An Open Letter to His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan
by Bernard Brandt
11 March 2016
Please forgive the intrusion upon both your time and your webpage, but I wish to write in response to the excellent question you posed in your recent entry, which may be found here. That question was: “Where is the Catholic Sandy Koufax?” If I understand aright, you meant by this, ‘Where are those Catholics willing to show devotion to keeping the Sabbath, to worship on that day, and to express their worship by prayer, by fasting, and by almsgiving?”
Although I am an Eastern Catholic, please permit me to offer an answer to that question. In doing so, and with all due respect to Your Eminence, I am exercising both my right and my duty to answer your question under Canon 212, §§ 2 and 3, to make known my spiritual needs, to manifest my opinion on matters which concern the good of the Church, and to make that opinion known to the rest of Christ’s faithful.
To answer your question as to why Catholics do not honor the Sabbath, it is because, at least in the United States, we are not allowed to do so, under current civil and liturgical law. The civil law of most states permits ‘reasonable accommodation’ to the needs of any worshipper. But for many years, your brother bishops in the USCCB have permitted the Sunday obligation of attending the liturgy to be fulfilled by attendance at a Saturday evening vigil mass.
An unintended consequence of your brother bishops’ decision has been that Catholics in the U.S. have been told, by their employers and by the state agencies which oversee them, that Saturday mass attendance is a ‘reasonable accommodation’, and that our failure to work on Sundays means that we lose our jobs.
This quirk in civil and canon law was brought most forcibly upon my late wife, when she was told a few years ago by her employer that her schedule was changed so that she would have to work on Sunday mornings. It made no difference that she had long been a member of my small church’s choir, and that she would have to give up singing on Sundays. My wife and I had to inform her manager that we were Russian Catholics, and not Roman Catholics, that our church only served the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, and that there were no other Russian Catholic churches in Los Angeles (the other three in the U.S. are in San Francisco, New York, and Kansas City)
Fortunately, my wife and I were able to prevail upon her manager’s corporate headquarters to change his mind. Millions of my brother and sister Roman Catholics, however, have not been as fortunate.
As long as I am mentioning unintended consequences of the USCCB’s decisions, permit me to draw Your Eminence’s attention to the one regarding the transfer of certain holy days such as Epiphany to the nearest Sunday. When I was still a Roman Catholic, I repeatedly asked priests in my acquaintance whether it was possible for the mass of the Epiphany to be served on January 6th. I was told by those priests that the decision of the USCCB meant that Epiphany could only be celebrated and served on the nearest Sunday, and not on January 6th.
I believe that in doing so, either the USCCB, or the priests, were denying both me and millions of other Catholics their rights under canon law. For Canon 213 states: ‘[t]he Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.’ And Canon 214 says, ‘The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church.’
May I point out to Your Eminence that by mandating such holidays ONLY be served on the Sunday nearest, your brother bishops of the USCCB created a needless opposition between the two clauses of Canon 214, and denied to millions of Roman Catholics the right ‘to follow their own form of spiritual life’, which included celebrating the ‘twelve days of Christmas’?
I will point out that the straw of Epiphany forbidden on 1/6 was not what broke this particular camel’s back. Many other straws were laid upon me, not the least was the repeated and inveterate inability of most priests in my archdiocese either to understand or to obey liturgical law. I will spare Your Eminence the sad details, which I believe that Your Eminence has Himself suffered, and far worse than I. But be assured, the invincible ignorance of many priests had and has denied me, as well as millions of other Roman Catholics, the rights ‘to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite’ and ‘to follow their own form of spiritual life.’
In consequence of those numberless straws, I long ago left a Church where I was not being spiritually fed, and went to a Sister Church, where I was. Many of my brother and sister Roman Catholics have not been as fortunate as I.
Finally, I will note that if many Roman Catholics in this country do not follow the prescripts of Lenten fasting and abstinence, perhaps some of the blame may be laid upon those of your brother bishops, who have failed to teach them what those paltry requirements now are, or to suggest that they might profitably attempt a bit more than the bare minimum.
I realize that there is some injustice involved in addressing the present letter to Your Eminence. Your Eminence has, unlike many of His brother bishops, actually taught the Faith, and gone out of His way to vindicate the rights of His people. And for that, I offer my apologies, and I thank Your Eminence, from the deepest place of my heart.
But Your Eminence asked a question. I have attempted to answer it as best I can. In the hopes that you may bring that answer to your brother bishops, I am
Very truly yours, and with all filial devotion to a Successor of the Apostles,
Bernard Franklin Brandt