Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reform of the Reform/In Utroque Usu Communities: Interview with the Missionarii Franciscani Verbi Aeterni

As part of our ongoing exploration of communities dedicated to the reform of the reform, the NLM is pleased to present the following interview with the Missionarii Franciscani Verbi Aeterni, or Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word -- who may be better known to many simply as the "MFVA" or "EWTN friars."

Within this interview we explore a bit about the mission of the MFVA, the history of their approach to the modern Roman liturgy in a spirit of continuity, their formation, their recent training experiences in the usus antiquior, and we explore the issue whereby St. Francis of Assisi, on the poverty principle, is used against beauty within our churches and the liturgy.

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NLM: Can you begin by telling us a bit about the particular character and mission of the MFVA friars?

MFVA: First of all, MFVA stands for Missionarii Franciscani Verbi Aeterni or Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word in English. Mother Angelica, who founded the Eternal Word Television Network, founded our religious community on May 2, 1987.

Our mission is to seek the lost and to bring back the stray and to strengthen and challenge the faithful to live out their vocation faithfully and perseveringly. We do this mainly through our consecration to God and through our apostolate (e.g. EWTN, providing the sacraments to our Sisters, Internet, Pilgrimage, etc.). As our profession of the vows articulate, we dedicate ourselves to preaching and teaching the Catholic Faith through the works of the apostolate so as to bring the lost sheep into the heart of the Church, close to Jesus in the Eucharist, to Our Lady, and to the Holy Father. We have a particular and special concern for the many fallen away Catholics out there; though we are not limited to only helping them come back to the Church, but also leading non-believers and non-Christians as well to know the beauty of the Catholic Church in order to know and to fall in love with her Spouse, Jesus Christ, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Where do the MFVA friars pursue their formation and seminary training?

Our religious community consists of Priests and Permanent Brothers. Currently, all of us begin our formation in the Annunciation Friary in Birmingham, Alabama. This is our main house.

We also have our own St. Joseph’s House of Studies for our pre-theology program. Our House of Studies is accredited through the Pontifical University in Ponce, Puerto Rico. For the theology program, we send those who are pursuing the priesthood to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Currently, we have one friar in First Theology and three friars in Second Theology.

You are Franciscans and sometimes the person of St. Francis is invoked in suggesting that our churches and the sacred liturgy should be done without beauty or magnificence. How would you respond to that suggestion?

Yes, that’s a very sad conclusion and suggestion people make a reference about St. Francis, the holy man of God who is passionately in love with Jesus Who is truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The biographies of St. Francis relate that it grieved him when he found a church that was dirty. He would personally set about to clean it, gathering the clergy and instructing them on the cleanliness of the churches, altars and everything concerned with the celebration of the Mass (cf. Legend of Perugia #18; Mirror of Perfection #56).

St. Francis also had a great love toward the Blessed Sacrament and wanted his followers to provide the best for our dear Lord. “He wished at one time to send his brothers through the world with precious pyxes, so that wherever they should see the price of our redemption kept in an unbecoming manner, they should place It in the very best place…” (Thomas Celano. Second Life # 201)

St. Francis had a tremendous influence in bringing about a warmth of devotion and appreciation of beauty to our Catholic Faith. St. Clare, likewise, spent her final years in ill health making altar linens for all of the churches in the area.

In addition, following and observing the various liturgical laws and liturgical practices according to the mind of the Church is very much in harmony with the true Franciscan spirit. In fact, being in union with the Church is what St. Francis exhorted his followers to do. For some, this may not be considered “very important” topic. There is the principle of preferential option for the poor in social justice, but that does not mean we are to be ignorant of or not be concerned with the liturgy because the poor attend the liturgy as well (the poor in spirit and the poor in fact). They deserved to be fed with the riches of the Church. If we don’t provide them with a beautiful liturgy, then we are robbing the poor of what Jesus wants to enrich them with through the liturgy of the Church; instead, they would become more impoverished. In the old days, it was very typical that the poor themselves were the ones who built the church. They are the ones who sacrificed their time, materials, money, etc. The beauty of some of the older churches was because of the devotion of the poor whose faith was not dead.

Furthermore, St. Francis is truly a holy man of God who loves the Church and who wants his followers to love Her, to be obedient to Her, and to think with the mind of the Church. This is obvious from his own Later Rule. Therefore, everything in it has to be understood in that context. So celebrating the liturgy with devotion and with beauty according to the mind of the Church and the spirit of the Church is to do so according to the will of St. Francis who loves Jesus Crucified passionately because the mind of the Church is the mind of Christ.

For a number of years now, the MFVA friars have been seen celebrating Masses on EWTN which were always characterized by continuity with our liturgical tradition, can you give us a little history and background on this?

Fr. Brian Mulady, OP came to EWTN to make a television series in the early 1990s. Televising the Mass began in 1991, and he suggested the Nuns learn Gregorian chant. They agreed and he gave them some instructions. They started with the Missa de Angelis and over the years continued to add other Masses and sacred polyphony to their repertoire. Shortly, thereafter, we began to use the little known booklet, Jubilate Deo.

In April 1974, Pope Paul VI sent to every bishop in the world a booklet of some of the simplest selections of Gregorian Chant, much of it drawn from the Graduale Romanum. This booklet, called Jubilate Deo, was intended as a “minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant.” It is, in other words, an official Latin “core repertoire” for the Roman Rite. It was prepared, the Pope said, in order “to make it easier for Christians to achieve unity and spiritual harmony with their brothers and with the living tradition of the past. Hence it is that those who are trying to improve the quality of congregational singing cannot refuse Gregorian chant the place which is due to it.” An expanded edition of Jubilate Deo was later issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1987.

As regards a "reform of the reform," or the re-enchanting of the liturgy in the parish, what elements do you see as particularly important to that project?

Greater reverence in the liturgy and greater use of our heritage of sacred music. There should truly be a “sense of the sacred”. The liturgy should facilitate an encounter with God; hence, it should, through the beauty of music, art, architecture, liturgical actions, etc., help us to “keep our minds on things above, rather than on things of earth” (Col 3:1-2).

Recently, some of the friars also took training from the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in the celebration of Mass according to the liturgical books of the usus antiquior, or Extraordinary Form. How was that experience?

It was a very good experience! We spent three continuous weeks with them. And with God’s grace, and everyone’s prayers, we survived the “liturgical boot camp training” there! By the end of the three weeks, we were able to offer the Low Mass, Sung Mass without incense, Sung Mass with incense, the Requiem Low Mass, and the Solemn Mass as the priest celebrant role and as the sub-deacon role. We were very pleased how much we were able to accomplish. God’s grace indeed helped us to make that possible.

Of course, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius made all that possible for us to accomplish as well. We were trained mainly by Fr. Scott Haynes, SJC; however, the entire Canons (including the Brothers through their serving of the Masses) contributed to helping us to be trained in the Extraordinary Form.

We highly recommend any priests or any seminarians to get their Extraordinary Form (EF) training from the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. They offer both forms of the Mass (Ordinary and Extraordinary). They have a very good balance of truly being with the Church especially in regards to the old and the new liturgy.

With the great assistance of the Cantius, we are now able to offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama and anywhere else we are asked and available. As a matter of fact, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration have decided to request us [the MFVA friars –SRT] to offer the televised Extraordinary Form of the Mass from now on (at least for this year of 2010). The following will be the televised schedule when we will be offering the Mass in the Extraordinary Form:

SPRING: May 8, 2010 (Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Graces) – Sung High Mass
SUMMER: Aug 7, 2010 (Votive Immaculate Heart of Mary) – Solemn High Mass
FALL: Oct 2, 2010 (Guardian Angel) – Sung High Mass
WINTER: Jan 8, 2011 (Votive Immaculate Heart of Mary) – Sung High Mass

Evidently, the MFVA celebrate both forms of the Roman liturgy, and we see both forms on EWTN, do you believe that a "both-and" approach as regards to the two forms of the Roman liturgy is important, and can you explain why?

As regards to the two forms of the Roman Liturgy, we do believe that a “both-and” approach is important. One reason is because to be a true orthodox Catholic is to embrace a “both-and” approach. Many heresies that came to birth in the history of the Church came about because one or more individuals subscribed to an “either-or” approach. The heretics tried to emphasize one particular point of our faith but unfortunately de-emphasize the others at the same time.

Modern Roman Liturgy

Usus Antiquior

Practically speaking, it does take a lot of patience and discipline to learn something “new” or to get used to something that has been part of the Church’s treasury for years if one was never brought up that way. Yet, with God all things are possible. Many people who were never brought up in the Catholic faith have responded to God’s special graces which He offers them to embrace the fullness of the truth by entering the Catholic Church. Reflecting on their process of learning our faith (not just doctrinally but also liturgically), it took them a lot of patience and discipline to learn and get used to our practices at Mass (i.e. standing up, kneeling, sitting down, etc.). Similarly, we who are already Catholics but who were never brought up with the Extraordinary Form may get frustrated in the beginning because we don’t know what’s going on during the Extraordinary Form of the Mass; or if we do know what’s going on, we may be frustrated because it appears that we can never “catch up” with the prayers the priest offers during the Mass; or we notice that it’s a different kind of “active participation” in comparison with the participation in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. All these reasons are legitimate reasons to be frustrated, but we have to keep in mind that there are answers to every question we may have.

If any young man is interested in exploring a vocation with the MFVA, or any young women with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, how should they proceed?

Any Catholic men, 21 to 35 years old, who is interested in finding out more about our way of life, he can check out our website: or email at

If any young woman is interested with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, she may check out the following website: (Hanceville, Alabama). Some of the Nuns from Hanceville have either transferred or started a new foundation elsewhere; to meet them, one may check the following websites (Charlotte, North Carolina formerly in Portsmouth, Ohio), or (Black Canyon City, Arizona); or (San Antonio, Texas).

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