Archive for the ‘Mass’ Category

Keep Politics Out of the Church

Friday, October 8th, 2010

One of the modern forms of idolatry is to view everything through the prism of politics, and to treat all matters as if they were essentially matters of power and partisanship.  The result of this is the subordination of all things to politics — even those things that properly belong to God.

Three recent news stories have brought this disturbing trend to my attention, and have gotten under my skin.

Same-Sex “Marriage” Activists Attempt to Politicize the Eucharist.
A group of students at a purportedly Catholic university (St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota) showed up at a Mass being celebrated at the school by their local ordinary, Archbishop Nienstedt.  They came adorned with a rainbow sash, a political symbol that conveys a very clear message:  “we reject the Church’s teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, we reject the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage, and we reject the Church’s authority to make public comments about moral matters that affect public policy”.  Despite wearing a badge that proclaims their breach of communion with the Church, these students presented themselves to receive the Eucharist.

To his credit, Archbishop Nienstedt properly denied them Communion, since they were trying to make a political statement out of the central mystery of our faith.  The lesson taught by the good Archbishop is not difficult:  if you don’t believe what God teaches us through the Church, and if you have no intention of living as God desires as He has communicated to us through the Church, then you are not properly disposed to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  You need to make a choice: politics or God.

Calls for a “Catholic Tea Party”.
From another front, there have been calls for what one advocate terms a “Catholic Tea Party”, directed against some of our bishops, due to their alleged indifference towards heresy by some activist clergymen.  I certainly have no problem with people contacting their pastors about matters that concern their own spiritual good and the spiritual good of the Church as a whole.  The Code of Canon Law says that laypeople “have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” (Canon 212.3)

I note especially that phrase, “with respect toward their pastors”.  In the case of a call to a “Tea Party”, I cannot see any way that this shows “respect towards their pastors”.  The original “Tea Party”, after all, was a (justified) violent rebellious act against an oppressive government.  Is that really the image we want to use when lay people address their pastors, especially when we address a bishop, who is a successor of the Apostles?

No, just no.  The Church is not a political entity, but the Body and Bride of Christ.  If people believe that there is a problem within the Church, they need to address the matter in the appropriate way.  The Bride of Christ should not squabble and wrangle in public like a bunch of unruly delegates on the floor of a political convention.

The Hypocrisy of the Media.
Complaining about a double standard from the mainstream media has become a bit tiresome, because it is like constantly pointing out that 2+2=4.  But I have rarely seen such a clear example of it, centered on politics and churches.  Consider two cases: Case #1: Catholic bishops in Minnesota speak out to defend marriage and the media questions their “meddling” in politics. Case #2: New York politicians go into churches to make campaign speeches from the pulpit, and are given glowing, unquestioning profiles that talk as if this is just a nice bit of local curiosity.

I don’t know how other Churches justify to themselves being used by politicians.  But Catholic churches cannot allow politicians into the sanctuary for a very simple reason.  Not just that it’s against the Internal Revenue Code (which it is, even if we’re the only ones who obey the law).  But there’s a deeper reason, and it’s the fundamental truth that lies beneath each of these recent stories.

Polarizing secular politics have no place in the Church, particularly in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We need to recall that the Mass is not just a gathering of like-minded people, or just a group of voters.  The Mass is the assembly of the People of God, come into the presence of the King of Kings, whose eternal sacrifice on Calvary is being opened up for us anew for our participation.  We are there to worship and adore the Eternal One, and to grow in holiness and intimacy with Him, in an anticipation of the heavenly liturgy described in the Book of Revelation.

With that awesome task on the agenda, you can see why I think there’s no room for politics in the Church.

Et Incarnatus Est

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Last night at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan, there was a significant and beautiful Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  The occasion was to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation.   It was significant because of the message it conveyed, and it was beautiful because… well, every Mass is beautiful in its own way, but this one was extra special.

The Mass was celebrated in what is known as “the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite”, which is to say according to the Missal used by the entire Church prior to the Second Vatican Council.  Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has promoted the renewed and wider use of this form of the Mass in his letter Summorum Pontificum.

The principal celebrant was Fr. James Miara, assisted by a number of other priests, as well as a full complement of servers.  The devotion and solemn dignity with which the Mass was celebrated was a powerful focus of prayer for all those present.  There was a spectacularly beautiful choir and schola who offered the majesty of Gregorian chant and other ancient music, to help us raise our hearts and minds to the worship of our Lord. (If you’re interested in seeing pictures of the Mass, check here.)

In many ways the high point of the Mass was that it was presided over by Edward Cardinal Egan, who also preached.  In his homily, His Eminence communicated a powerful message, stressing the Christian virtue of humble obedience to the will of God.  He explained this in terms of the feast day itself, in the humility of Mary’s “yes” to God.  He also noted that it was the fifteenth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s great encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, which calls us to obey the truths of nature and reason in support of “the incomparable worth of the human person”, made in the image of God Himself.  And he emphasized our duty of humble obedience to the Church in accepting the celebration of the traditional Mass.

To me, the Cardinal’s presence at a pro-life Mass in the Extraordinary Form was significant in two other ways.  It served as a reminder to us all that the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life is held and professed from the most humble levels of the Church to the highest.  This is not a teaching only for popes or bishops, or for activists.  To be Catholic is, by definition, to be pro-life.  Having a “prince of the Church” at the Mass, together with all of us ordinary Catholics, spoke that truth very clearly.

Also, it was reminder that this Extraordinary Form is an ancient liturgy of the Church, that traces its lineage back to St. Pius V in the sixteenth century, to St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century, and beyond him even to the apostolic age.  To have a successor of the apostles, an elector of a pope, preside at such an ancient expression of the rite of our faith, emphasized that the Church’s defense of human life extends back to the earliest days, to the apostles and to Our Lord Himself.

The Mass was sponsored by my Knights of Columbus council, Agnus Dei Council (#12361), the special mission of which is to promote devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and to the traditional forms of worship, particularly the traditional Latin Mass.  This particular Mass is intended to be an annual event, an expression of a project of the Knights of Columbus to promote the Solemnity of the Annunciation as a day of prayer for the unborn.

We wished particularly to offer the Mass as a commemoration of the Incarnation of Jesus, and thus to recall the time when Our Lord resided in humility and secret in the womb of his mother, Mary.  We hope that all Catholics will come to see this Solemnity as a profound pro-life feast day.

By adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and by receiving Him, body, blood, soul and divinity at Mass, we Knights, and we Catholics, join with all the saints in glory and in history, to proclaim, as we do in the Creed, “et incarnatus est” — the Word of God has become man!

The Blessing of Daily Mass

Friday, December 4th, 2009

I’ve had the privilege of being able to attend daily Mass at lunchtime for about eighteen years, now. When I worked over in Brooklyn, I was within walking distance of St. James Cathedral, and now there’s St. John the Evangelist Church on the first floor of the Chancery building. It’s been a great blessing. It just never gets old.

You might think that doing the same thing every day would get boring after all this time. Hearing the same basic prayers, and even hearing the same cycle of readings every other year, a person might find that it loses its novelty and appeal in a short time.

And they’d probably be right, if it was just a kind of human entertainment. True, the prayers can be a bit bland, especially in the current translation. The readings are from the New American Bible, a version that I don’t care for, with its rather flat style and confusing run-on sentences in Paul’s letters. Other little things can always bother you after a while, like the aesthetics or the singing.

And yet, it’s so much more than all of that. The noble simplicity of the Roman Rite, especially in what used to be called a Low Mass (no music, nothing fancy) is still breath-taking. The Sacred Scriptures, no matter what the translation, are still like that sharp sword, “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. (Heb 4:12 — RSV)

And that’s even before we start thinking about the Eucharist. Being at Mass so often, you can sense how the entire liturgy slowly builds to the first climax, the Consecration, and then surges forward to its culmination at Communion. It’s like being swept away by a great river that seems at first to be lazily meandering its way through the countryside, but suddenly you find yourself in an inexorable torrent.

I felt this very, very keenly one time after noon Mass. The liturgy was an ordinary, regular daytime Mass, but afterwards I sat there for a few minutes, feeling such a sense of intimacy and a desire for love drawing me into the Eucharist that was both within me, and still waiting for me in the Tabernacle.

I don’t feel that way often — very rarely, indeed — but at those times I think I can understand something of what St. Augustine wrote after his conversion:

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.

You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

Thank you, Lord, for such a blessing, made available to me, every single day.

Collections, Protests, and the Mass

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

I told myself over and over again that I wasn’t going to get involved in this, or to say anything publicly about this.  At a time when we’re fighting to keep abortion and euthanasia out of the health care bill, and defending real marriage, this is no time to get involved in tangential issues.  But there’s something about this that really bugs me, and I want to get it off my chest.  So, here goes.

There is a campaign afoot among some pro-lifers to protest the upcoming second collection for the Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).  CCHD is a project of the United States Bishops to fund local community-based groups that are working for a variety of causes.  Here in the Archdiocese, for example, CCHD has supported housing advocates, interfaith clergy groups, anti-sweatshop organizers, and immigrant groups.  Apparently, though, in other dioceses, CCHD has supported a handful of activities or groups that are allegedly involved in political efforts and activities contrary to Church teaching, like abortion advocacy or support for same-sex “marriage”. 

Those are disturbing allegations, indeed, and, if true, firm action must be taken.  However, in a recent memo to the bishops by Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, the CCHD chairman, he makes clear that funding for these and similar groups were terminated, and that steps have been taken to ensure that no such grants are made in the future.  You can find that memo, and other information, at the CCHD website. The steps taken so far indicate to me that the bishops are taking this matter seriously, and they deserve a chance to put in place corrective measures to protect the integrity of CCHD.

Of course, if people don’t like the causes that CCHD supports, second collections are always voluntary, not mandatory.  If people do not wish to give, they are within their rights to refrain from doing so.  If they would prefer that a collection be taken up for other causes (e.g., pro-life activities), they should petition their bishop at the appropriate time and in the proper way.

What really bothers me about all of this, though, is one of the tactics being promoted by the campaign against CCHD.  Some advocates are proposing that people put a postcard into the collection basket, protesting the activities of CCHD, and demanding that the U.S. Bishops terminate funding for the program. This tactic is being recommended by good people, including friends of mine, who are sincere in their beliefs and who are heroic in their commitment to the cause of life.  I do not mean to criticize them in any way, or to cast doubt upon their motives or good faith.  However, to me, whatever the merits of the campaign and its allegations, this approach crosses an important line. 

We need to keep something very, very important in mind.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not the time for advocacy, no matter what the cause.  Mass is the time for adoration.  The Offertory is that part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass when we should be joining our entire selves in the offering of the gifts, including the gifts we place in the collection basket.  We should be praying that we may be transformed into the Mystical Body of Christ, just as the gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the actual Body and Blood of Christ.  It should be a time to focus our attention on preparing for the central mystery of our faith.  Indeed, at that time the priest implores God on our behalf that He may “receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts”.  And he is about to pray that the Holy Spirit will make us “one body, one spirit in Christ”.

To insert a divisive statement — especially one that sets the faithful against their bishops — into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, especially at that point, distracts the people from the spiritual sense of unity and self-oblation we should be striving for, and substitutes instead a sense of division and partisanship.  That has no place at Mass.

All people have the right to petition their spiritual leaders on matters of concern.  But they have a duty to do so in the appropriate way, at the correct time, and in a respectful manner.  Whatever the merits of the allegations about CCHD, I think this campaign tactic is misguided, and fails this test.

Please, Father, Help Me To Be Holy

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

I’m trying to be holy. I try to set aside time for prayer, and I particularly try to be attentive during Mass.

But, the basic problem is me. I’m just very, very easily distracted. My mind whirls around, thinking about what I was doing, what I’m going to be doing, the current list of things I’m worried about, and on, and on. I just have a hard time focusing during Mass.

That’s why I follow along in a missal, so I can concentrate two of my senses at once on the prayers of the Mass, and try to get my heart and mind to join in those prayers. I’m trying to actively participate in the Mass, instead of just being there and mouthing the responses. By doing this, I have come to appreciate the beauty and noble simplicity of the prayers of the Mass, and they draw me upward to God — after all, He’s the one we’re addressing our prayers to.

That’s also why it’s a disaster for me when the priest change the words of the Mass. It throws me off, takes my mind out of the prayers, and adds yet another layer of distraction. The human element jumps in front of me, blocking my view of the divine.

This rarely happens at my home parish, or at the parish where I attend daily Mass. But it has happened on occasion when I’ve been travelling. For example, there’s the priest who seems to make up the words of the Eucharistic prayers as he goes along. How can I join my prayers to his if I have no idea what he’s going to say next? Or the priest who decided to re-write the Eucharistic Prayer so that it was in the form of a dialogue — some parts he said, and others were said by the congregation. I can’t even tell you what a strange experience that was. Or the priest who decided last weekend to use the Gospel reading from Saturday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, instead of the regular Sunday Gospel. That totally threw me off — I love Mary, and I’m sorry that the Assumption wasn’t a Holy Day of Obligation this year, but for goodness sake, the Sunday Gospel was the climax of the Bread of Life discourse from John 6, perhaps the most important thing that Jesus ever said.

It’s particularly difficult when the priest chooses a manner of speaking as if he is having a conversation with us. That’s even more distracting. I can’t help but thinking, why are you talking to me? Shouldn’t we all be talking to God?

I know that this kind of thing is usually done with a good intention, to make the Mass more open and inviting, or to make the congregation feel more a part of the Mass. But it has the exact opposite effect on me — it pushes me away, and makes it much harder for me to actively participate in the Mass.

I’m not a regular at the Traditional Latin Mass, but I imagine that this is not a problem — unless you’re an exceptional linguist, you probably couldn’t ad lib in Latin. There’s also the old instruction to the priest to “do the red and say the black” — do all the required movements and gestures, which are written in the Sacramentary in red, and say the required words, which are written in black. The few times I’ve attended the Extraordinary Form, it actually helped me that it was in Latin, because I had to concentrate harder to follow along, and I felt myself entering into the prayers more, and joining the priest in offering them. That experience has helped me be more attentive and focused while attending Mass in the Ordinary Form.

I don’t want to be critical of our priests, whom I love and pray for daily. And I don’t want to be some kind of “liturgical police”, constantly looking for problems at Mass and acting like I’m more Catholic than the Pope. That’s not my job, and I wouldn’t want it anyway.

I’m just trying to be holy. But I’m a weak, restless person who has a hard time concentrating on the Lord during Mass.

So, I’m begging. Please, Father, help me be holy. Please don’t change anything.