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Background to the Christmas Eve vote

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As the U.S. Senate moved toward a Christmas Eve vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- apparently with the 60 senators on board that are needed to block a Republican filibuster and pass the bill -- I was again struck by the key role that 31 Catholic Democrats in the House have played so far and are likely to play in the final outcome of the legislation.

Read the full story here: To pass, health reform needs House Catholic Democrats
Blue Dogs, Catholic, Democrats: What's it all mean for health reform?

Christmas contrasts

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Here's a contrast to a story we posted yesterday: Church shuns decorations to help the poor. This is an Associated Press story: Some churches stage 'mega-Nativities'

Not content with simple, static manger displays, some churches are turning the familiar Christmas Nativity scene into elaborate "mega-Nativities" with detailed costumes and more action. ...

The Nativity productions range from about 70 actors and support workers in Mill Hall, Pa. — population 1,375 — to a $40,000 extravaganza with a giant, holographic Angel Gabriel at the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.

The shows, many of which are free, can seem like a Christmas pageant crossed with a Renaissance fair. ...

At Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria, La., for instance, visitors are guided on a "Pilgrimage to Bethlehem" by the character Abraham of Jericho, who walks the audience through scenes of beggar children stealing fruit or Roman soldiers arresting a man who refuses to carry their packs.

Update to the kneel or not poll

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Yesterday I posted a short note that I called Kneel or Not? Vote for It. It linked to a story about Belleville, Ill., Bishop Edward K. Braxton sending letters to pastors ordering them to tell their parishioners to kneel during the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer during Mass. The practice in these parishes has been to stand.

Well, that little note generated an unexpected amount of interest (nearly 40 comments were left on my posting).

As I mentioned yesterday, the Web site of the local newspaper, the Belleville News-Democrat, has an online poll about this issue.

Given the interest shown in the piece, I thought it was worth updating our readers on this poll.

Should Bishop Braxton be telling parishioners whether to kneel or not?

Yes. As head of the Catholics in the diocese, it's his responsibility.

Yesterday: 76% of respondents; 1878 votes
Today: 68% of respondents; 2049 votes

No. It should be up to the parishioners and their priest.

Yesterday: 23% of respondents; 566 votes

Today is fiorl·ksmessa, the feast of the patron saint of Iceland

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O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior. Come and save us, O Lord our God.

--Antiphon for Vespers, Dec. 23

Today is Þorláksmessa, the feast of the patron saint of Iceland, Þorlákr Þórhallsson (Thorlac Thorhallsson).

Please click here for pictures of Icelanders enjoying skate, the traditional and "odiferous" fish eaten on Þorláksmessa.

"It is considered the last day of preparations before Christmas. Therefore, on St. Thorlac's Day, the house is cleaned and preparations for the Christmas meal are begun. Most people in Reykjav'k go into town in the night to meet others and do the last shopping before Christmas. Fish is usually eaten on Þorláksmessa since December 23 is the last day of the Catholic Christmas fast. In western Iceland, it is customary to eat cured skate on this day; this custom spread to the whole of Iceland. The skate is usually served with boiled or mashed potatoes, accompanied by a shot of Brenniv'n, the Icelandic schnapps."

Revolutionaries, Pastors and Skeptics in Catholic ecology

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tPope Benedict XVI dedicated his recent message for the Jan. 1 “World Day of Peace” to the environment, under the title of “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” Though the pope obviously didn’t choose that theme to give The Future Church a boost, it does lend some additional heft to the eighth major trend I identified shaping the Catholic future: Ecology.

tWhenever the pope issues a document, church leaders around the world generally rush to praise its wisdom, and that’s certainly the case this time around. Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, today said, “Pope Benedict seamlessly weaves together concerns for peace, poverty and care for creation. He calls on us to act to protect both human and environmental ecology for the two are inseparably linked.”

tSuch statements could suggest uniform support in the Catholic world for the pope’s environmental push, but anyone who knows Catholic realities understands that opinion in the church is usually anything but uniform.

Yet More on Health Care

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It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the Senate’s language on abortion coverage in the health care reform effort is actually better than the Stupak language that passed the House.

The Stupak Amendment has the advantage of clarity: If you get a federal subsidy, you can’t buy a plan that includes abortion coverage. The Stupak Amendment foresaw the likelihood of insurance companies offering “riders” for abortion coverage, to be purchased by individuals with their own funds. The Stupak Amendment was silent about plans purchased through the exchanges that are not subject to a federal subsidy. The chief actuary for the insurance companies said, however, that the pool of people would be too small to offer such coverage, which is what drove the pro-choice groups crazy. In the event, if the exchanges grow in popularity, as seems likely, that pool would increase in size and insurance companies would offer abortion services and nothing in Stupak prevented that.

U.S. death sentences fall, executions up in 2009

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The country is expected to finish 2009 with the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to a report released Dec. 18 by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, a significant increase in legislative activity from previous years, as the high costs and lack of measurable benefits associated with this punishment troubled lawmakers.

“The annual number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped for seven straight years and is 60 percent less than in the 1990s,” said Richard Dieter, the report’s author and center's executive director. “In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping. This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty." There were 106 death sentences in 2009 compared with a high of 328 in 1994.

Kneel or not? Vote for it.

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The Morning Briefing contains a link to this story from Belleville, Ill.: Controversy continues as more Belleville churchgoers are told to get on their knees.

Briefly, Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton has sent letters to three pastors ordering them to tell their parishioners they must cease standing and instead, kneel during the reading of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Web site of the local newspaper, the Belleville News-Democrat, has an online poll about this issue. Here's the poll as I saw it this morning:

Should Bishop Braxton be telling parishioners whether to kneel or not?

Yes. As head of the Catholics in the diocese, it's his responsibility.

76% of respondents; 1878 votes

No. It should be up to the parishioners and their priest.

23% of respondents; 566 votes

Who can say? It's too hard for me to decide.

1% of respondents; 33 votes

Total Votes: 2477

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