Saturday, December 27, 2003

Homily Humor - It ain't funny

It so happened that a boy was trying out for a football team. He wasn't very good and not very smart either so the coach told him he could be on the team if he could answer three questions. The first question was, "How many seconds are there in a year?" The boy thought a moment and answered, "Twelve. January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd, April 2nd. . .'. The coach thought he would have to give him credit for that, so he asked the second question, "How many days of the week start with the letter 'T'?" The boy said, "Two - today and tomorrow." The coach then asked him the third question, "How many d's in Yankee Doodle?" The boy answered, "A couple of thousand. De, de, de, de, de, de, de." (sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle.)

It so happened that a guy got on a bus in Chicago and it so happened that he asked the bus driver if the bus goes "to da loop." The driver says, "No, it goes beep beep."

It so happened that there was a church on the top of a high hill and there was a cemetery at the church. And it so happened they were having a funeral and as they were opening the door on the hearse, the casket fell out and starting sliding down the hill. It kept sliding down and down until it burst into the doors of a CVS drug store. The lid opened and the body sat up and said to the pharmacist, "Do you have anything to stop this coffin?"

If you were told these jokes, would you bother to repeat them to anyone other than a small child perhaps? Where did I hear these terrible jokes? All were told by our parish priest during homilies at Christmas Midnight Mass, the Feast of the Holy Family, and (gasp) on All Souls' Day respectively. I found the coffin joke on All Souls' Day especially distasteful since there were a number of families in attendance who had recently lost loved ones.

I like to laugh as much as anyone, but I find homily jokes offensive. Not only are they inappropriate, our pastor has the annoying habit of messing up the story and setting up each joke by repeatedly saying, "It so happened . . .". I am not opposed to employing humor from the ambo. It can be a very effective tool for capturing the audience and making a moral or spiritual point. We recently had a mission where the visiting priest told several very funny anecdotes about his own family, but there was a point to his story.

The congregation does not assemble to be entertained by a priest who turns the homily into a mindless lounge act, complete with a having visitors shout out where they are from (a la Bill Murray on the old SNL). Ironically, those who do come to be entertained are the ones in most need of a good homily. A good homily should be interesting, educational, thought provoking and spiritually enlightening.

Today, I received the December issue of This Rock magazine. In the editor's column, publisher Karl Keating laments about having to search for a new parish because he could no longer tolerate the way his priest celebrates the Mass. Mr. Keating says the following: "He also likes to use jokes as brackets around the liturgy. Although a gentle witticism might be appropriate in a homily, one should keep in mind that the Mass is the reenactment of Calvary, and I suspect that no one other than the Roman soldiers joked before or after that event." Amen, Karl.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Dad's Birthday

My Father was born December 9, 1903, one hundred years ago today. He died in 1975 and I still marvel at all the things he witnessed in his lifetime. He lived through two world wars and worked as a teller in a Chicago bank during the stock market crash of 1929. The Wright Brothers flew for the first time when Dad was barely a week old, and Americans walked on the moon six years before his death. Advancements in transportation, medicine, and technology during the twentieth century of progress are mind-boggling, and Dad lived through much of it.

He was a good father despite the fact that he was nearly 47 years old when I was born and 49 at the birth of my sister. He was 15 years older than my mother, his second wife. His first wife died of cancer in 1947, leaving him and my older brother to fend for themselves.

Dad was a Methodist, and my Mother a Catholic. They didn't discuss religion much in front of us, but occasionally Dad would let slip a little comment revealing his befuddlement with Catholic teaching. Mom's nephew was a young Catholic priest who my father would engage in very interesting theological discussion during his occasional visits. As a youngster, I didn't always understand what they were talking about, but I remember being mesmerized listening to them.

Dad remained a Protestant throughout his life. I often wonder if I could have brought him home to the Catholic Church if I knew then what I know now. No doubt such discussions would have been uncomfortable for both of us. Certain topics are much easier left untouched.

I miss him much and still awaken to very realistic dreams of him being here in the present. Perhaps he is. Happy Birthday Dad!

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Liturgical Music

My wife and son are both parish organists. When our current pastor took over the parish, the arduous responsibility for selecting music for the Sunday Mass was delegated to our family. What's so difficult about looking through the hymnal and picking out something appropriate for the season? Well, it's not that simple.

The typical post-Vatican II Mass has new modern music intermingled with some old traditional hymns. Catholics now find themselves singing religious songs that were only heard in Protestant churches in the past. This is not necessarily bad unless the lyrics express ideas that conflict with Catholic teaching. One would think that all songs printed in a Catholic hymnal would be appropriate for a Catholic Mass, but that is not always the case. Catholics are often unaware that many of the hymns they have come to know and love, may undermine their own faith.

Probably the most common example of a hymn criticized for expressing Protestant thought is Amazing Grace. We have sung it in our church -- number 438 in our hymnal. Some conservative Catholics say Amazing Grace should never be sung in a Catholic Church. The reason is a lyrical implication that salvation is a one-time event that happened 'the hour I first believed.' One tenet of fundamental Protestantism says that once salvation is achieved, it cannot be lost. If that is what the song says, then certainly it should not be sung at a Catholic Mass.

Studying the lyric carefully, I am not sure the criticism is valid. The first verse does speak of being saved in the past tense, but so does the Bible (Rom 8:24 and Eph 2:5). Of course, the Bible also speaks of salvation as an ongoing process (1 Cor 1:8, 2 Cor 2:15 and Phil 2:12) and a future event (Rom 5:9-10, 2 Tim 2:11-13), and this supports the Catholic belief that salvation cannot be assured until death. Speaking of salvation in the past tense does not necessarily express a heretic belief, nor does it rule out future loss. In fact, the third verse says "grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." There we have the ongoing and future journey to salvation. Sounds very Catholic to me.

The second verse says, "How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed." Fundamental Protestants believe one is saved at the moment he accepts Jesus as 'his personal Lord and Savior.' Is that the idea the song is expressing here? No. It simply says that God's grace appeared precious at the first hour of belief. Nothing wrong with that. The fourth verse says, "His word my hope secures." Again, this speaks of assured hope, not assured salvation.

One might argue that the referring to oneself as a "wretch" sounds a little like Luther saying we are cow dung. Yes, we are all sinners and sinning is wretched behavior. In the Catholic mindset, however, we are created in the image and likeness of God. Many Catholic hymnals offer an alternate text that omits the word "wretch".

Does this mean Amazing Grace is appropriate for the Mass? Not necessarily. A complete understanding and appreciation for what is happening during the Sacrifice of the Mass certainly brings to mind more reverent and prayerful hymns. Yet, conservative Catholics need not get overly upset if Amazing Grace occasionally finds its way into the liturgy.

Certainly, not all songs in Catholic hymnals are appropriate. An acquaintance with experience in liturgical music recently sent me her idea of what the minimum standards should be. Her recommendation includes "examination of the entire text to insure that it supports Catholic teaching without any error." I consider myself slightly above average in knowledge of Catholic teaching, but I couldn't begin to know every theological nuance that may be inferred by a certain lyric.

Catholic apologists often point to the proliferation of conflicting Protestant beliefs when self-interpretation of Scripture is the only option. Similarly, even if each Catholic Parish had its own orthodox theologian to scrutinize musical text, there would certainly be some disagreement on doctrinal implications of certain hymns. It is safe to say that most parishes would not have anyone sufficiently qualified to study each lyric and determine its compatibility with the fine points of doctrine.

It would then behoove each parish to adopt a hymnal containing only texts pre-approved by orthodox Catholic theologians. Some, such as the Adoremus Hymnal, have been assembled with doctrinal compatibility in mind. While many others may contain imprimaturs, one sometimes wonders how much scrutiny went into their approval.

In the meantime, some of us in the laity will face the task of selecting liturgical music each week from a repertoire that may contain questionable material. At the very least, those choosing music for the Mass should have a keen understanding of Catholic doctrine. Music that undermines Catholic teaching in any way should certainly be rejected. In the case where personal interpretation comes into play, one can always err on the side of caution. But almost any lyric can be construed to say something that the composer may have never intended.

In the 1960's, Peter, Paul and Mary (the folk singers -- not those from the Bible) had a hit song called Puff the Magic Dragon. Some critics interpreted the song's lyrics as describing a drug experience. I saw an interview with one of the members of the group (either Peter Yarrow or Paul Stookey) where he countered the accusation by analyzing each line of our National Anthem in a way that could also describe a drug experience. His point was to show that the meaning of the song is subject to the interpreter. Similarly, we may try to read too much theology into a simple song lyric. It is not necessary to eliminate every hymn that may be construed as sounding Protestant.

Years ago, I attended a baseball umpires' clinic. One of the instructors, an experienced umpire, said the first thing he does when umpiring home plate is to rub out the back line on the batter's box. By doing so, he eliminates all arguments about whether the batter is keeping his stance within the boundaries of the batter's box. With the line obliterated, the call is now up to the umpire's discretion, and the wise umpire will not make the call unless the violation is flagrant.

The key word is flagrant. Many calls in baseball are not made unless the violation is flagrant. Did the second baseman have his foot on the bag when turned the double play? Did the runner leave third base too soon when he tagged up on a sacrifice fly? Did he run out of the baseline? A good umpire doesn't try to split hairs on calls such as these. The same goes for police officers. A good cop will not give you a ticket for going 57 miles per hour in a 55 zone.

The liturgical musician would be wise to follow the same example when selecting songs for the Mass. If the doctrinal violation is flagrant, throw the hymn out. If one must bend the interpretation to find fault, let it go. Unlike the umpire or police officer, you can always seek another opinion from a priest or someone more knowledgeable. If more than one member of the parish expresses a reservation about a certain song, it is probably wise to eliminate it rather than cause discomfort and distraction for them during the Mass. Selecting liturgical music is an important task and should not be taken lightly. It can enhance the liturgy or it can detract from it. Much thought needs to go into the process.

As for Amazing Grace, I would personally avoid its use at Mass, but not so much due to any flagrant incompatibility with Catholic teaching. Rather, there are more appropriate liturgical hymns and sacred music to sing in praise of the amazing miracle taking place on the altar. I am also sensitive to those who do feel the lyrics favor a Protestant belief. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that could create a distraction to even a few worshipers. And, study the documents of Vatican II, especially Chapter VI of Sacrosanctum Concilium. You may be surprised what it really says.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Liturgical Two-step
(Take one Step Forward and Two Steps Back)

Living in a liberal diocese with a liberal Bishop, one lives in constant fear of losing the few precious remnants of reverence in our liturgies. The diocesan newspaper reflects the liberal tendencies of the local clergy, so finding an article critical of liturgical abuse is a rare and pleasant surprise.

The October 26, 2002 edition of the Northwest Indiana Catholic printed a Catholic News Service (CNS) article about a speech given in San Antonio by Cardinal Francis Arinze (Prefect of the Vatican Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments) in which he criticized unauthorized liturgical innovations. He addressed several of my own personal concerns about certain changes desecrating many American Catholic Churches.

One of the current fads is to rearrange the seating, bringing the altar out into the main body of the church with the pews surrounding. Cardinal Arinze is quoted as follows: "If a church is built and the seats are arranged as in an amphitheater or as in a banquet, the undeclared emphasis may be horizontal attention to one another, rather than vertical attention to God. . . . We come to Mass primarily to adore God, not to affirm one another, although this is not excluded."

Amen, Amen. So many beautiful churches have been awkwardly cobbled into an amphitheater seating arrangement in order to project some contrived sense of community. I would go one step farther than Cardinal Arinze and say this structural metamorphosis is a direct result of misplacing our vertical focus on the physical presence of Christ Himself on the altar.

Cardinal Arinze goes on to say that liturgical renewal does not mean knocking down the altar rails or positioning the altar in the middle of the sitting area of the people. "The Church has never said any such thing." The Cardinal added, "And the altar of the Blessed Sacrament should be outstanding for its beauty and honored prominence." How many churches make worshippers hunt for the tabernacle? Again, the physical presence of Christ is no longer front and center.

As I read this article, I thought how refreshing to see a high ranking Cardinal speak out in agreement with those of us who are discouraged by what is happening to our beautiful liturgies in our formerly beautiful churches and cathedrals. But, as if to let us know that the old conservative Cardinal won't rain on our liberal parade, the newspaper printed another CNS article on the very same page under the headline, "Pope's liturgist defends dance at Mass."

The article is about Archbishop Piero Marini, Pope John Paul II's "chief liturgist", defending the use of dance in papal Masses abroad and at the Vatican. Archbishop Marini has apparently been criticized by church officials because some papal liturgies are "too outlandish". According to the article, an October 5th beatification Mass in St. Peter's Square featured African dance at the offertory and Indian dance at the consecration.

Archbishop Marini defended the liturgical dance by saying, "To introduce dance at a parish Mass in Italy would be pointless. But the celebration was a missionary celebration, for the beatification of three people who evangelized Africa and Asia." The article continues to quote the Archbishop as saying, "Papal celebrations have a markedly universal character and therefore need the adaptation and inculturation foreseen by the Second Vatican Council."

Being the universal church encompassing all cultures, certain allowances probably need to be made in terms of the permitted manners of self-expression. That does not mean that dancing is a proper form of worship in all societies. In our culture, dancing is often associated with sensuality. A local Protestant church has a liturgical dance troop that performs regularly at various community events. While the dance may be very beautiful, it is difficult to think about God while watching those young women in their slinky white gowns. That is one reason liturgical dance is not permitted in our Catholic churches.

Yet, many of our priests and bishops will take Archbishop Marini's words as validation for allowing certain forms of dance at liturgical celebrations including the Mass. If you think not, turn a few pages in the same diocesan newspaper to find the following announcement: "St. Maria Goretti Parish in Dyer is hosting a Polka Mass, Sunday, Nov. 9, 10:30 a.m."

If the need for "adaptation and inculturation foreseen by the Second Vatican Council" includes celebrating Polka Masses, then why not have Hip-Hop Masses, Can-Can Masses, or Disco Masses. After all, we want to show our multicultural diversity as the universal church. How about Irish jig Masses, Russian Sabre Dance Masses, or American Line Dance Masses. Lord, have mercy on us.

Yes, the Mass is celebrated. To celebrate means to solemnize, not to turn into a dance party. Just as some Americans now demean Memorial Day by celebrating with cookouts, picnics and parties, some Catholics demean the Memorial re-presentation of Christ's one Sacrifice on Calvary by introducing liturgical diversions. The time has come to solemnly turn our attention away from the frivolous spectacle and gaze in awe upon the miracle taking place before our very eyes.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

What's Up Doc?

There is an old joke about the guy whose doctor tells him he needs an operation and it would cost several thousand dollars. The patient says he has no insurance and cannot afford the operation, and asks the doctor if there is an alternative. The doctor says, "Well, for fifty bucks, I can touch up the x-rays."

I was reminded of that story after hearing of an acquaintance I'll call Ron who had been feeling a nagging pain deep inside. It came and went periodically, but persisted for quite some time. He had no family doctor and thought maybe it was time to find one who could get him back on the path to good health. Ron picked up the phone book and searched the yellow pages for physicians. He found one not far away, and made an appointment for an examination.

The doctor put him through a battery of tests and made a diagnosis. "You have a number of problems," he told Ron. "You are overweight, you have heart disease and are borderline diabetic. You need an angioplasty, and possibly surgery to open three arteries. Afterwards, I'll put you on a strict diet and exercise regimen.'

That really wasn't what Ron wanted to hear, so he decided to get a second opinion. He went back to the phone listing and called another doctor. After another series of tests, the second doctor told Ron he had signs of heart disease, but surgery would not be necessary. The pain was the result of gallstones, and he told Ron that the gall bladder should be removed. He prescribed medication and put Ron on a low-fat diet.

Still wishing to avoid surgery if possible, he went to the phone book and selected a third doctor who told him his pain is caused by an ulcer. He was told to take an antacid and refrain from spicy foods. There was no mention of his heart disease or diabetes by the third doctor.

A fourth doctor told Ron his ailments were typical for someone his age. There was nothing seriously wrong. The doctor prescribed Tylenol for his pain. Feeling more comfortable with this treatment, Ron decided to follow the advice of this doctor. No surgery, no diets, no mention of the need to exercise, Ron felt as though a burden had been lifted. He chose the fourth doctor to be his physician.

Which doctor should Ron have chosen to be his family physician? What criteria should he consider in making his decision? Obviously, each doctor had a different opinion on which path Ron should follow. His physical wellbeing could hang in the balance. If the fourth doctor underestimated or misinterpreted the test results, Ron's life could be in jeopardy. Only time will tell.

Recently, a couple new to this area told me they had been "church hopping". They had been sampling several different churches looking for one to join. One church had a three-hour long Sunday service, with lots of singing and dancing. Too long and a little strange, they thought. Another had a preacher they didn't care for, but the people were friendly. Still another didn't allow dancing or alcohol consumption. Thank God, they didn't find one they liked before stumbling upon our Catholic Church. Apparently, neither our priest nor anyone in the congregation has done anything to drive them off yet.

Like Ron's method for choosing a physician, this method for choosing a church is misguided and potentially dangerous. While choosing the wrong doctor could jeopardize one's physical health, choosing the wrong church could jeopardize one's spiritual health. While doctors may disagree on a diagnosis, different churches often disagree on doctrine. The choice of a church should not be based upon which provides the most comfortable path to follow.

If one doctor provides a diagnosis which conflicts with the diagnosis of another doctor, one or both of them is wrong. The choice of a doctor should be based upon which doctor is most likely making the correct diagnosis, not which diagnosis we would prefer to hear. As general practitioners, are these doctors even qualified to treat serious diseases? Which one is the authority on heart disease, diabetes, or internal medicine?

Similarly, the choice of a church should be based upon which church is preaching the truth, not which church tells us what we want to hear. When doctrines are in conflict, somebody is wrong. Who is the authority on matters of faith and morals? We know that Christ established a church and gave it authority. (Matthew 16:18) But, how do we know which church that is today?

Church Doctrine should not change. Most Christian denominations believe that God�s revelation ended about 100 AD. Therefore, what was accepted by those early Christians as truth then, should remain true today. If a denomination teaches doctrine which contradicts the commonly held beliefs of the earliest Christians, then someone other than Christ has altered the doctrine. The easiest way to learn what the Catholic Church teaches today is to pick up a copy of the Catechism. The essentials of the faith are laid out in detail with plenty of footnotes and references. But how does one know what the earliest Christians believed?

One way is to go back to the Doctors -- not physicians this time, but the Doctors of the Church. Ecclesiastical writers, such as Augustine, Jerome, Athanasius, and Thomas Aquinas were instrumental in determining the doctrine of the Church. More than thirty great thinkers have been declared Doctors of the Church, and their writings are still available to shed light on the Church's rich history.

Early Christian writers, known as the Church Fathers provide tremendous insight to the earliest years of the Church. Some of them date back to the apostles themselves. While their writings are not authoritative, the Church Fathers serve as witnesses to life in the early Church, revealing beliefs and practices that still exist today only in the Catholic Church.

Church Fathers such as Clement I, Hermas, and Ignatius of Antioch write about the authority of the church in the first century. Excerpts can be viewed at the Catholic Answers website. One cannot read the writings of Cyprian of Carthage in 251 AD without seeing the same Catholic Church we know today.

Picking a church based upon the music, decor, length of services, or oratorical skills of the pastor, is superficial. It's like choosing a spouse based strictly on looks. It's like choosing a doctor based on cheapest fees or bedside manner. Rather, we should choose the church that provides us with the best chance for salvation, regardless of the cost or effort involved.

We should be in the original Church that Jesus Christ established for us, not a facsimile. Cardinal John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglicanism, said, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." To be truly Christian is to immerse oneself in that history and seek the truth.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Sharing the Faith

Catholics seldom share their faith. We seem almost embarrassed to talk about it. I worry that most Catholics are so ignorant of their faith, that they are afraid to speak up for fear that others will make them look foolish. It is our responsibility to spread the gospel and evangelize. I believe most every sincere Christian who honestly seeks the truth would love to be Catholic if they understood what it was. All we need to do is wipe away the misconceptions and explain the truth. I have heard many converts claim they would have been Catholic a long time ago, but they never met a Catholic who could explain and defend their faith.

Every day, I see friends, neighbors and acquaintances who are active in other Christian communities. They are well educated, have a sincere love for Christ, yet they do not share in the fullness of the faith as we Catholics do. I know it sounds presumptuous to say we Catholics have the fullness of the faith and others do not, but one can reasonably reach that conclusion after delving into the rich history of the Church. I would love to share this faith with others, but I don't know how to go about doing it. You see, I am very shy by nature. I have a difficult time bringing up the topic of religion to an acquaintance. Given the opportunity, what would I say to them if I had just one chance to convince them to become Catholic?

The most difficult thing about this process is where to begin. I can't just knock on my neighbor's door and say, "After all these years of discussing the weather over the backyard fence, I would now like to share my Catholic faith with you." Why not, you ask? I just can't seem to make myself do that. Sure, there could be souls at stake, but I am weak. I have been taught to be humble, to be respectful of others and their ideas. I have been taught that religion is a personal thing. I don't want to do anything that would be offensive or upsetting to others. I don't want anyone to think I am presumptuous, even if I am!

All of these insecurities can render me ineffective. I have taken the position that I must lead my life in such a way that will earn the respect of my neighbors, hoping that they will see something in me that they will seek out. Trouble is, nobody knows that my lifestyle is strongly influenced by my Catholic faith. I justify my silence by telling myself that this is the personality God has given me. If God wanted me to preach, he would have made me more outgoing. He would have made me more eloquent. Truth is, I am much better at putting my thoughts on paper than I am at expressing them in conversation. For that reason I have elected to write these little articles in my spare time, hoping at some point, to compile them into something that will make sense to someone.

Not long ago, a former resident of our small town wrote a mystery novel set in our community. Although the storyline was mostly fictional, it contained many familiar characters to those of us who grew up here. Surnames were changed, but little else, and often the portrayals were not flattering. The book was very poorly written, full of inconsistencies and logistical errors. Yet, somehow this man managed to get his work published, perhaps on the strength of his reputation in another field. When word of this book spread around town, everyone wanted to read it. This continued despite the fact that most everyone who did read it thought it was terrible! Maybe someday, these things I write about my Catholic faith will be read by others in this community. Maybe someone will be curious to see what a local boy wrote about, and a seed will be planted. I hope the reaction to my writing is more favorable, however.

I have successfully shared my faith with others. This usually happens when the other party or some unusual circumstance leads into the conversation. The strangest example occurred at my place of work several years ago where a roll of pink tape lead to an ongoing email discussion with a professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute. A contractor I'll call Dave, was doing an installation which required the use of Teflon pipe tape. (Teflon tape is used to wrap pipe threads before assembly.) All the Teflon tape I had ever previously seen was white in color. Dave had pink tape.

The course of conversation took some bizarre turns. All of this occurred about the time that Evangelist Jerry Falwell was speaking out against a children�s television show called the Teletubbies. One of the Teletubby characters (I think his name was 'Tinky Winky') was pink and carried a purse. Falwell criticized the presence of this character on a children's show because the character appeared to be gay, at least in the eyes of Jerry Falwell. I noted the unusual color of the Teflon tape and wisecracked that Jerry Falwell might jump to a conclusion about the Dave's sexual preference based upon the unusual color of his tape.

Dave happened to be an Evangelical Protestant and a follower of Jerry Falwell. Dave asked me what I thought of Falwell. Not knowing where Dave stood, I tried to indicate respectfully that I thought Falwell's remarks about the Teletubbies might be a little extreme. In the course of the conversation about Jerry Falwell, I mentioned that I was Catholic. Dave perked up as though he was well prepared to challenge Catholics.

He immediately asked me why so much of what the Catholic Church teaches is not in the Bible. Caught somewhat off guard, I replied that while not every thing the Church teaches is explicitly in the Bible, nothing the Church teaches is in conflict with the Bible. I explained that the Church predates the Bible as we know it and that it was the Bishops of the Catholic Church who determined which of the early Christian writings were inspired by God and therefore, included in the Bible. Dave wasn't buying that, so I asked him for some specific things he believed the Catholic Church taught that were not biblical.

We discussed several common Protestant objections to Catholic theology, including Mary's perpetual virginity and the reference to Jesus' "brothers" in the Bible. I explained how the original Greek word translated to brothers in English, could include extended family such as step-brothers or cousins, and in fact, there was no word specifically for cousin. We briefly discussed the necessity of Baptism and its cleansing of the soul. Dave was unwavering. With our time together growing short, I asked him to give me an opportunity to write down several of his most pressing questions about the Catholic Church, and I would respond to him in detail by a Fax. He left me with two: (1) Why do we pray to Mary instead of going directly to God and (2) Where in the Bible does it say to pray for the dead?

I could tell Dave had been taught how to evangelize Catholics. These are two common objections to the Catholic Faith that are often raised to make unprepared Catholics squirm. I wanted to answer his questions thoroughly and respectfully. Opportunities to share our Catholic Faith do not come often. This could be a life altering experience for Dave and his family -- literally a matter of (eternal) life and death!

Apologetic resources are plentiful today in books and on the Internet. Apostolates such as Catholic Answers, St. Joseph Communications, and EWTN have an abundance of information available to anyone seeking Catholic truth. I consulted both of these and others in preparing my answer for Dave. (I won't post my reply to Dave here but anyone can go to and find answers to these questions.)

In the weeks that followed, Dave sent me a couple of essays by contemporary Protestant authors and asked me to respond. I did and faxed them back to Dave. I found out later that Dave had a friend with whom he was sharing my answers. This friend was a professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute. Eventually, Dave put me in touch with the professor and we began to correspond directly by email.

Our dialogue went on for several months. We touched on many aspects of Catholic theology. I used the Bible and simple logic to back the Catholic position. I saved copies of our correspondence and hope to share it with others someday. As I look back on it now, there are things I would say differently, but overall, I think I held my own. I shared several audio tapes with him, including some by Dr. Kenneth Howell, a convert to the Catholic Faith who became an author and speaker for St. Joseph Communications. After the professor wrote a critique of one of Dr. Howell's tapes, I requested his permission to share the critique with Dr. Howell, with whom I had also corresponded. I don't know whether the two of them had a subsequent conversation. At about the same time, the professor ended our correspondence saying he did not have the time to continue our talks.

All of this happened after an 'off the cuff' comment about pink tape. It didn't require me to take any special initiative. I didn't have to knock on anyone's door, or steer the conversation. If we prepare adequately and make ourselves available, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

I have always wondered why the professor suddenly terminated our conversation. Perhaps he thought I was a lost cause. Maybe he got scared. Maybe he really didn't have time for me. I don't know. The last time I spoke with Dave, I asked him how his friend was doing. He said he hadn't seen him in quite a while. In my final message, I asked him to pray for me and I offered to pray for him. I will continue to do so, and I hope he remembers me also.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

How's your reception?

Remember the Zenith handcrafted television? In the 1960's, the Zenith television was considered one of the 'top of the line' models. Printed circuit boards were just beginning to appear in less expensive, often Japanese-made models that were less reliable and difficult to repair. (My, how times have changed!) Zenith commercials showed a craftsman soldering each component by hand. "The quality goes in before the name goes on" was their slogan.

In those days, television sets varied widely in price and reliability. A co-worker of mine liked to tell a story about an entrepreneur who wanted to manufacture a cheap television set, so he bought an expensive television and began clipping out components, one at a time. When the picture went out, he replaced the last component removed, and sold the set as a cheap TV. My friend used that story as an analogy to explain a modern industrial management philosophy where non-essentials are eliminated to save money.

I work for an electric utility that has adopted that philosophy. Management took a first rate company and began removing components, one at a time. Workers were eliminated, budgets cut, inventories reduced, and maintenance curtailed. When production failed, they put back just enough to restore it.

Short term savings are usually lost in long term costs. Poorly maintained equipment must be replaced more often, meaning that immediate savings in Operations and Maintenance are offset by expensive capital improvements. Intangible costs in terms of diminished worker productivity and morale are difficult to measure.

We sometimes manage our spiritual lives the same way. We want to get by with as little upkeep as possible. We start removing components to minimize our cost in time and sacrifice. The result is an inferior product with a higher ultimate cost. Removing elements of our faith is more complicated, however. Unlike the television, we don't always know when we are no longer seeing a clear picture.

I don't know who invented the first inexpensive television, but perhaps we can trace the modern-day cropping of the faith to Martin Luther. When it became too difficult for him to accept the authority of the church, he simply removed that component from his faith. Once he deemed it no longer necessary to listen to the Magesterial authority, he could also reject oral teaching or what we now call Apostolic Tradition. Luther removed components until all that remained was the Bible alone. He may have still seen a picture, but it was now subject to the eye of the beholder.

Instead of working within the church to fix the problems and maintain the overall 'quality', Luther chose to scrap the original church and establish a less cumbersome version. His short term solution, however, opened the door for long term deterioration. The book alone is not enough. Just because a student has a text book doesn't mean the teacher can be removed from the classroom. Without the authoritative teacher, the book is left to self-interpretation by the student. The student is then free to spin the interpretation to his own liking, in effect, removing obstacles considered too costly to his spiritual lifestyle. As different interpreters interpret themselves into different beliefs, one must conclude that somebody is no longer seeing the true picture.

Once Luther removed the obstacle of Magesterial authority, he was free to remove other doctrinal components as well. He declared works no longer affective to our justification. Others followed Luther with their own modifications such as removing the necessity of Baptism and confession of sins to a priest. They pulled the ban on divorce and artificial birth control. Some removed the ban on same-sex marriages. They denied the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass. These were essential components of our faith. Without them, Christians are left with a snowy unreliable picture.

Even those still in the Catholic Church often seem intent on removing what they consider to be obstacles to their immediate gratification in this life. It's like having the expensive television set without taking advantage of the special features. Our set comes with seven grace-filling sacraments that often go under-utilized. The Blessed Sacrament is the most powerful gift available to us, but we often fail to appreciate its value. Many Catholics rarely, if ever, take advantage of confession.

I've heard ex-catholics say they didn't get anything out of the Mass. If a person doesn't get anything out of the Mass, that person is not tuned-in to what is happening. It is not enough to merely put in an appearance each week. Too often, we remove ourselves from active participation by allowing our attention to wander. We must be attentive at Mass, listening intently to the gospel, and focused on what is happening on the altar. Those of us with satellite dishes know that they need to be pointed directly toward the source of the signal or they will not work. The same is true in our spiritual lives. If we are not pointed toward God, we will not receive His grace.

What is the short-term benefit of removing components from our faith? By doing so, we can effectively disable our consciences. This allows us to participate in more enjoyable and perhaps sinful activities instead of prayer, attending Mass, and receiving the Sacraments. Removing the teaching authority of the church enables us to pick and choose what we wish to acknowledge in our lives according to our own liking. We are relieved from our responsibilities to God. We no longer have to tell a priest about watching that adult movie or missing Mass on Sunday. We can eliminate all but the minimum requirements and we can set those requirements ourselves. We can still call ourselves catholic with minimal investment.

What is the long-term cost of choosing the cheapest route? Our view of Christ and His plan for us becomes distorted by sin and a lack of grace. We jeopardize not only our own spiritual well-being, but that of others around us, and especially our descendants. We send them a message that it's okay to settle for less, to lower expectations, and to take the easy way out. We compromise our own integrity, diminish our self respect, and risk damage to our character. We cloud the truth and propagate relativism. Above all, we risk losing our salvation. No cost-cutting measures are worth that.

When it comes to observing our faith, quality is of utmost importance. We need to strive for a high definition, true color, clear picture of where we are headed and what we need to do to get there. Our Lord transmits ample grace through the Sacraments and His Church. We to have our antennae pointed, our receivers on, and our tuners set. We cannot afford to be hampered by poor reception.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

The Dissent of the Holy Spirit?

Our parish priest often includes a number of pre-printed inserts in our weekly church bulletin. Some are publications from various apostolates to which our pastor apparently subscribes. Among them are Liturgy Training Publications, Ligouri Publications, and St. Anthony Messenger.

I know little about the first two, but those of us attune to the influx of liberalism into the church raise our alert status to orange when we receive chatter from groups such as St. Anthony Messenger. While much of it is orthodox, some of it is not. I believe it was Pentecost Sunday when our bulletin included a two year old Catholic Update tract titled How the Spirit Guides the Church by William H. Shannon.

The article contrasts the Gospels of Matthew and John, calling Matthew the "most Church-oriented" and John the "least". The keen observer will note the use of superlative modifiers in a comparative form, providing an early clue that the author may be preparing to overstate his case. While acknowledging a clearly defined Church hierarchy in Matthew's gospel, the author would like us to believe John does not view the church this way. Rather, John sees the church as a community of equal individuals led by the Holy Spirit. Most of Shannon's evidence seems to be based, not upon what John says in his gospel, but rather on what he did not say. John simply does not mention the hierarchy.

Proof by omission is a tactic sometimes used when evidence to support a theory is fleeting. In apologetic circles, one occasionally hears the argument that a certain church father did not hold a particular belief because he did not write about it. That is very weak evidence. Writers do not necessarily make reference to ideas that are already commonly acknowledged within their audience.

In this case, I get the feeling that Shannon wants to be free to disagree with the church hierarchy and is looking for a way to validate his dissention. To his credit, he does appear to be uncomfortable with dissention, stating that it "ought to be a very rare experience in the life of the Church." But then he says the following: "Dissent would be rare if we had a clearer understanding of the attitude which the magisterium in the Church ought to take toward that other 'Stirring of the Spirit' which also operates in the Church." The wording of the statement is confusing. Is he blaming dissent on the dissenter's lack of understanding of the magesterium or on the magesterium's faulty attitude? The tone of the article indicates the latter.

The other "Stirring of the Spirit" to which Shannon refers is his perception of the Holy Spirit speaking to individuals who are outside the hierarchy, and he tries to use Johannine ecclesiology to legitimize the credibility of these so-called 'stirrings'. He acknowledges that allowing a "double stirring" of the Spirit will inevitably result in "not only untidiness, but also disparate and opposed tendencies and trends."

In other words, Shannon appears to be saying that if the magesterium would allow consideration of dissenting opinions stirred by the Holy Spirit in individuals outside of the magesterium, those opinions would no longer necessarily be dissenting. If it comes from the Holy Spirit, it cannot be considered 'dissent'.

Does he really believe the Holy Spirit would 'stir' one opinion within the hierarchy and a dissenting opinion within other "holy people" as he calls them? That makes no sense. The Holy Spirit would not deliberately create conflict within the Church. If two 'Stirrings of the Spirit' are in disagreement, at least one of them did not come from the Holy Spirit.

Is this to say the Holy Spirit does not stir in the hearts and minds of those outside the magisterium? Not at all, but not every 'stirring' comes from the Holy Spirit. Stirrings can have other points of origin including the evil one. I contend the Holy Spirit will not stir dissention in the Church, and such stirrings come from other sources. Determining the origin requires cautious discernment. Paul warned the members of the church in Galatia that "even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed!" Gal 1:8 (NAB)

How does Shannon explain the conflicting stirrings of the Holy Spirit? One way is by citing theologian Karl Rahner's work called, The Spirit in the Church. According to Shannon, Rahner says love is the only thing that can give unity to the Church at the human level because it "allows another to be different, even when it does not understand him [or her]." This idea would seem to coincide with a current trend to expand cultural diversity tolerance to include diversity of belief tolerance within the Church. (See More on Diversity, February 22, 2003.)

According to Shannon, "Rahner suggests that a glance into history will make clear to us that there has never been a theological trend in the Church that has been wholly and solely right and has triumphed over all the others." Quoting Rahner, he says, "One alone has always been completely right, the one Lord who, one in himself, has willed the many opposing tendencies in the Church." (my emphasis added)

Our Lord has willed opposition? Really? Based upon that belief, Shannon then comfortably makes the following statement: "Realizing this frees one from anxiety and from the need always to be right." (again, my emphasis added) So, there you have it. If one's personal belief occasionally opposes the teaching of the magesterium, it's okay because those within the hierarchy are not always right and the Spirit stirs within the rest of us too.

Shannon gives just enough assent to the magesterium to make his ideas seem like orthodox Catholicism to the casual observer, but the underlying message is subversive. The reluctant cafeteria catholic will find just enough comfort in Shannon's message to ease his anxiety and provide some validation for his selectivity of belief.

Who are these dissenting writers, and how does their literature get into our Sunday bulletins? According to information printed on the tract, Shannon, "a freelance writer, is professor emeritus at Nazareth University in Rochester, New York. He is a priest of the Diocese of Rochester and founder of the International Thomas Merton Society." He is obviously influenced by Rahner, a German Jesuit theologian who lived from 1904 to 1984. Shannon cites the writing of Rahner in another tract titled, Eucharist: Understanding Christ's Body.

Here, Shannon makes the following statement: "Jesus calls us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. We must avoid an overly literalistic understanding of these words. We do not literally eat flesh or drink blood." In the next paragraph, still referring to the Eucharist, he says, "Our liturgies, therefore, must not be seen as isolated interventions of grace into our otherwise profane and graceless lives. Rather these acts of worship are symbolic expressions of what theologian Karl Rahner called 'the liturgy of the world.'..." This undermining of the Real Presence is heretical.

Rahner did not believe in transubstantiation, a key element of Catholic dogma. Rather, he devised his own theory of what happens at the consecration, which can be called transfinalization or transignification. Father Regis Scanlon addressed this topic in great detail in an article called Is Christ Really Among Us Today? which appeared in the October 1995 issue of The Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

Father Scanlon concludes that Rahner denied at least two infallible teachings (dogmas) of the Church, one being the Council of Trent's dogmatic teaching of transubstantiation, and the other being the First Vatican Council's dogmatic teaching, which states that the "understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained." The fact that William H. Shannon's work relies heavily on Rahner should serve as a warning to anyone expecting orthodox Catholicism.

Shannon's tract on the Spirit also acknowledges Scripture scholar Father Raymond E. Brown for his "insights". Brown is another controversial figure who, according to the late Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, pioneered "a new Catholic theology founded on modern exegesis" that cast doubt on numerous articles of the Catholic faith. (See Traditional Catholic Scholars Long Opposed Fr. Brown's Theories, an article by Henry V. King, published by The Wanderer Printing Company, September 10 1998.) Incidentally, King's article also includes an interesting rebuttal for "proof by omission", a device Shannon may have learned from Brown.

Despite all of this, Shannon's tract displays an imprimatur by Carl K. Moeddel, V.G. and Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, April 17, 2001. How can this be? Perhaps Father Scanlon can shed some light. Regarding Rahner's beliefs on the Eucharist, Scanlon makes the following frightening statement:

"This so-called new theology of the Real Presence was published in English in 1966 and it has been taught in seminaries and universities of the United States for the past quarter of a century. Because seminarians and students often learn and believe what they are taught, no one should be surprised if 70% of our faithful today do not know or believe in the Church's (Trent's) teaching on the Real Presence." If this is true, we should also not be surprised that dissenters' publications get bishops' imprimaturs and that priests distribute them in the Sunday bulletin.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Living in Sin?

The Monday, April 28, 2003 edition of the South Bend Tribune published a letter to the editor in response to Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Ecclesia d Eucarista, which he issued on Holy Thursday. The encyclical reinforces strict Catholic guidelines for reception of the Holy Eucharist. The letter to the editor was titled "Living in sin?" It read as follows:

On April 17, the pope issues his encyclical telling me that as a divorced former Catholic, who has been married 25 years now, compared to the eight months I was married before, who attends a Lutheran church and takes communion, I am living in sin. And if you are Catholic you can't attend another church because it is "unthinkable."

"Grave sin," the pope calls my living of my life, though I believe in Jesus Christ and attend a church that stimulates my thinking more that any Catholic church ever had before. Grave sin, because I do not attend a "Catholic church"?

Nowhere in the Bible does it say Catholics are the "true" religion. One must only believe and have faith; Romans 3:22. Not to mention John 1:12, which says once we believe we all become children of God. How can the Catholic Church say otherwise?

I don't publicly go around condemning the Catholic Church even though I don't agree with all its teachings. I do take offense at one religion condemning another; we are all children of God, with one God for all ages.

Signed Steve (withheld), South Bend

How should a good Catholic respond to nearly 500 years of schism plus another lifetime of bitterness packed into about 5 inches of newspaper column? How does one charitably explain that the Catholic Church IS the "true" religion if one indeed seeks truth? And that the Pope is given the authority by Jesus Christ to speak for that church? How does one charitably explain to Steve that the Bible he is quoting to deny the authority of the Catholic Church was assembled by the authority of that same Catholic Church? How does one politely ask whether the he read the entire encyclical or just the biased newspaper account of what the encyclical stated? What if you had you squeeze your response into an equal space in a newspaper?

Steve could be someone who knows he isn't where he ought to be, but feels frustrated thinking there is no way he can get there. He may think all of his bridges have been burned by his past actions in the eyes of the church. He may blame the church for casting him off as a lost sinner. He may view himself as a pariah, branded unworthy to feast at the banquet of the Lord.

In reality, none of us are worthy. We are all sinners. But we must remember that the church has a responsibility to protect the truth. We won't always like what we hear, but we still need to hear it. A true friend, one who has our sincere best interests at heart, will not sugarcoat the truth or bend it just to make us feel good. We would all like to be told everything we are doing is okay, but that would be a lie.

We must also remember that this truth is absolute and not arbitrary. The Church doesn't make up the rules and change them at will. Although Christ gave Peter the authority to "bind and loose" (Matt 16:19), it does not mean that he and his successors can contradict Christ's teaching. Steve is upset that the Church does not recognize his divorce and second marriage. Yet, Scripture is very clear about this. "Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18. See also Mark 10:1-12 and Romans 7:2-3).

The Council of Elvira (300 AD) affirmed that those who divorce and remarry cannot receive Communion. The Bible as we know it did not even exist at that time. One should not be surprised when Pope John Paul today reaffirms a teaching that has existed throughout the history of the Church. Rather, one should question why other Christian communities now permit something which contradicts the teaching of Christ and his Church. What has changed?

Adultery is a serious sin, and one cannot receive Communion while in a state of serious (mortal) sin. Again, this is not a new rule Pope John Paul decided to enact in 2003. The Didache, written in the first century, states, "Whosoever is holy, let him approach. Whosoever is not, let him repent". Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

If the pope's encyclical sounds like a stern warning, that's because it is. His intent is not to harshly castigate non-catholics. If the pope is the true Vicar of Christ, one should expect his words to reflect the teachings of Christ. It is not his job to make us feel warm and fuzzy. A good father must occasionally tell his children things they don't want to hear. Rather than heed a warning, they often react with rebellion and disdain. Someday, they realize their father was right. When the pope speaks on matters of faith or morals, one must resist the temptation to lash out if the message is disconcerting. The wise man will ponder the message as it may pertain to his situation.

Steve feels that he should not be prohibited from receiving Communion because he made a mistake more than twenty five years ago. Perhaps this is true. He said he was married for eight months in his first marriage. Eight months for a marriage is a very short time. What happened? Was this really a marriage? Is it possible that Steve�s first marriage may have not been a marriage in the eyes of God?

While the church cannot dissolve a valid marriage, perhaps no valid marriage existed. A valid marriage in the eyes of God is much different from a legal marriage under the letter of state law. A church tribunal may discover that no valid marriage took place in Steve's circumstance. In an eight month marriage, the chances may be good that an impediment to valid marriage existed. A Decree of Nullity could be issued and Steve would be free to marry his current partner.

Supposing that a valid marriage did take place, what recourse does someone like Steve have now after 25 years of a second marriage? What happens when a person grows in faith later in life, realizing that a serious offense was committed many years ago and cannot be undone? That person does not need to be completely cut off from the church.

It is never too late to acknowledge mistakes and ask for God's mercy. Go to a priest and explain the situation. Ask for spiritual guidance. If one priest is not willing to help, find another. But if you encounter a priest who seems willing to tell you anything you want to hear, run in the opposite direction! Our salvation is not that simple. The truth sometimes hurts.

Steve says he attends a church that "stimulates" his thinking more that "any Catholic church" ever had before. First of all, there is only one Catholic Church. Second, is his thinking being stimulated, or is it being massaged? Is he being challenged or is he being pacified? Once a person denies the teaching authority of the church, his belief becomes subject to personal interpretation. If one looks hard enough, he can find an interpreter that can justify most anything. He spins himself into a cocoon of false security.

So how do we say all of this to Steve in five inches of newspaper column? How do we say all of this without creating further alienation and bitterness? Perhaps we can't, but we can try. We respond with prayer, compassion, love and a gentle apology. Too often we write people off as unwilling to listen when, in fact, they may be open to a kind word delivered with sincere concern. Rather than tell them why they are wrong, we can explain why the pope said what he said. They may still disagree, even to the point of indignation, but maybe a thought will be planted that will take root later. People often blow off steam with an angry letter. Afterwards, they may regret having done so. Don't give up on them. They may be looking for an answer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Why so Conservative?

One of my favorite Catholic apologists, Steve Ray, while making his journey into the faith, became troubled by the many different Christian religions, all professing their allegiance to the same Jesus, yet teaching conflicting beliefs. He decided that the only way to find the truth would be to go back to the way the original disciples of Jesus worshiped. That led him to study the writings of the first Christians, the Church Fathers, and ultimately led him into the Catholic Church.

He sometimes describes the Church as a giant oak tree. We, as Catholics, are all perched in this magnificent tree. Jesus planted the acorn, placed Peter in charge of its care, and allowed it to grow. Now, it stands tall in majestic splendor, but with many little trees around it, kicking at it, throwing things at it, screaming at it. The other Christian religions may be offshoots of the tree, but they are not the same tree, and they do not possess the fullness of truth.

Steve�s analogy can be expanded to explain why a conservative approach to the Catholic faith is prudent. Consider this. The trunk is the thickest, sturdiest part of the tree, a tree rooted in Jesus Christ. It contains the core beliefs, the lifeblood of the Church. All life and truth comes through it. Without it, the tree would die. Attachment to the trunk of that tree is the safest place to be.

Yet, some are not satisfied to cling to the trunk. They want to climb higher into the tree to get a better view. Perhaps they think it will get them closer to heaven. As we climb away from the trunk out onto the limbs, we can still be solidly Catholic, but our position becomes a little less stable. The risk of falling out of the tree increases, slightly at first, and more so the farther away we venture from the sturdy trunk. As the branch becomes thinner, our security becomes shakier.

A minor liturgical abuse may be the first step in going out on a limb. Taking liberty with a rubric is breaking a rule. It is like easing oneself away from the trunk to check the comfort zone. Sitting out on that limb may feel more liberating than clinging to the trunk. After a while, if nothing bad happens and the perch is indeed comfortable, one may be tempted to climb out a little further.

Without even realizing it, Catholics can climb their way into a form of apostasy. Unless they are students of the Roman Missal, they may find themselves swaying in the breeze, unaware that they are living in disobedience to church liturgical practice. Since lay people cannot be expected to know the finer points of the General Instruction, the clergy bears the responsibility for maintaining proper form. A lackadaisical liturgy breeds lackadaisical Catholics.

Some priests and bishops think they can improve their vision through liturgical experimentation. Unfortunately, many seem to have the idea that they need to climb out to the thin branches because that�s where much of their flock resides, not realizing that when they do so, the weight on those branches increases exponentially. In many cases, it is the bishops themselves who lead the way. When others follow, branches droop downward, and the chances of someone falling increase tremendously. In fact, entire branches can snap off, taking many souls to peril.

Beyond liturgical abuse, even greater danger lurks when Catholics knowingly choose to ignore church teaching in matters of faith and morals. They become like squirrels jumping from twig to twig. Security is precarious at best, and the risk of being blown out by an unexpected gust of wind cannot be ignored. As children and cats occasionally learn, descending to safety can be more difficult than the climb.

At the outer reaches are those who choose evil over goodness. They are clinging to leaves, so far removed from the trunk that they have lost sight of it. They may think they are still attached, but at the end of the growing season, those leaves will fall off and die.

The Church is our vehicle to salvation. She is a divine institution with authority from God. It is one place in this world where we do not want to be too adventuresome. Those of us hugging the trunk of the tree are sometimes ridiculed for our inflexibility, but the trunk is a place of strength, security, and comfort. Taking chances can be good in our lives, but not when it comes to our salvation. Too much is at stake.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Conservative vs Liberal

Nobody talks about it much. Many haven�t given it any thought, but a certain polarization has finally taken hold of our little parish. It is something that has existed in the Church for centuries, but has been given opportunity to thrive in the post Vatican II years. I am talking about conservatism versus liberalism within the Church. When talking politics, most people can tell you where their beliefs lie. When speaking of their Catholic faith, many cannot define their position clearly.

The controversy itself is often misunderstood. Many think liberalism is the opposite of orthodoxy. This is not true. One can be liberal, yet completely orthodox. One can also be conservative and heterodox. I would define an orthodox Catholic as one who completely submits to the Magesterial teachings of the Catholic Church. Catholic doctrine tends to develop from challenges to Traditional teaching and therefore clearly asserts what we are to believe on certain matters. There are many areas of theology that are not explicitly defined and leave room for discussion. It is possible, therefore, to take a conservative or liberal approach to theology and still remain orthodox with respect to Church doctrine.

What happens in my view is that liberal Catholics occasionally explore the outer limits of orthodoxy and sometimes wander outside the lines. Conservatives would appear to be more aware of Church doctrine much as a political conservative adheres to the Constitution. The conservative clings to the trunk of the tree while the liberal will explore the outer branches, even at the risk of having one snap off. The conservative thinks we cannot do anything unless the Church says it is okay, while the liberal thinks we can do anything we want unless the Church says we can�t.

So how do we spot the conservatives and the liberals? Although not one hundred percent foolproof, there are a few telltale indicators. The liberals will be either holding hands or assuming the orans posture at the Our Father, while the conservatives will either have their hands folded or will be leaning on the pew in front of them. Anyone receiving the Holy Eucharist on the tongue is probably conservative while the liberal most likely receives in the hand. Conservatives prefer to receive from the priest while the liberals prefer the Eucharistic Minister. Conservatives prefer to kneel while liberals prefer to stand.

A conservative knows the GIRM while a liberal has never heard of the GIRM. A conservative can spot liturgical abuse from a mile away (or at least from the back pew), while the liberal is the one committing the abuse. A conservative goes to confession once a month, while a liberal goes to reconciliation once a year (maybe). A liberal thinks the homily is too long, while the conservative thinks it is too short. A liberal homily is about heaven, while a conservative homily is about hell. A liberal prefers Dan Shutte while a conservative prefers Gregorian chant. A liberal sings Down in Adoration Falling, while a conservative sings Tantum Ergo (and knows all the words in Latin by heart). A liberal prefers the guitar, while the conservative insists on the pipe organ. A liberal likes the trio in front, while the conservative likes the choir in the loft.

A liberal prefers sitting in a semi-circle while a conservative wants his pews in straight rows. Liberals prefer modern architecture, while conservatives prefer century-old cathedrals. Liberals call Father by his first name, while conservatives use his last.
A conservative believes in miracles, while a liberal believes in allegory. A conservative can deliver a reasonable apology, while a liberal reasons that he deserves an apology. A conservative is troubled by a liberal, while a liberal is annoyed by a conservative. A liberal believes he has no right to criticize the actions of others while a conservative believes he has an obligation to criticize the actions of others. A liberal will vote for a pro-choice candidate while a conservative will vote pro-life only.

Get the picture? Of course I�m taking a few liberties with some of these indicators. Whether one is a liberal Catholic or conservative Catholic may be of little concern to most people, but it does cause division and resentment when manifested in the liturgy. It becomes a serious problem, when extremists in either ideology cross over into heterodoxy.

Conservatives don�t like anyone tinkering with the Mass. Not only is the Mass itself sacred, the form of the Mass is also sacred. Innovative postures, language, singing, vestments, furniture rearrangement, or other unconventional changes are most unwelcome. The liturgy must strictly follow guidelines set forth in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), and rightfully so. Every Catholic has a right to a valid and licit Mass.

Some innovations have relatively minor consequences. Whether the congregation holds hands, folds hands, or raises hands during the �Our Father� probably makes little difference in the scheme of things. Who cares? Well, some conservatives do care. Extending arms in the orans position or holding hands are both innovations that have crept into the liturgy. Is it liturgically proper? I believe the answer is �no�. While a committee of bishops once recommended that the orans posture be permitted, the missal containing this instruction has not been issued, let alone approved. Even deacons do not assume the orans posture. Similarly, holding hands during the �Our Father� is not liturgically proper, insignificant as it may seem.

Why should anyone make an issue of something so insignificant? There is a battle taking place within the church of which many Catholics may not be aware. Liberal bishops, priests, and theologians want to institute new age concepts into the liturgy, making it more participant friendly. Many of them fall into the mindset that they must be on the cutting edge of new ideas, forcing invented symbolism into the liturgy at the expense of long established practice. Perhaps they want others to think that they have some particular insight to which others are blind. One gets the impression that they are searching for something they may have lost sight of.

Conservative Catholics are more pious. They have a long-established reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and the meaning of the Mass. They feel a certain comfort in the familiarity of worship as they were taught by their parents and grandparents. Even new converts often come in with a wonderful appreciation of the history of the Church, an appreciation sensitized by years of wandering through a myriad of protestant ideologies. Feelings of resentment arise when innovations are forced upon them by those who the conservatives feel are less knowledgeable.

While the hand-holding or orans imposition may be trivial in itself, conservatives share a genuine concern that minor abuses will evolve into major apostasy. While a liberal may think such concerns are nonsense, the fact that dissenters have established themselves in positions of power in the Catholic community has bolstered apprehension among the more conservative Catholics. Consequently, we have a battle between those trying to maintain pure orthodox Catholicism and those who want to re-visit, refine, and in some cases, redefine the liturgy.

Because the Catholic Church is by name, the universal Church, it is important that we maintain unity in our liturgical practice, a difficult task with over a billion Catholics spread all over the world. When liturgical procedures are subjected to subtle, yet evolutionary changes at the diocesan and parish levels, it becomes impossible to maintain the sameness one should expect to see throughout the universal Church. For this reason alone, it is desirable to avoid innovation. Furthermore, new introductions may alter the meaning of liturgical practices introduced for a particular purpose which those at the local level do not understand.

One might think that diversity in liturgy is okay, even desirable, as long as it does not cross the line into heterodoxy. This may be true were it not for a troubling phenomenon taking place in the Church. Certain liberal members of the laity have been allowed to influence reformation of the liturgy. Even more disturbing is the fact that American bishops and priests have embraced these new ideas and imposed them upon their parishes, even when such innovations are at odds with the rubrics.

A current liturgical fad is finding its way into the Mass of the Lord�s Supper on Holy Thursday. When Pope Pius XII restored the washing of feet to the Holy Thursday liturgy in 1955, twelve men would participate by having their feet washed by the priest. The ritual reenacts the actions of Our Lord in John, Chapter 13, where He washes the feet of his twelve disciples. Not wanting the women to feel excluded, many parishes eventually began including women among the twelve. Not wanting others to feel excluded, many parishes eventually began washing more than twelve. Now, some parishes are washing not only feet, but the hands of the entire congregation.

Is this liturgically proper? One would think the Church position would be clear in such matters, and actually, it is. Why, then, is there so much variation in practice among well-meaning bishops and priests? Does the Church allow women to participate in the Holy Thursday foot washing or not? The United States Catholic Bishops� Committee on the Liturgy has a question and answer section on their web page where this very question was posed.

According to the USCCB web site, the rubric for Holy Thursday, under the title Washing of Feet, reads as follows: �Depending on pastoral circumstance, the washing of feet follows the homily. The men who have been chosen (viri selecti) are led by the ministers to chairs prepared at a suitable place. Then the priest (removing his chasuble if necessary) goes to each man. With the help of the ministers he pours water over each one�s feet and dries them.�

The words viri selecti literally means selected men. End of argument, right? Well, the web page response does not stop there. It goes on to explain the significance of the foot washing rite �as a sign of the new commandment that Christians should love one another.� Later in the response, the following is stated: �Because the gospel of the mandatum read on Holy Thursday also depicts Jesus as the �Teacher and Lord� who humbly serves his disciples by performing this extraordinary gesture which goes beyond the laws of hospitality, the element of service has accentuated the celebration of the foot washing rite in the United States over the last decade or more. In this regard, it has become customary in many places to invite both men and women to be participants in this rite in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world. Thus, in the United States, a variation in the rite developed in which not only charity is signified but also humble service.�

Continuing, the bishops� response says: �While this variation may differ from the rubric of the Sacramentary which mentions only men (viri selecti), it may nevertheless be said that the intention to emphasize service along with charity in the celebration of the rite is an understandable way accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, �who came to serve and not to be served,� that all members of the Church must serve one another in love.�

So is it liturgically permissible to wash the feet of women on Holy Thursday or not? Bishops appear to self-interpret rubrics the same way Protestants self-interpret Scripture. If a passage doesn�t quite jive with a personal belief, the conflict can be explained away. The rubric says �men�, but the significance of the rite can be spun to justify something else. If the bishops can play Cafeteria Catholic in choosing which rubrics to follow, one can certainly understand the tendency of some Catholics to pick which commandments of the Church they choose to follow.

Again I am reminded of the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas who warned of the diminished binding power of a rule once it is compromised. If nobody seems to mind washing women�s feet on Holy Thursday, why not wash everyone�s feet? If we are going to emphasize service, why not make it easier by washing hands instead? All three of these innovations (women, more than twelve, and washing hands) are coming to our parish for the first time this year. Where do these ideas come from and where will they eventually lead?

The April, 2003, edition of Adoremus Bulletin contains an article titled When �Strangers and Silent Spectators� Plan the Liturgy. The author, Susan J. Benofy, attended the Gateway Liturgical Conference held earlier this year in Saint Louis. In the article, she reports on a presentation on liturgical planning by Marchita Mauck, a former advisor to the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy. Mauck advocates using innovative ways to make liturgy memorable. Regarding Holy Thursday, she believes that �one of the most powerful things is for everybody to get their feet washed.� She disregards the fact that the rubric specifies men. She believes that allowing a stranger to wash your feet and washing a stranger�s feet, will make the event more memorable and meaningful.

Benofy reports that conference participants seemed receptive to Mauck�s ideas and some offered their own variations, including a parish where hands are washed instead of feet. Their priest explained that washing hands is the equivalent in our time of washing feet in Jesus� time. Where will reasoning such as this eventually take us? If feet got dirty in Jesus� time as a result of travel, perhaps washing cars would be a more relevant modern day equivalent. Maybe we should all proceed to the parking lot on Holy Thursday and wash each other�s whitewalls. In all fairness to Mauck, liberal as she is, even she believes symbolic content is lost if feet are not washed.

Why do bishops and priests listen to these whimsical lay people? As Benofy points out, �Viewing the liturgy from outside itself liberates those who plan liturgies from the restricting influence of the rubrics or liturgical documents, such as the . . . General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM].� She goes on to explain the GIRM does recommend planning the liturgy as a matter of selecting from among options given in the liturgical books, and that the GIRM assumes the �liturgical planner� is the priest. The real tragedy is when the priest chooses an unqualified lay person�s innovation over the rubrics of the authoritative Church.

At what point does our liturgy cease to be Catholic, and why would anyone want to venture into that territory? At some point, a bishop is going to find himself in a difficult position where he must rein in liturgy run amok. This will create confusion and hard feelings among those liberals who may find inspiration in illicit liturgy. Added to the confusion and hard feelings already thrust upon the conservatives when the innovations were introduced, there are no winners here. For the record, Pope John Paul II will be washing the feet of twelve men on Holy Thursday. No good Catholic will feel left out, nor uninspired.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Catholic American Dilemma

With Operation Iraqi Freedom now in full swing, our diocesan newspaper today contained a stern front page warning from the Vatican saying �whoever gives up on peaceful solutions would have to answer for the decision to God and history.� In the weeks preceding the War in Iraq, the Vatican has repeatedly stated that a preemptive strike on Iraq would be morally wrong. Those of us who are good Catholics and patriotic Americans have found ourselves in an awkward position. While many of us support the action by our government, we must also heed the warning of our pope when he speaks of faith and morals.

In recent years, the Vatican has found itself needing to answer critics who say Pope Pius XII did not do enough to protect Jews during the reign of Hitler. This has become a big issue in the wake of accusations made by certain authors and historians. Thousands upon thousands of Jews were murdered and some say the Pope did little to stop it.

Saddam Hussein has also been accused of murdering many thousands of innocent people. Not only has the Church done little to stop it, aside from verbal condemnations, but we are told that it is wrong for us to stop it by force. How will the history books portray the position of the Vatican during this present time? What will survivors of the brutal Iraqi regime say years down the road when historians point to the fact that the Vatican condemned preemptive armed intervention in trying to liberate the Iraqi people?

Peaceful diplomacy does not work with everybody. There must be some impetus for negotiations, and the impetus comes from some threat of adverse consequence. Unfortunately, the adverse consequence must be exercised upon occasion. This is one of those occasions. Peace will come from a show of power rather than weakness.

Nobody wants war. We should expect the church to cry out for peace. That�s what the church does. I would hope that the church would continue to do so, but I would also hope that the Vatican would choose words carefully. Speak in general terms because we don�t always know the specifics. Whether this is a just war can be debated. The opportunity exists for it to put an end to great injustice and human suffering. Should that happen and we all pray that it does, the Vatican may someday have to explain why it tried to stand in the way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Severence of Reverence
or Up in Adoration Standing?

I love the Church and I know the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Scripture tells us so. But, sometimes I wonder how much of the Church will be left on the last day. Every time I write in this journal, I seem to be complaining or criticizing something. Why do I feel the need? It�s just that I believe we are losing focus at times � not just the laity, but also some of our priests and bishops.

What has happened to our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament? Over the past 30 or 40 years, I have noticed a gradual relaxation of reverent behavior in church. I don�t know when it began exactly. Sure, it would be easy to blame Vatican II, but maybe that wouldn�t be fair. Perhaps it is due to poor catechesis more than anything.

Until recently, I thought our little parish still maintained a rather high degree of respect when compared to some other places, but as of late, we have deteriorated badly. While I don�t want to point fingers, I will say that the example set by the parish priest deeply affects the way the parishioners behave.

The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a mystery for all us to ponder. What appears to be a piece of flat bread and wine is in reality, the body and blood of Christ, our God, our creator, the cause of our existence. If Jesus suddenly walked into our presence, would we not fall down in adoration? Yet, watching people receive the Eucharist, many appear to be blas�. Many of us are simply not �tuned in� to what has just happened on the altar.

Any repetitive act becomes commonplace after a while. It is so easy to go on �autopilot� and do it without thinking. We can become indifferent to even our most precious loved ones. We take them for granted, even treating them disrespectfully at times. How much worse to treat Jesus this way? Yet, we do � maybe not deliberately, but unconsciously. And that�s the problem. We are not conscious of the fact that at this moment, we are truly in Christ�s presence. If we truly believed and understood this reality, we would behave much differently.

Those of who have been Catholics for many years remember a time when more reverence was displayed in Catholic Churches. People were quiet when entering and leaving. Women covered their heads and men did not. We went to confession every two weeks and fasted after midnight before going to Communion. While receiving Eucharist, we knelt at a railing with our hands covered by a white cloth, a paten under our chins so as to avoid any unworthy contact with the host. Afterwards, we knelt in prayer and thanksgiving, often with our faces buried in our hands to avoid distraction. Regardless of whether all such actions were necessary, it was clearly evident that something special was happening here.

As Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, changing any rule without good reason, diminishes the binding power of the rule. In a relatively short time in the long history of the Church, we went from communion cloth to no cloth, rail to no rail, kneeling to standing, paten to no paten, receiving on the tongue to receiving in the hand. We went from priestly distribution to lay Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers. And as St. Thomas warned, the binding power of the rule became so diminished that the rule is now often ignored. In our parish, any confirmed Catholic, even without commission or deputation, may be called upon to distribute Holy Communion.

Reflecting upon this idea of diminished binding power of rule, perhaps one can blame Vatican II for much of our trouble, not because the new rules were bad, but merely because their binding power was weakened to the point of casual abuse. Pope John Paul II has periodically issued warnings about the nonessential use of Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, but his admonishments are largely ignored. Once something previously forbidden is permitted with limitations, the limitations carry little weight in relation to the impact of the initial reversal. We see the same effect in the widespread ignorance of doing penance on Fridays. For years, Catholics practiced abstinence from consumption of meat on all Fridays. After Vatican II, we were permitted to substitute some other form of self denial. Now, Fridays are no different than any other day to most Catholics.

Now, we are being subjected to further rule changes. Our diocese recently issued a document to all parishes from the Spirituality and Worship Commission containing New Norms Regarding the Celebration of the Mass. The introduction to the revisions states the following: �With the publication of the revised Roman Missal (2002), some norms have been changed or added which are to be observed in our celebration of the Mass. These norms, approved for the United States are, according to Bishop Melczek, to go into effect in the Diocese of Gary beginning the weekend of February 2, 2003.� Among the changes is the following, which I believe is particularly harmful to our reverence for the Holy Eucharist:

As usual the congregation stands for the Lord�s Prayer and the Lamb of God. Now, instead of kneeling for the invitation to communion �Behold the Lamb of God,� the assembly remains standing. The assembly will continue to stand throughout the distribution of communion.

All remain standing until the entire assembly has received communion and has returned to their places. Obviously, those who are unable to stand due to age in infirmity should sit as they do presently.

(Note that this particular change involves the entire assembly standing throughout the entire communion rite, not just the communicant standing during actual reception which we have been doing for many years. The directive actually suggests that the cantor should direct the assembly to �Please put your kneelers in the upright position� after the Lamb of God is sung.)

If we were to apply Thomas Aquinas� reasoning to these changes, they would not be made unless continuation of the present rules was �clearly unjust� or �extremely harmful.� So why did the bishop think it was necessary to make this particular change and did he have the right to do so?

I have yet to find a good English translation of the Revised GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on the Liturgy published an English summary of the GIRM revisions, but made no mention of standing throughout the reception of Communion. I did find a letter from the Bishop of Fargo describing the changes to his diocese in which he refers to the �norm of kneeling from after the Agnus Dei until moving forward for the reception of Holy Communion.� He goes on to say that, �The GIRM states the option as follows: �The faithful kneel at the Ecce Agnus Dei unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.�� Assuming this is correct, our Bishop does have the option to direct us to stand. For the record, the Bishop of Fargo states that kneeling �was a spontaneous and pious practice developed by the faithful in the United States. The faithful in the Diocese of Fargo are to continue this practice.�

If the change in posture is proper, why is it necessary? Accompanying the list of changes was a short document from the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Gary entitled Revisiting the Communion Rite. Paragraph seven offers an explanation for standing throughout Communion. It states the following: �This adjustment in our posture during the Communion rite is intended to remind us of the deep communal nature of this action. Standing together we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord praying for and giving thanks for our union together in and through Christ. Only when we realize the primary reality of this union does our personal union with Christ in this sacrament find its full meaning and power. Understanding and honoring this gives honor to God. The final sentence of the paragraph is particularly curious. �To shuffle this condition off as less than devotional is to overlook the community, the body of Christ, necessary for our personal union with God.�

Drawing the parallel between the Body of Christ (the Real Presence in the Eucharist) and the body of Christ (the members of His Church) appears to have evolved into a tendency to equate the two. I have heard priests suggest that Christ is present in each one of us the same way He is present in the Eucharist. This is wrong, and the statement only serves to diminish the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the core of our faith. The Bishop�s directive has the same effect by saying that the Sacrament lacks full meaning and power without the community of our brothers and sisters. While our community in the Church is vitally important, the theology implied here is questionable. It is absurd to suggest that we lacked the �full meaning and power� of the Sacrament all these years because we did not grasp our �union together in and through Christ�, and we can correct this by standing until everyone has received instead of kneeling. The new rule is another step away from the vertical (directing our attention to worship of God), and another step toward the horizontal (communal interaction of the worshippers).

Before the priest raises the Host and says, �Behold the Lamb of God . . .�, what greater sign of reverence than to fall to our knees in adoration. The moments following our reception of the Holy Eucharist are precious, intimate, and fleeting. While I recognize the importance of our communal interaction at the table of the Lord, our focus should be on the Bridegroom at the moment He enters the temple. Perhaps one could use this analogy to argue that the guests should rise in unison when the Bridegroom enters and remain standing until all have received Him, but this is no ordinary reception. The Bridegroom feeds us individually, and any horizontal distraction denies us a few precious moments of intimate personal audience with Our Lord.

The Bishop�s directive says, �Overcoming the faulty belief that the Mass was a time for me to do my private devotions has taken many years.� Are we to infer that even a few moments of private devotion when we receive Our Lord is wrong? Is this an �either/or� situation? Can not the Mass be both communal and personal? Those few minutes after the Body of Christ is placed on our tongues are the most precious times we can spend as Catholics. So when is it okay to give thanks to Our Lord? The new instruction says, �When the communion procession is finished, and the celebrant sits down, the assembly sits or kneels for a period of silent prayer.� By that time, the host has already begun digestion and much of that personal intimacy has passed.

Will standing while until everyone receives the Holy Eucharist achieve the Bishop�s objective �to remind us of the deep communal nature of this action�? I doubt that anyone even remembers why the posture changed now that it has been three weeks since it was instituted in our parish. Will anyone look around and say, �Hey, everybody is standing up and that reminds me that we are all communally linked in the Body of Christ.�? Instead, what message will we really be sending?

Believing anything which contradicts our senses is extremely difficult, even for us who are gullible. It took the Church centuries to understand and define Transubstantiation. What we perceive to be bread and wine is the actual Body and Blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. God Himself becomes physically present. If there is ever a time on this earth to fall to our knees in adoration, this is it. If we behave as if this moment is symbolic or somehow less than what it really is, the significance of the miracle becomes obscured or diminished. And indeed, there is a tendency among some modern catechists and clergy to minimize the miracles of Scripture. Some of them are teaching in this diocese, and perhaps this cancer is spreading to our reverence for the Eucharist.

Standing is a common posture. All of us who are able, spend a good portion of our time standing every day. Yes, it can be posture of respect. We stand for the National Anthem or when the flag passes. A gentleman may stand when a lady enters the room. Does it not follow that Our Lord entering the room or passing in front us, deserves some greater show of respect than merely standing? In fact, our gesture should go beyond respect. It is fitting and proper to show adoration.

Those of us who engage in Catholic apologetics routinely spend much of our time explaining to our non-catholic friends that we Catholics do not worship Mary. We draw a distinct line between veneration and adoration. We honor Mary. We worship God and only God. Does it not follow that our postures should be consistent with this distinction? Many of us think nothing of kneeling before a statue of Mary to pray for her intercession. There is nothing wrong with doing so as long we understand that we are not worshiping Mary, nor even worse, worshiping a statue of Mary. I have yet to hear anyone from the Office of Worship discourage the practice. We do seem to be increasingly discouraged from kneeling before the actual Body of Christ, however. This is not a statue of the Body of Christ. It is the actual Body of Christ. If ever there was an appropriate time to assume a posture of adoration, this is it.

Our children learn from us by our example. Our actions speak louder than our words ever could. What better way to convey the magnitude of the Real Presence to our children than to assume a posture of adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Which is more thought inspiring � standing or kneeling before the Lamb of God? Minus the constant reminder in our actions, we are left with mere words to explain our reverence. The recommended new gesture is a bow of the head. When I was growing up, we were taught to bow any time we heard the name of Jesus spoken. Now, even His reception in Holy Communion merits nothing more.

Pope John Paul II expressed concern for a lack of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament in his 1980 letter, Inaestimabile Donum, an instruction concerning worship of the Eucharistic Mystery. While reading this letter, one cannot help but notice how many liturgical abuses have not only continued but proliferated since it was written. The Pope warns of using Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers under ordinary circumstances, stating that they �can distribute Communion only when there is no priest, deacon or acolyte, when the priest is impeded by illness or advanced age, or when the number of the faith going to Communion is so large as to make the celebration of Mass excessively long.� Our small parish typically uses three or four Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers on Sundays, regardless of how many may be in attendance. I timed a Mass at 37 minutes last Sunday, hardly what I would call �excessively long.�

The attire of the Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister can also display a lack of reverence. We occasionally see a Eucharistic Minister in a sweatshirt, bluejeans, and sneakers. When this is tolerated without challenge over a period of time, it becomes acceptable. One can say that God doesn�t care how we are dressed. Perhaps that is true, but the effort one puts into his appearance speaks volumes on how that person regards the importance of the occasion. We would never attend a wedding feast without putting on our best clothing. Does holding the Body and Blood of Christ deserve any less?

All of these little rule modifications serve to alter our perceptions and attitudes toward the Sacrifice of the Mass. They bring about confusion and resentment to some. It is the more pious who are more deeply affected. Those who are indifferent to the Eucharist are indifferent to the changes. While searching for information as I neared the completion of this essay, I came across an article in the Adoremus Bulletin which echoed my concern on this topic. Titled Unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise, author Helen Hull Hitchcock sheds some light on how we have arrived at this point. The author concludes by saying the following:

�Recently, we have received reports from several dioceses that their bishops have been very rigorous in eradicating periods of kneeling during Mass, apparently convinced, as some liturgists insist, that kneeling is a "medievalism" that desperately needs drubbing out of the �modern� Church. To say that this is creating anguish and resentment among the people affected by such actions of bishops is to understate the situation. Ironically, though logically, it is precisely those Catholics who most strongly affirm a bishop's authority and take the concept of obedience to the bishop seriously, that are the most likely to kneel at Mass. Their distress is genuine; and concern about what these liturgical divisions portend for the future seems justified.�

The author is right on target. I have spoken with several of my fellow parishioners about standing through the entire Communion rite. Those who I would consider the most knowledgeable and devout, are the ones who are most upset by this directive. It is also rather ironic that the Bishop who made this change is the same Bishop who has initiated an intense program of Cultural Diversity Awareness in our diocese. On one hand, we are told that we must be tolerant, accepting and appreciative of the diverse personal customs in the lives of others. Yet, those of us who were raised from childhood to cherish an intimate personal relationship with Christ in the Eucharist are now being told that our personal behavior needs modification. If it is wrong to make others feel alienated, why do I feel alienated by this intrusion into my quality time?