphany of Our Lord, we hold the Diocesan Annual Eucharistic Procession. The programme starts at 3.30 p.m. with Mass at Milagres Church. I request all the Rev. Fathers – diocesan and religious – to concelebrate the Mass with me. The seminarians, religious brothers, sisters and formees should participate in the procession and they are required to come in their habits/religious garb/cassocks. I request all the Parish Priests to announce to the faithful to participate in large numbers in this diocesan event. It is the responsibility of the Parish Priests to motivate their parishioners by giving them proper catechesis on the beauty, importance and spiritual values of this Diocesan Eucharistic Procession. The programme will end at 6.00 p.m.

Happy Christmas and New Year: The first word spoken by a human character in the Gospel of Matthew is “Where?” This is also the Magi’s question: “Where?” Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? Is this not our heart question as well? Where do we find Jesus in the midst of this crazy, broken world? Where is the Christ-child? Where is the light? Where is God leading us?

When the Magi came to Bethlehem and saw the Christ-child in the arms of Mary, they were overcome with joy, knelt down, and worshipped him. The Magi humbly knelt down before the great, incarnate God of the universe. The heart of the Magi has only one posture: kneeling. The heart of the Magi always surrenders to the mystery of Emmanuel. Then the Magi opened their treasure chests and presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The heart of the Magi is one of generosity in all of life - in giving, in loving, in praise and gratitude, and in blessing others. Let us all desire very much to have the heart of the Magi. I wish you a very Happy and Holy Christmas, and a New Year full of God’s choicest blessings.

+ Peter Paul Saldanha
Bishop of Mangalore

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