Revisiting External Markers of Our Faith

I don’t know if you had a chance to see it a few weeks ago, my blog on what I called “markers” of our faith?

Apparently quite a few of you did, to judge from the feedback!

In that posting, I just wondered aloud if we Catholics, over the last forty-five years, had tossed too many “external markers” of our Catholic identity out the window.  The one example I mentioned was abstinence from meat on Fridays, as I reflected a bit on the decision of the bishops of England to restore that Catholic custom.

Not that these “external markers” – such as, for example, holy days, feasts, fasts, saints’ names, genuflection, holy water, candles, bowing one’s head at the Holy Names of Jesus, Ember Days, First Fridays, First Saturdays, frequent confession, parish allegiance, novenas, devotions, only to name a few other such “signs” of Catholic identity — are of the essence of the faith; or, not even to deny that excessive attention to them could cause superficiality.  No, I just asked if we have lost some spice from Catholic life with their departure, and noted that scholars of religion report that such exterior marks of membership help make a religion cohesive and attractive.

I’m just wondering if we leaders in the Church are trying to attract people by making things easier.  As one of my friends tells me, we’re too much into “Catholic lite.”  And it’s backfiring, I’m afraid.  I hear our Catholics tell me, “We don’t want Catholic lite; we want to be “lights to the world!”

Yes, a lot of Catholics are leaving the Church.  This is a monumental pastoral challenge for all of us.  Why do they leave?

The studies tell us that some who leave us just give-up any faith at all;

Some others who leave Catholicism join a religion they might consider more “liberal” or “modern” than the Church;

But, get this: most who leave the Catholic Church to join another religion, end-up as members of a church considered stricter or more conservative!

I just got back from a “high” of World Youth Day in Madrid: 1.5 million young people from every continent, race, nation, and language, for five uplifting days, with Pope Benedict.  These young people want “the real thing,” not Catholic lite!

While there, I had the honor of presenting a teaching at a different church or site in Madrid to English-speaking youth on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning.  After each teaching, I celebrated the Eucharist with my new young friends, usually 500-or-so strong.  (On Friday, and then at a special Mass Saturday morning, it was even more, as we were in a sports arena, 15,000 strong.)

Now, to get back to my point . . .   On each of those four occasions, the same interesting thing happened spontaneously.  Each Mass was jammed; there were young people in every corner, up-and-down aisles, in balconies, even outside the space.  Backpacks and sleeping bags added to the tight squeeze.

The planners of each Mass — wisely and thoughtfully, when you think about it — printed in the Mass booklet, and even announced before Mass, “Look, it’s so jammed in here, and you are all so hot and tired, why don’t you just stay seated during the Eucharistic prayer.”

Very practical . . .  very wise . . . let’s make this simple and a bit more relaxed.  Let’s “lighten-up.”

What happened?  I’ll be darned, at all four occasions, all the hundreds, thousands of youth still knelt! They wanted to kneel in adoration!  They didn’t want it simple or practical!  They didn’t mind the challenge!  They wanted it!

I realize it’s a trivial example, a little thing.  Maybe I read too much into it.  But I wonder as well if once again our people — our young people — are telling us something:

“We don’t like ‘Catholic-lite.’  Don’t pander to us!  Call us to greatness!  Call us to heroic virtue!  Remind us that following Jesus calls for sacrifice, and that we long for ways to let ourselves, and the world, know that we are different.  Don’t make things simple!  Don’t cater to convenience!”

Jesus summoned us to be a “light to the world.”  Nothing “lite” about that.

Have we put this lantern under a basket?  Have we turned light into lite?

59 Responses to “Revisiting External Markers of Our Faith”

  1. Jeannie Prather says:

    “Have we put this lantern under a basket? Have we turned light into lite?”

    In a word Your Excellency; Y E S! I’m grateful for the question, thank you!

  2. Ryan says:

    Archbishop Dolan,

    As a 22 year old reconvert, I must say that it sometimes seems that the Church has a bit of an identity crisis. I think a return to the practices that you mentioned is essential in securing the answer to the fundamental question of who we are and what we believe. Likewise, because these practices have been absent for several decades, we are now in a position to critically examine them and look for the deeper meaning behind the ritual instead of blindly doing them, or doing them out of force.

  3. Karen Foote says:

    I think the youth are right on!! I am 57 and had worked with the youth for over 20yrs. I have much hope in our Catholic Light!!! I know it will be restored!!! Keep up the great work Archbishop Dolan!!

  4. Tricia says:

    How I realize thru your blog that the Lord has gifted me……I’ve taken advantage of each and every one of those external markers. Has my life been easier? NOT AT ALL……but the more you take advantage of those gifts the closer you become to the most important aspect of this life…..Union with GOD……..We, as Catholics have such a rich tradition of external markers. Having said that, I would like to know whoever made the decision not to make the Assumption this year a Holy Day of Obligation? Why? We were told because the Archdiocese didn’t think people would go to church on consecutive days…ie…Sunday and Monday……shame of them for that decision…..Ye of little faith……Keep up the good work Archbishop Dolan…..I pray for you daily

  5. Maynor Alvarez says:

    Your Excelency,
    As I was reading your article several things came to my mind: A. Did the Church forgot to take care of its Sheeps? B. Why do they leave? C. Church in Europe vs. Church in America? A. I had always thought that our church became lite because their consagrated priests did not welcome 40 yrs ago the decision to open the church to each ethnicity. They opposed such wonderful changed were Lay people were able to help during mass and also to take some role in decision making. B. Our Catholics left 25 yrs ago because the Church was not able to outreach, especially the poor. While instead other denominations came to the rescue and build schools, community centers, shelters and their own denominational church. Catholic church stood still as thinking “they would return soon”, but it never happened, they left for good. C. Catholic Church in Europe had been forgotten for almost 100 yrs, they opened their eyes and saw that no body care, and they left their large churches as monuments for tourist instead of offering Holy Mass on Sundays; while the Catholic Church in America (Central and South America) has been pouring seeds on the land for the last 300 yrs but the church did not reached out. We have seen wars, poverty, social injustice, but the church kept silent and forgot to bring the Good News of the Gospel. I don’t remember any more teachings after I made my First Communion and my Confirmation, I was left wonder by myself and my thirst for God became a dead and empty well. I don’t recall any priest coming to the streets teaching us the wonderful Good News from the Bible; and I can’t remember our church helping the youth. Now we heard the church focusing on the World Youth Day maybe because they see how our church is lacking priest. I am a humble servant of the Lord, I teach confirmation because I want to pass the Good news to our future generations; I also became a Charismatic member 15 yrs ago since I was looking for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I will await for your blessings and maybe my brief article can allow other readers understand why our Church had become “Light” let’s shourt to the four corners of the Universe that Jesus is Alive!!!
    Maynor Alvarez

  6. Charles says:

    Thank you, Your Excellency! How wonderful to hear that our youth preferred reverence over “convenience”!!!

    Without these external markers of our faith, how do we show to the world who we are? At the very least, how can we justify to Our Lord that we couldn’t be uncomfortable for a few minutes during the Eucharist Prayer, and then see Him on the Cross, suffering for our sins?

    Our external markers are important- I also believe that our priests and deacons should wear ecclisial garb when in public. Even if the priest is going to the grocery, he should dress as such. I understand some concerns about permanent deacons wearing clerics in their secular jobs, but inasmuch as possible, I believe they should strive to be an outward sign of our Christian reality- that we are set aside from the world in a special way.

    Again, thank you for this post! God Bless you, Your Excellency!

  7. Arlene B. Muller says:

    I think that we have to look carefully at each item and see if it is merely for “Catholic identity” or whether it is an authentic form of devotion that actually helps bring us closer to JESUS CHRIST and to living the Gospel. I think that more important than “Catholic identity” is “Christian authenticity”. I don’t think that we are supposed to look for things that would make us consider ourselves superior to other denominations or feel smug or triumphalist, as often we were prior to Vatican II. However, we are to seek true devotion to the LORD and not merely look for “the easy way out”. Why do we do what we do? Are we doing it to have a list of do’s and don’t's and to become legalists? If so, then that is not good. Are we doing it to say, “Look at us–we’re Catholics!”. That, too, is not good. But if we are doing what we are doing out of true devotion and true understanding of what it means and if it is helping us to love GOD and love our neighbor and be so on fire for the LORD that we in turn help set others on fire, then it is not only good but very good.

  8. Ken says:

    Tomorrow, Your Excellency, you can remove the post-Vatican II table altar from Saint Patrick’s and use the main altar full time. You can instruct the faithful to kneel at the altar rail and receive communion on the tongue. You can restore the lay acolyte (altar boy) ministry to males only, dressed in cassock and surplice. You can use Latin, and not just a Sanctus here and an Agnus Dei there. You can get your priests to do the same.

    If those of us born after Vatican II are crying out for the disciplines, norms, language and traditions that were axed before our time, then why is the Archdiocese of New York not leading the way in actually restoring some of these practices? Words are great, but mandates (like meatless Fridays) are more effective.

  9. Your Excellency, Thank you so very much for your insights & comments. As a recent convert (2003) to the Church, it is a profound & blessed surprise to learn something new almost everyday about our holy faith. Some years ago, we read a chapter from the book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” in which, the author asserts that the people want reverence in the Mass. Feeling a bit brave, I asked a (now retired) bishop for his thoughts & he rather dismissively said that it’s up to the parish priest to create a areverent atmosphere. In a culture that simply cannot distinguish between reverent worship and entertainment, how is that accomplished? Please, forgive me if wrong but, it seems that to know the faith (which most of us don’t) is insufficient; that to live the faith is also insufficient. It seems that we are called to experience God – primarily in the Mass & other liturgical celegrations and to continue this toroughout our daily lives. That’s not Catholic-lite. Or, am I just crazy? Is that what our young people seek? Once, I saw a latin mass on the internet & understand why so many cry for reverence. Thank you again, for your teachings. God Bless, Jeff Sharp

  10. Linda Marshall says:

    Amen….and AMEN! The Good, the True, and the Beautiful draw us close. How can we believe that our very salvation can be bought on the “cheap”!

  11. William says:

    @ Ken at 3:04 above: I second the motion!

  12. HV Observer says:

    To quote Your Excellency: “I’ll be darned, at all four occasions, all the hundreds, thousands of youth still knelt! They wanted to kneel in adoration! They didn’t want it simple or practical! They didn’t mind the challenge! They wanted it!”

    And we who are older — I am 51 — need it, too.

    Your Excellency: to echo Ken and Jeffery Sharp above: You can do something directly about this. Quite specifically. In the new edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, there is a norm specific to the United States that states (I”m paraphrasing): In the United States, standing is the norm for the reception of Holy Communion.

    If this American exception were struck out, and replaced with the general norm that KNEELING is the norm for the reception of Holy Communion, then we in New York will rise to the challenge — all right, KNEEL to the challenge. What an external market that would be!

    I’ll stand corrected if need be, but I really don’t think there’s any thing stopping this Archdiocese from adopting this on its own authority. So what are we waiting for?

    Your Excellency’s most obedient servant,
    HV OBSERVER

  13. Bill says:

    Your Excellency,
    I was at the Mass with the other 15,000 folks at the KoC pavillion in Madrid. You did a terrific job in your catechesis. You understand what the youth want today. I am 47 yrs old, training to be a Deacon and attended WYD with my wife, 16 year old daughter and 9 other teens (and two other adults) from our local Catholic High School. We appreciate your leadership and are working to keep the spark going after WYD. Any suggestions?
    Bill

  14. Jared says:

    Is kneeling at that point required by the liturgy (meaning would it be an abuse not to kneel if you are physically capable of doing so)? Can a “mass planner” change that?

  15. John says:

    “What happened? I’ll be darned, at all four occasions, all the hundreds, thousands of youth still knelt! They wanted to kneel in adoration! They didn’t want it simple or practical! They didn’t mind the challenge! They wanted it!”

    EXCELLENT!

    The youth get it. Will the 60+ crowd finally come around to see the importance of reverence too?

  16. Bill says:

    I hear what you are saying but will mandating these external markers really improve anyone’s relationship with God? Were those young people forced to kneel in adoration? I don’t think Our Lord twists anyone’s arm to follow Him but His call can be quite compelling.

  17. Steven Schwalbach says:

    I think you are right Bishop Dolan…we want to be challenged and we want “Catholic Heavy!” not Catholic lite:) Bring back as much as possible The Church of my Grandparents! We need to get back to our roots instead of being “soft” and too concerned about being too conservative!

  18. Steven Schwalbach says:

    I hear the pride in the stories my father and mother tell me about being Catholic in the 40′s, 50′s. I think we must strive to bring back whatever made my parents so proud to be Catholic.

  19. TeaPot562 says:

    @Tricia:
    I believe that the decision to NOT make some major feast days (e.g. August 15, 2011) holy days of obligation when they occur on Saturday or Monday is largely to remove some stress from priests in parishes where a small number of priests serve. In my parish, two are available; and we have a Sat. evening 5:30 p.m.; an 8 a.m., 10 a.m., Noon, 1:30 p.m. (in Spanish) and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Adding another set of several masses on either Saturday or Monday makes things a bit difficult. Also, some lay persons become confused on the Sunday 5:30 p.m.. Does this satisfy the obligation for Sunday only? Or can it be used to satisfy Monday as well? What if you attend mass on Saturday p.m. (for Sunday) and Sunday p.m. (for Monday)?
    That’s the sort of question that does sometimes arise.
    TeaPot562

  20. Liz Kuntz says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan:
    I’m a lifelong Catholic from a large family. But to address why folks leave the church: Loss of Catholic Identity. I grew up in Detroit and attended Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish. We went through a lot of Priests in the 70′s and 80′s. So many changes were taking place we couldn’t keep up. LIttle did we know that most of the changes weren’t really allowed. Still, today, Priests insist on putting their own spin on how the Mass is prayed and the actions of the congregants. Most Sundays I wake up feeling as if I just can’t stand to attend another Mass at any Church where I live. No matter what Catholic Church you go to they always say Mass their own way. And one more gripe if you don’t mind: Who allowed churches to be built without kneelers? This totally blows my mind. I will always be Catholic but I may not always attend church.

  21. Mary Ann says:

    I believe the Holy Spirit is prompting you to ask this question regarding external practices of our faith. I also believe you are recognizing the importance of our Catholic tradition,devotions etc as an integral part of our Catholic identity.I too at one time left the faith. I left because the Catholic Church was offering me nothing in the way of spirituality. A cradle Catholic I was never taught the treasures of my faith only to abide by the rules. When challenged I could not defend my faith and due to my own ignorance, laziness and malaise, I could no longer accept the Catholic faith as my religion. However, I had a mother who prayed the Rosary and had many Masses said for my conversion. I remember vividly being in Manhattan in the very early hours of the morning and feeling an urge to attend Mass. I stopped at St.John’s Church on 31st street. Once inside a Franciscan Friar (the late Fr.Armand Dasserville) was walking around the Church with a rosary suspended from his hand. A Franciscan brother was also reciting the Rosary on his knees. The image was jarring for me. I had not seen a priest with a Rosary in his hand for I could not remember how long. I wept! This began my conversion and my return to the Catholic faith.I later became a Secular Franciscan under the spiritual direction of Fr.Armand. He taught me the faith (along with other good and wonderful priests I have met along my journey back to the Church.) Father never once deviated from the Churches devotions and traditions. ( even when it was unpopular within the Church to so)The Rosary was essential, Adoration, novenas, daily Mass, all night vigils, the lives of the saints, beautiful devotional hymns, talks on the Angels, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Least I forget spiritual discipline frequent confession, sacrifices offered for the conversion of sinners,offering one’s day etc. Suddenly, I realized my Church was not an empty shell but alive with a purpose for my life and the world. Today, my own children practice their faith but unlike myself they understand the reasons what the Church teaches regarding social issues etc. they firmly believe our Faith is an integral part of their daily lives. Both my Children one in their late teens, and one a young adult outwardly refuse the fluff we often find in our Churches.They don’t want any part of it.They want to be challenged by their faith. Both say a daily Rosary and attend Eucharistic Adoration and abstain from eating meat on Friday. They understand why these practices are important in their lives. Yes Archbishop Dolan what you saw at WYD is happening in many places. It is time to restore the faith to what it truly is rich in tradition and devotion. The young desire it and the old crave it. Then sit back and let the Holy Spirit do the rest! You will not be disappointed!

  22. Tomas says:

    While I will not be as harsh some of the other traditionalists who have been and will be commenting, there is a great need to listen to the spirit behind the letters of these complaints. There is a great desire for something more strongly authentic and it isn’t being promoted in the Church currently. Most parish priests are more about letting each person find their own way rather than offering proper guidance, whether gentle or harsh. Most Bishops feel they should let their flocks do what is best without being a vocal guide for liturgical, devotional, and pastoral practices.

    The lack of any real markers doesn’t allow us to actually proclaim anything because the world sees us and only sees itself. If we talk about “converting” the world, we are often just seen as asking the world to join up with us like some religious-political party. Yes, we need to be open to the world as Vatican II proclaimed. But our openness must also reveal something that makes the world wonder and question, even perhaps become frightened. Men will smile and indulge harmless thoughts. Visual and tangible challenges to their way of life will get them wondering.

  23. James says:

    I’m a young Catholic (22) and I whole-heartedly agree!

  24. cc says:

    Be bold! Bring back Friday abstinence!

  25. Tim says:

    “Tend my sheep” means be a leader and if you are a leader you need to look like a leader and the leaders of the church are the Priests. Why then are the leaders of the church, The Priests, afraid to look like the leaders they are?

    Two years in New York City and I’ve seen every type of person you can imagine on the streets, but one type is missing, The Priest. I’ve only seen 1 1/2 priests in two years. I say 1/2 because one day I was walking down the block and saw a priest coming my way, I was happy and wanted to say hi, but shortly after that thought I noticed the priest hesitating, looking around nervously, he removed his collar and put it in his pocket. He was ashamed of his faith, I am ashame of him, maybe Jesus is ashamed of him as well. I didn’t bother saying hello. I’ve only run into one other priest on the streets of NY who seemed nervous that a Professor/ Architect would say hello and didn’t seem to have 2 seconds to say hello. That is not evangelizing, that is not “Tending my sheep”.

    You mentioned in a blog script that once in a Denver airport how you were approached by an indignant many questioning your possition and faith, in the end, I think you triumphed because you witnessed to him. Think of all the lost opportunities Priests miss by not being apparant on the streets.

    Police are present on the streets of New York, there presense makes people behave better. The same would be true of Priest in New York and the world, but they are more like the “Undercover Police” operating in secret passing by people in need who may be in need of a priest or have questions for them.

    I do appreciate what priests do, but by not wearing their collars or by wearing street clothes they are doing a disservice to the church. I also believe that the clothing they wear will protect them from doing things or going places they should not go.

    If the fear is hostile confrentations, its’ understandable, but with that consider the exercise they will recieve in defending their faith to those who despise it. That alone may become a form of evangelization, like you in Denver. You should also consider the missed opportunity for good will. Mother Theresa once said that without her habit they never could have done the things they did.

    It’s time to put the uniform on and witness to all in need because there is great need for leadership.

  26. David says:

    We now have a whole generation of young people who have no idea what it’s like to kneel reverently at the communion rail. How sad!

    Everything you need to know to be a good Catholic can be found in the St. Joseph’s New Baltimore Catechism, the famous Q&As of Catholicism.

    Q: What is a sacrament?
    A: A sacrament is an OUTWARD SIGN, instituted by Christ, to give grace.

    No one knows us more intimately than our Creator. He knew we needed our outward signs. The more of them we get rid of, the more trouble we are in!

    Remember the days when a priest wouldn’t be seen in public without his biretta, or a nun wouldn’t be seen in anything other than a habit? They were walking advertisements for religious life! Now we barely know who they are. And we wonder why there’s a vocation shortage? The UPS delivery person is more readily identifiable!

    Years ago, a nun in school once told me, “Where things are done right, the Church will flourish; where they’re not, watch out!” I know now that she was very, very right.

    David

  27. Tim says:

    “Tend my sheep” means be a leader and if you are a leader you need to look like a leader and the leaders of the church are the Priests. Why then are the leaders of the church, The Priests, afraid to look like the leaders they are?

    Two years in New York City and I’ve seen every type of person you can imagine on the streets, but one type is missing, The Priest. I’ve only seen 1 1/2 priests in two years. I say 1/2 because one day I was walking down the block and saw a priest coming my way, I was happy and wanted to say hi, but shortly after that thought I noticed the priest hesitating, looking around nervously, he removed his collar and put it in his pocket. He was ashamed of his faith, I am ashamed of him, maybe Jesus is ashamed of him as well. I didn’t bother saying hello. I’ve only run into one other priest on the streets of NY who seemed nervous that a Professor/Architect would say hello and didn’t seem to have 2 seconds to say hello. That is not evangelizing, that is not “Tending my sheep”.

    You mentioned in a blog script that once in a Denver airport how you were approached by an indignant many questioning your position and faith, in the end, I think you triumphed because you witnessed to him. Think of all the lost opportunities Priests miss by not being apparent on the streets.

    Police are present on the streets of New York, there presence actually makes people behave better. The same would be true of Priests in New York and the world, but they are more like the “Undercover Police” operating in secret passing by people in need who may be in need of a priest or have questions for them.

    I do appreciate what priests do, but by not wearing their collars or by wearing street clothes they are doing a disservice to the church. I also believe that the clothing they wear will protect them from doing things or going places they should not go.
    If the fear is hostile confrontations, its’ understandable, but with that consider the exercise they will receive in defending their faith to those who despise it. That alone may become a form of evangelization, like you in Denver. You should also consider the missed opportunity for good will. Mother Theresa once said that without her habit they never could have done the things they did.

    It’s time to put the uniform on and witness to all, because there is great need for leadership

  28. Mary says:

    Archbishop, I think you are really onto something. I watched WYD on TV and the young people were electrified. There was a lot of grace there. Why not markers? Why not meatless Fridays? Why not passionate reverence for the Eucharist? Why not proclaim in public that we are Catholic? We seem to be living in a time when we want to be called out of ourselves towards something, someone higher. God love you for taking us up.

  29. elleblue says:

    If a culture dispenses with almost all the externals then how do others identify them?

    As Catholics we cannot talk about virtue and sacrifice if there are no external manifestations of these. We are called to both of these and more and yes they have to be externalized. As someone before has said, “if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.” Unfortunately in many circumstances this is exactly what has happened

  30. Your Excellency,
    I’m a 20-something marrying a 30-something this year. Neither of us want Catholic lite. We want Catholic all the way, no matter how difficult or inconvenient. It seems, however, that older generations are telling us that what we *actually* want is Catholic lite. I’m glad to see more of our bishops and priests realizing that we want nothing of the sort. Give us the Faith – give us Jesus! The Passion of Christ was an extreme & ultimate witness, and your young people, Archbishop Dolan, are ready to imitate that witness if you help us do so.

    Thank you for your blog.

    With love and prayers from San Antonio, TX.

  31. Lisa A. Marrero, MD says:

    Your Excellency,

    I hope my children discover, with our gentle prompting, that the Church has many treasures waiting for happy recovery! I hope you do allow/encourage/campaign for the rekindling of many of these family treasures, which will allow hearts and souls to resonate, and lead them to our Lord Jesus Christ. That IS the point of the things we may call external, but reverberate deeper with deliberate understanding, I think you can get 2 birds with one stone by recalling us to Meatless Fridays to remember the eternal sacrifice of Christ and to take a little stress of the planet’s protein production! Who could possibly object to that?

  32. Your Excellency,

    I am a 31 year old Cradle Catholic. I have been up and down in how strongly I identified with my faith. Over the last year and a half I have tried to live it better. Including recently deciding to restore meatless Fridays to my own house at least. We need to restore some of those traditions that made us different, that made us Catholic.

    After your blog I wrote a sort of response to you if you will: I know you are a busy man but if you would like to read it, it’s posted here:
    http://michaelcmorris.blogspot.com/2011/08/catholic-identity.html

    God Bless You,
    Michael

  33. Matt says:

    Dear Bishop:

    Thanks for initiating this great conversation. I’d like to add my 2c if you don’t mind… I can relate to the kids at World Youth Day. One church where I go to Daily Mass was once being renovated and Mass was being offered in the Sacristy. It was cramped in there, and the priest gave us permission to sit during the Eucharistic prayer. I knelt anyway, and so did most of the people who were there. You see, if one really believes that he is in the presence of our Lord, it is entirely appropriate to kneel. I do so, not because I feel that I have to, but out of JOY and thanksgiving for being in the presence of my Savior.

    I also prefer to receive Communion on my knees if possible. A couple of churches in my area do it that way. However, even though the Vatican says I have a right to do so, I don’t receive on my knees in a church where people generally receive standing so as to not interrupt the flow.

    One church in my local area doesn’t even have kneelers. That is annoying. What kind of statement are they trying to make?

    Keep up the good work. The time for conversation is almost over. Then it will be time for LEADERSHIP!

  34. MAW says:

    Your Excellency,

    Thanks for this post. I’m a reader from Cleveland who stumbled upon your blog, somehow, and decided to subscribe since you are now USCCB Prez.

    I have a recent experience nearly identical to the one you described from your World Youth Day Masses. As I am sure you know, Jesuit high schools and colleges celebrate a Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of each academic year. The Mass of the Holy Spirit for St. Ignatius Cleveland, where I work, was the site of a similar situation to those WYD Masses you described: 1400 young men from freshman to senior year, over half of them likely tired from walking the two mile jaunt from school to the Cathedral downtown early on a Friday morning, all tightly packed along with 150 faculty, staff, and priests into an at best mid-sized cathedral. When the time for the Eucharistic Prayer came, there was no prompting, either in the program for the Mass nor from the celebrants of the Mass, to break from the stand position each person was in – not out of lack of reverence for the Eucharist, or imposing their own way of celebrating the Eucharist upon everyone, but likely out of concern that kneeling might lead to over fatigue or a few passed-out freshmen, as happens sometimes at this Mass made very warm by all the body heat in the room. Yet, as the Bishop began the Eucharistic prayer, slowly in one fluid motion the entirety of the student body (and then afterwards, the faculty and staff) fell to their knees in reverent adoration of the action taking place on the altar. I more than happily fell to my knees myself.

    Just thought it would be edifying to relate that this is not an isolated phenomenon at WYD, but is indeed happening all over the country!

    In Christ, MAW

  35. Mike Schneider says:

    Archbishop Dolan,
    Thanks for your blog. I read it occassionally at work during lunch.
    I agree whole heartedly about the markers, with one caveat. I was born in ’57, so I grew up during the whole Vatican II changes, etc.
    The markers may distinguish us as Catholics, but our faith and the our actions distinguish us as Christians.
    My fear is that many will feel that the markers are the end all to being Catholic. ie… I’m a good Catholic because I don’t eat meat on Friday, I know the novenas, etc but I don’t put the faith into action – serving others.
    I agree that there is not enough effort to put reverence into the Mass, and some parishes try to entertain people to get them in the pews. We can’t compete with Hollywood for entertainment. I recently read where someone was complaining that Mass was taking longer than an hour because the priest was spending “too much time in silent meditation after communion and the readings”. Our culture is in too much of a hurry.

    thanks again for your blog.

  36. Archbishop

    You have just made a statement, now its time to start implementing changes. It starts with you.

    When a regional superior in the Missionaries of Charity wants her sisters do do something, does she make sweeping “observations”?

    Does she “wonder out loud”?

    You know the MC sisters as well as I do, the answer is NO.

    She makes a decision, tells her sisters what will be done, and the sisters are obedient to her. Period!

    That is why those sisters are holy, that is why they are God’s instruments, that is why they bear abundant fruit for the Church.

    There lies the answer – Obedience. Obedience in the office of bishops here in the United States, obedience in the priesthood, and obedience in the laity.

    Let’s call to mind the 2nd reading today marking The Exaltation of the Holy Cross:

    Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
    Rather, he emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    coming in human likeness;
    and found human in appearance,
    he humbled himself,
    becoming obedient to death,
    even death on a cross.

    Its time to stop “observing”, its time to stop “wondering out loud” and its time to start telling.

    Its really very simple.

    What are we afraid of? Only you and your priests can answer that.

    God is more generous then you, if you take the step, it will bear fruit. Trust me!!!

    Most likely though, there will be sacrifices required on your part and the part of your priests for being so bold. Are you unwilling to accept the suffering?

    I pray the Rosary for you every night before I go to bed – be assured of my prayers

    Sincerely, your brother in Christ

    Joe

  37. O.P. Student says:

    Yes, your excellency, we want to kneel. We don’t want to be comfortable: we want Our Lord! Thank you for taking us seriously! My prayers are with you.

  38. Irene says:

    I cringe when anyone uses the expression “Catholic-lite”. (Maybe because it is used to disparage faithful, liberal Catholics with whom I identify). Anyway, whoever coined it sure did a disservice to the American Church and Catholic unity.

  39. Elizabeth Warynick says:

    I totally agree with you Archbishop Dolan!! I see this all the time in young people. They are looking for RADICAL CHRISTIANITY not anything lite. They want the REAL DEAL and you know what? So do us “older” Christians! I am 55 and only a Catholic for 4 years now but I want to give it ALL to Jesus and not just a small percent of me! I want the sacraments, the holy water, the saints, the blessings, the kneeling (even though I have bad knees now!) and the weekly confession so as to stay in TUNE with my walk with God! What is frustrating is that I don’t find many priests who want to lead us in this way. I get frowned upon by priests for confessing so oftern and when I venerate a statue of Mary or a Saint I can see people who get uptight with someone showing their love and honor in a outward manner.

    I felt so serious about my Catholic Faith that when my husband suddenly died 3 years ago on Good Friday, I gave my life to God and the Church by professing my vows as a Consecrated Widow. My only problem is that the priests where I now live don’t know what to do with a consecrated widow and I find myself striving to fit in somewhere.

    You are now the head of the Bishops and I cry out to you to help make a change so that those of us that are out there doing our best to live a fully alive Catholic Life can feel supported and nutured in this not looked down upon.

    I pray for you daily as well as the rest of the Priests, religious and the church!

  40. Thank you for your ministry, excellency. The call to be an heroic Christian is quite a curious thing. The last few Chapters of each Gospel quite clearly “flesh” out the vision of what that means. The fifth chapter of Matthew seems to provide the handbook for me and it ends with His famous call to perfection. In the end no amount of “religious exercise” will take us to that point. As so many holy saints have shown us perfection can be approached only in surrender to Him in every small detail of life. The great danger and temptation is to see myself as “better” than someone else. It is, as Pope John Paul II pointed out in Christifidelia Laici, one of the two temptations that the layity have not always known how to avoid. In the end Christianity so far over-arches these good and worthy practices, especially when we make them markers of our righteousness. Jesus, in the Gospels is quite clear on this. Perhaps Mother Theresa said it best, though I fear I am not taking her advice here, “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service.

    Love, Charley Green

  41. Scott Mastel says:

    Your Excellency:
    Nothing would accomplish an external marking of our faith better than bringing back meatless Fridays. As leader of USCCB, I’d say you were in a good position do so!

  42. Mark says:

    YES YES YES!!!!! Restore our Catholic identity. Don’t make the faith easy for me. If I’m going to he’ll for my actions, tell me I’m going to he’ll, don’t try to make me feel better about myself. I want to be challenged, I want to be called to greatness. If it isn’t difficult, I know it’s a sham. Stop pandering and stop apologizing. We are Catholic and proud of it. External markers are great for reminding us of who we are, drawing us together as one church, and reminding us of God’s importance in our lives. As a 33 year old male I feel somewhat cheated by the Church because I feel like I’ve been denied so much of what makes the faith special. I, along with my wife, have instituted meatless Fridays in our home this year, and my children will grow up with this special tradition that sets us apart from the rest of the world and tells people we are Catholics and proud of it!

  43. Diogenes says:

    Irene,
    “catholic-lite” = protestant, in opposition to the Magisterium, the Holy See
    and the RCC.
    BTW, I associate the phrase “American Church” with the Baptists, not the Catholics.
    (Why the Baptists? All their “holy” days are Government “holiday” celebrations with US Flags, martial music and politicians all over the place. god = US President in that world)

    Matt,
    “One church in my local area doesn’t even have kneelers. That is annoying. What kind of statement are they trying to make?”
    That they are, in practice and deed, really a protestant congregation riding on the coat-tails of the Vatican….

  44. Linda says:

    Archbishop Dolan,
    I too agree with Ken and Jeffery, please start a trend and bring back the things that made our Church special. If you do maybe our Archbishop in your home town of St. Louis, Mo. will follow you.
    I’m glad to hear that our young people want the Church to go back to the way it used to be. Our Church has lost the reverence it used to have.
    May our Lord continue to bless you, and keep up the good work you are doing.

  45. I converted 18 months ago for the fullness of the faith, not a lite presentation! I converted away from flexible and Protestant for good reason.

    Those who believe that we need to be more Protestant-like to attract converts are wrong. We will fail in that and continue to lose Catholics trying.

  46. John P. Gill says:

    Your Excellency,

    You seem to “get” the messages that are being sent to you by the “bloggers”, but are hesitant to take any action. Why? You have been put by God in a position of influence and power over the Church in the United States. Use your potential. THE CHURCH IS IN CRISIS. Do you not recognize it? Follow the lead of the enthusiastic youngsters in Madrid. They were from all over the world. They want the true religion.

    The Church has become TRIVIAL AND INSIGNIFICANT, partially as a result of the loss of our “external markers”. People like the atheist Alan Wolfe (Professor of Political Science at “Catholic” Boston College) have pushed us back from the “public square”. They say religion is no longer a part of American life, or “IT’S TOO CONTROVERSIAL” so let’s ignore it. Maybe it will go away. We are not going anywhere! We need to step up the visibility.

    We are pleading with you to have courage to take action as President of the USCCB. Action is within your reach. Perhaps consult with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. He has taken the lead in England. He has said recently that the Church is always being “REFORMED AND RENEWED”. Please start now!

    Thank you.

    Respectfully, John G.

  47. Gail Finke says:

    Your Excellency: I am not from your diocese, and at the ripe age of 47 I am at the far end of the “young Catholics,” but I agree with them! Maybe there was once too much emphasis on “externals,” but we don’t know, we weren’t around. For us, there have been NO externals. The people who worry that folks will be content with externals are not looking around them. The Church left us floundering! We are supposed to trip along on our “faith journeys,” figuring things out for ourselves! We are supposed to worry all the time about whether we really “feel” reverent, whether we “get enough out of the mass,” whether we are “truly experiencing” what is happening (which most of us have never been taught anyway). NO ONE can be “on” all the time, no one can celebrate mass perfectly, no one can be expected to make his or her way without a guide. Externals help train you internally. But we have become minimalists, demanding that each person be perfect internally (or rather, “go on a journey toward completeness” or something).

    Yet in our daily lives we love ritual. Look at the fans at sports events! They wear special clothes, they paint their faces, they carry weird things, they chant special songs — all so that they can better participate in what is going on, and so that what they do with their bodies reflects (and sometimes prompts) their inner participation.

    I am tired of banality! I want the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! I know the mass is always the mass, and that I should feel vastly privileged if I get to be at a mass at all, even if it’s said on top of a garbage can in an alley. But I don’t think the Church should make me do so, if there is a better location available.

  48. Tim Muller says:

    Thank you for starting the conversation your Excellency, may that we will always kneel at the foot of the cross and the Real Presence. We should not minimize the expression of our Faith or anything that brings us closer to Jesus Christ and Arlene B Muller is on the mark that we only need to be careful in doing it all for the Glory of God so as not to be confused with doing it for the Church.

    May God Bless,

    Tim Muller

  49. Mary says:

    And while we’re at it, here is an interesting piece on the history of meatless Fridays from Fr. Z’s blog

    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2011/09/quaeritur-some-history-on-meatless-fridays/

  50. Jason says:

    Your Grace, is it possible that you might raise these issues with your brother Bishops at the USCCB? I already abstain from meat every Friday (had some tuna fish today!) but I would rejoice if the Church in the USA took the lead of the Church in England and restored that wonderful practice for all.

    God bless you.