Singleness: Is It a Vocation

Lay-led Ecclesial communities: a solution to the singleness vocation

Introduction

The term vocation calls to mind either sacramental marriage or religious life. As I get older, I find myself wondering, is God calling me to marriage or religious life. I’ve briefly considered consecrated virginity. However, more often I wonder if there room in Catholic theology for singleness as a vocation. In order to address this question, I first have to explore the Catholic notion of vocation. Second, I will explore a common argument against singleness as a vocation. Third, I will explore how lay-led ecclesial communities to help address singleness.

What is Vocation

Catholicculture.org defines vocation as a call from God to a distinctive state of life, in which the person can reach holiness. Note that the definition never defines a particular state in life. Hence, one can be single and still reach holiness. A quote from Lumen Gentium supports this viewpoint.

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity;(4*) by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.

Regardless of our station in life, we are all striving for holiness. Thus, holiness is my ultimate vocation. The church services everyone, but has a special compassion for those with no family. In Famillaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II writes,

No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labor and are heavy laden.”

Yet, there seem to be distinct differences between the sacramental vocations and singleness. These differences have led many to believe that singleness cannot be a vocation.

Differences Between Singleness and The Sacramental Vocations

Msgr. Charles Pope in his article, “Is There a Vocation to the Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why,” describes his objections to singleness as a vocation. He begins by highlighting the basic differences between tradition vocations and singleness.

Basic Differences

1. Make Vows and Promises

Msgr. Charles Pope states that in marriage and in religious life, the party or parties make promises to themselves and the church. He argues that the state of being single does not require the person to make any vows or promises. They can choose to make vows and promises. Yet the vocation is found in the vows and promises they make, not in their singleness.

2. Commit to the Life They Enter Stably

Singleness is open to change. A person remains single until something better comes along. Thus they find the right person and become married or they make a commitment to the church.

3. Exclusivity

Traditional vocations offer exclusivity. When you are married, you promise to be with your partner forever. If you take religious vows, you promise not to date anybody. Yet when you are single, you are not required to be exclusive. You can form relationships with multiple people.

4. Communal Relationship

When one enters into religious life, one makes a lasting bond. Similarly, in marriage, a couple pledges to be in communion with each other until death. Singles are not bound to form lifelong communal relationships with others.

5. Live Under Rules

Priest and those in religious life have a structure to their day. They cannot merely do what they please. For example, a priest must pray the liturgy of the hours. Similarly, married couples have rules that govern their family. For example, they cannot wake up and decide to go on vacation. They need to consult the needs and desires of their spouse and children. A single person does have rules they live by. Yet these rules were arbitrarily picked by themselves or given to them.

6. Under Authority

When a priest enters into religious life, he subjects himself to the authority of the bishop. Similarly, a married person subjects themselves to the authority of their spouse. A person, who is single, does not subject himself to anyone’s authority. A person, who is single, does not need to report to anybody.

Theological Reason

According to Msgr. Charles Pope, all these basic differences point to a theological principle. This principle is called Nuptial Meaning of the Body. This states that God made the body for others. In marriage, this happens during the sexual union. In religious life, those individuals give their bodies to the church in a symbolic way.

So can one reconcile both viewpoints? Is it a matter of interrupting vocation to broadly or narrowly? What can singles do?

Vocations verses vocation: Where Does Singleness Fit in Catholic Teaching.

I think the confusion comes when we conflate vocations. In reality, every good Catholic has a vocation to holiness. However, we also have gifts and talents that can affect our vocations. Last we have a vocation as a committed life. Msgr. Charles Pope is right to suggest that singleness cannot be considered a committed way of life. Yet he is wrong to imply that singleness has no vocation. Although I believe people are reading that into the article. Singleness is a state of being, where a person is called to be holy. Religious life or marriage are options and are not guaranteed to the individual. Single life has a vocation but is not a vocation by itself.

Singleness and Lay Led Ecclesial Communities:

So how can a person, who is single, find a vocation in the Church. Lay lead ecclesial communities such as the ones founded in the renewal can help those, who are single. In my community, we have a commitment to one another. One cannot break this commitment without discernment from the whole community. Furthermore, we, as a community, have a pattern of life and community rhythm that governs our life. I am required to respect and obey the leadership in the community. Thus these communities offer commitment and stability. Singleness by itself fails to offer.

Catholicism: 5 things I love

Introduction

In this post, I will be writing about the five things I like about Catholicism. I was inspired to write this while watching LizzieAnswers youtube channel. For those who don’t know, Lizzieanswers was a popular youtube channel, who became Catholic famous when she announced her conversion. On September 1st, 2018, she posted a video titled What I still hate about Catholicism. As a convert, I find it easy to look at my past experiences through rose-colored glasses. Instead of critiquing the Church, I thought I would describe the five things that I appreciate about Catholicism and then next week talk about the things I miss about Protestantism.

1. Eucharistic adoration

I remember my first Eucharistic adoration. I was a non-catholic at the time. My Catholic friend had invited me. I had wanted to meet a blind priest, Fr. Mike Joly. Unfortunately, at the time we went the priest was unavailable to do adoration. Thus instead of the usual benediction, they offered an hour of silent prayer. In my protestant church, silent prayer was not a thing. I saw how everyone was kneeling and praying. It felt reverent and holy. I would grow to love adoration. I have my most spiritual encounters in the adoration chapel. It’s like a date with Jesus, who is the present body, blood, soul, and divinity.

2. Silence

Protestant. churches are very loud. Music is everywhere: before the service, during the service, and after the service. On top of the music, people are greeting each other and chatting. There’s not much room for silence. Catholic church’s prioritize silence. In the past, sanctuaries have been so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Over the years, churches have gotten laxer about noise, but you can always find a quiet place to pray.

3. Universal lectionary

A lectionary is a collection of readings for every Mass. I can go to any Catholic Church around the world and hear the same readings. This is not true of Baptist churches and most other Protestant churches. The Universal lectionary enables me to hear more of the Bible. I also can read ahead of time. I love reading the scripture and praying about it before Sunday mass. I like hearing different priest’s perspective on the same story.

4. The Rosary

I started praying the rosary even before I was Catholic. I challenged myself to memorize and recite 150 prayers of the rosary. I began meditating on the mysteries of the rosary. I fell in love with the sorrowful mysteries: Jesus’ agony, pain, suffering, and crucifixion. I found it easy to place myself in the events and to learn from them. This is extremely different then the prayer taught in Protestant circles. Rather, Protestant prayers are more vocalized.

5. The concept of Saints

Hebrews 12: 1 states

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

The idea behind the communion of Saints is that those, who have died and are with God can intercede for us on earth. There is a beauty to the idea that death cannot separate the body of Christ from one another. We know that those, who went before us can make it through, and thus we can as well. My favorite saint is st. Monica. Through prayers and tears, she was able to convert her husband and son to Christianity. Her son would be no other than St. Augustine.

Conclusion

As converts, we have a unique ability to see the areas where Catholicism may be lacking relative to other thriving Christian denominations. However, we came into Catholicism to experience the true, beautiful, and the good. Let us not lose sight of how Catholicism offers the true, the beautiful, and the good through various devotions and practices and teachings.

Nativity Pastor Father White, Social media, and Criticism.

Phone with facebook shown and then next to phone is wooden blocks, which spells out social media

Introduction

Social Media and How We Handle Criticism

Social media provides a person with a certain anonymity. This allows them to behave in ways that differ from real life relationships. In online communication, you can ignore or block a person with an opposing viewpoint. This allows a person to create an echo chamber which supports their own viewpoint. Apart from this blog, I don’t post much. I’m not a very witty person and I have a pretty uneventful life. On Twitter, I have a very low follower count. Most of my followers are either friends and family or small Catholic accounts. I got twitter not to be famous, but to follow band members that I enjoy. After attending a Steubenville Young Adult conference, I began following various Catholic speakers. This introduced me to “Catholic twitter.”

Catholic Twitter

Catholic Twitter is an interesting place. Catholics are some of the most opinionated people. They are never happy and there is always a controversy. Everyone got opinionated about a breakdancing priest at a youth conference. There were some who thought the priest should not dance. These debates make following Catholics both entertaining and frustrating. One person I followed, in particular, was Father White until he blocked me. It seemed strange for a priest to block me over a mere disagreement. To understand why he blocked me, we need to understand my relationship to The Church of Nativity.

My history with Church of Nativity

I don’t necessarily recall how I stumbled on Nativity’s website. It reminded me of Protestant church websites. As a Catholic convert, the seeker friendly attitude made me want to explore more. The Church of Nativity offered a praise band, message series, hospitality, and community. These were things I was missing. I quickly fell in love.

Falling in Love

Since the idea of a seeker-friendly Catholic Church appealed to me, I decided to watch Mass. While the Mass was very modern, it had traditional elements. In particular, I fell in love with the Latin chanting of the traditional mass hymns. I also enjoyed the homily as it was well thought out and felt relevant. I got a copy of the Rebuilt book and became a disciple of Father White. I would quote the book whenever I could and I became critical of other parishes and their efforts. On October 2nd, 2016, I became a member of Nativity’s online small group. I also began contributing financially. Unfortunately, the honeymoon period did not last long.

The End of the Love Affair

Small Group

I began to question Nativity’s methods through my interactions with my small group. Out of 5 people, I believe I was the only one to attend Mass regularly. They talked about other churches nearby; they would say things like how it’s not as friendly as Nativity. They would also say that they’d only go to Nativity. I would try to convince them that they should go for the Eucharist and not for the experience. I wondered if Nativity was making Catholic disciples or Nativity disciples.

Mass Online

Also when watching mass online, Nativity offered an online chat feature. I found myself getting into the weirdest conversations and debates. For example, one guy claimed to do his own consecration from home while watching. I was the only one to point out that it was anti-catholic to do so. Also if anyone questioned anything about the mass, the chat would label them a Pharisee. I received a lot of insults when questioning the Palm Sunday liturgy. During this liturgy, Father White did not give a homily. Instead, the gospel reading was done through dubbing of The Passion Of the Christ. After this incident, I began to doubt Nativity.

Emails Sent

I wrote an email to my small group on May 5th, 2017. I stated that due to the liturgical abuses, I was unsure of my place at Nativity. I said that although I do not consider myself the most traditional Catholic, I value the liturgy. I said that I would reframe from making a hasty decision until I visited. I wrote a much more lengthy letter to Father White. I outline the actions that I believed to be liturgical abuses. I expressed that my concern was out of love for Nativity. I never got a response. I continued to support and scheduled a visit on September 9th, 2017. I’ve written about it here. I left Nativity for good on December 3rd, 2017. I still continued to follow Father White on Twitter and Facebook.

Father White

I deeply admire Father White. I admire his ability to take risks and market a message. He gives excellent homilies and has an amazing ability to delegate. I also think he truly loves the church and believes his vision for the church. I no longer wholeheartedly agree with everything Nativity does. I do admire Father White’s opinion. An article he wrote, Liturgical bullies, disappointed me. When I saw this on Facebook, I had to comment. I said, “I wonder if Father White would consider me a liturgical bully since I wrote to him regarding Palm Sunday. I have a problem with the omitting of necessary elements from the mass to make an emotional statement.” I fully expected my comment to be removed; however, to my surprise that did not happen. I realized that I could no longer see Father White’s tweets.

Conclusion

Now imagine if I had lived in the area and become a member of the church. I would hope that Father White would want to address my concerns. I would hope that he would be a good shepherd and leave the 99 to go after me. However, I am not a member so I respect the fact that Father White does not need to listen to me. However, I do feel like as a shepherd of people, he needs to keep an open dialogue with those who disagree with him.

Why Mass under 40 Min?

Why Mass under 40 Min, Pope Francis’ unusual request

Introduction

I attend the 9am Sunday mass on 9/16/18. I got out at 10:05am. I guess I should alert my bishop. My parish is refusing to adhere to Pope Francis’ guidelines about the Mass. Cindy Wood, Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau Chief, tweeted out the following:

#PopeFrancis in Sicily garners big applause when he says a homily shouldn’t last more than 8 minutes. “A 40-minute homily? NO. The whole Mass should last about 40 minutes!

When I saw this, my blood began to boil. This tweet gave me the inspiration to address the elephant in the room. Why is there a pervasive apathy in Catholic culture to the Mass?

This apathy stems from two intertwined issues. First, the Mass as an obligation and second a lack of understanding about the point behind Mass.

Mass as Obligation

I must admit there are days, where I do not want to attend Sunday Mass. I find it especially hard when I have not slept well or I do not feel well. Yet I choose to still attend, why? Sometimes I feel guilty. However, the guilt is not because I would be neglecting an obligation imposed on me by the church. Rather my guilt is the same response I would have if I neglected a friend. Mass is one of the only times Jesus gets to feed me through his word and body. Just like you wouldn’t want to rush time spent with a friend, why do you want to rush spending time with Jesus.

Yet so many Catholics attend Mass out of obligation. They attend because it is something they’ve always done or because they are afraid of sinning. Now fear of hell is not necessarily a bad reason. After all, fear of hell is an important motivator for imperfect contrition. Yet we should strive for perfect contrition or the idea that we can motivate ourselves out of pure love for God. We should strive to attend Mass out of pure love for God. If that is our motivation then we should be able to spend at least an hour with God.

Protestant Experience

As a convert, I attended Protestant worship services. The top criticisms I heard about those services from Catholics is that 1. They express interest in entertainment only and 2. The attitude of the people are fake. In response to the latter, I know from my own personal experience that I did not fake my attitude. I was genuinely happy to be there. I think a major difference was that I actively chose to be there. I didn’t need it. Most Protestant churches either live stream their services or record it. One does not need to attend to hear the message. If so, then why do so many people attend. I know for myself I attended for the community; I felt like the church wanted me.

Shortening the Mass to 40 minutes is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Catholics need to reclaim a desire for the liturgy and community. Shortening the Mass may make it more convenient, but it will not change hearts. Catholics need to feel like they’re wanted at church. They need to feel like Church is feeding them.

The dual purpose of Mass

The church divides Mass into two parts: The Liturgy of The Word, and The Liturgy of The Eucharist. During the Liturgy of the Word, The lector reads scripture and the priest gives the homily. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist one brings up the gifts. Then, the priest consecrates the host. Finally The extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist distribute the host to the faithful. The priest gives the homily from the ambo and consecrates from the altar. The ambo and the altar represent the two tables by which the church feeds faithful. Hence the point of mass is to feed on the word of God and the Eucharist

The Homily

The Homily assists in the overarching goal of Mass. According to the General Instructions on the Roman Missal,

“Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.”

Thus the homily offers a living commentary. This commentary includes a reflection on all the readings, not just the gospels. Priests have the responsibility to present us with this commentary regardless of time-constants. I would rather hear a well-researched well-articulated- passionate long homily, than a short 8-minute reflection. We, as Catholics, should not concern ourselves with the length of the homily. Rather, we should ask does it speak the truth, does it help me understand the scriptures, and does it convict.

Conclusion

The tweet reminded me of the story in Acts 20:9-10

“And a certain young man named Eutychus, seated by the window, was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell from the third story and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, threw himself on the young man, and embraced him. “Do not be alarmed!” he said. “He is still alive!”…”

I wonder if Pope Francis would criticize St. Paul. His homilies were so long that a parishioner fainted out a window and died. We need to have a hunger and desire for the word of God. We need to demand living commentary regardless of how long they take.

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Introduction

Labels and stereotypes are funny things. People use them in-jokes to make fun of a person different than them. Sometimes people create true stereotypes. Yet most of the time, People create stereotypes based on exaggeration. One can use labels to divide or put down. Even in the Catholic Church, one uses labels to create division. The Catholic Church’s appeals to unity. Yet. the Church divides through labels such as traditional, Charismatic, or cafeteria. The essence of Catholic spirituality is both traditional and charismatic

Personal experience with labels

In my own life, I don’t fit into the cookie-cutter boxes that social media wants to place me in. Am I Charismatic because I’ve had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit? Am I tradition because I desire to adhere to the liturgical guidelines of the church. Catholics might label me because I appreciate the vast artistic tradition of the church? I question a church’s liturgical practice, Catholics label me a hater and Pharisee. I lift my hands to pray or speak about a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics label me Charismatic. For these reasons, I want to explore each label. I’ve already discussed what the label charismatic means. In this post, I am going to define what it means to be a traditional Catholic.

The Stereotypical Characteristics of a Traditional Catholic

1. An adherence to one liturgical style

Traditional Catholic can describe someone who prefers and attends an extraordinary form Mass. For those who don’t know, the extraordinary form mass refers to a mass celebrated before Vatican II. The council of Vatican II revised the liturgy to be more receptive to the modern world.

Changes in the Liturgy

The most profound change was the transition from Latin to the vernacular. Those, who attend the Extraordinary Form liturgy, still hear the scripture readings in Latin. The second change was the cycle of readings. Those who attend Novus Ordo hear more scripture and sometimes different scripture. Priest faces the congregation in Novus Ordo as opposed to facing the tabernacle in the extraordinary form. Lastly, the Novus Ordo reinstates the sign of peace. In *Novus Ordo*, the laity takes an active role including the distributing of the Eucharist.

Misconception

Since most traditionalists have a deep appreciation for the Mass, most resist change. They would like to see a liturgy that contained pre-Vatican II elements. However, one cannot assume that a traditional Catholic must attend an extraordinary form mass. For me at least, it’s not a matter of the form, Novus Ordo is fine. Rather, I have a problem with blatant liturgical abuses.

2. Cares more about the rules rather than Mercy

Often times traditional Catholics and modern day Pharisees go hand in hand. Traditional Catholics care more about the letter of the law rather than making people feel welcome. People often cite,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.- Mathew 23:24

I know that I’ve been guilty of this argument. I used to think that silent sanctuaries were cold and uninviting. But, the longer I stay Catholic, the more I begin to appreciate the respect and reverence. This seems missing from Novus Ordo parishes. We should heed the advice of Jesus and not neglect the respect and reverence due to the Eucharist while still practicing love for neighbor.

3. Nit-picky

Sometimes understanding and articulating the rules comes across as nit-picky. Some people object to the frustration with hand-holding during our father as a nit-picky complaint. However, hand holding introduces a new liturgical gesture into the Mass. In order to introduce a new gesture into the Mass, the council of bishops must approve it by 2/3rd vote. The hand holding gesture has not received the necessary support from the bishops. Thus most traditionalist would argue that one should not hold hands. In my own view, I feel that while one should not hold hands, silence regarding the proper posture leaves room for change. However, as a traditional Catholic, I desire that change comes from the proper authority.

4. Hater of Vatican II

While extreme traditional Catholics exist that deny the legitimacy of Vatican II, I welcome the changes. I believe that reading scripture and having personal participation is important. Vatican II helped open up the church to the modern age and helps promote ecumenicalism. I do object to the “spirit of Vatican II,” which priest used as an excuse to introduce liturgical abuses. In other words, Vatican II is not a problem, rather the implementation is problematic.

Conclusion

Thus, a traditional Catholic as myself possess the following

  1. Loyal to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Magisterium

     

  2. Lives the life according to The teachings of the Church

  3. admires the beauty of the rich history of the Church

The reality is that all Catholics are called to uphold the traditions of the Catholic Church and to care about the liturgy. Labeling a person, “traditional” due to liturgical preference undermines this call. As someone, who doesn’t fit into these categories, I want to know that I am a part of the Universal Church. We should be uniformly Catholic and not destroy unity through the labeling of the other.

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Introduction

If you followed me on social media, you would see that I have not posted anything regarding the sexual abuse scandal. I have not posted not because I am not confused, angry, frustrated, sad, and disappointed. Rather, I could find the words to express my thoughts. Others have posted on the issue and I felt that my voice would be a repetitive clanging cymbal echoing their sentiments. However St. Gregory the Great once said,

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

Hence I will no longer keep silent on this issue; I will express my confusion, anger, sadness, and disappointment

Confusion leading up to the scandal

The application of Amoris Laetitia confused me. I struggled to understand the intercommunion statement given by the German bishops. When Pope Francis made the death penalty inadmissible, I began to question. Yet I continued to trust that the Holy Spirit would guide Church’s magisterium. I continued to believe that these events were an evolution of understanding.

Confusion turned to anger

My confusion turned to anger when I heard about Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse. After I read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, I became disappointed and sad. Then it went from bad to worse. The media released Viganò”s testimony.

Amidst the onslaught of emotions, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “Why has the Vatican been so silent”. My second instinct was to run, to leave and never look back.

But The Lord Spoke

As I went to my Friday’s adoration hour, partly out of habit, As I prayed for the Church, the Lord spoke:

People are running away because they can’t love my bride. She may be a prostitute, but I am redeeming her, just like I’m redeeming you.

For like-minded confused and angry Catholic like me, I offer the following advice

Pray and Know the Word of God

We are fighting against darkness and evil in the church and in our lives. Thus, we need to allow prayer and the Word of God to equip us to put on the armor of God.

If you are a victim or know a victim, then it will be hard to view God as a just and loving father. Here the beauty of the Church shines. You need not say something original, you can recite rote prayers such as the rosary. The key is constancy.

We also need to know the word of God. St. Paul in Ephesians describes it as a sword. It is our only weapon. We need to know what it says, not only to hold ourselves accountable but others as well.

Go to Adoration

Jesus is there waiting in the monstrance for you. When describing the Blessed Sacrament, St John Mary Vianney once said,

I just look at him and he looks at me

I always feel more at peace after my holy hour.

Channel Your Righteous Anger

You are angry. You have every right to be angry. Yet, what you do with that anger will define you as a person. Anger is an emotion. After all, Jesus had righteous anger at the money changers, who defiled his church, but it cannot rule over us or consume us.

”Correction given in anger, however, tempered by reason, never has so much effect as that which is given altogether without anger; for the reasonable soul being naturally subject to reason, it is a mere tyranny which subjects it to passion, and whereinsoever reason is led by passion it becomes odious, and its just rule obnoxious.” St. Francis de Sales

The laity needs to correct The Church. This correction is much more effective without anger.

Instead of demanding Pope Francis to resign, we should put our energy and effort into demanding a release of the documents and independent investigations. We need to demand a statement of contrition from all leader. Furthermore, continuously strive for the virtue of persistence.

Practically speaking, one can write to church leadership especially your bishop. They need to know how we feel and how the scandal effects us. The Sienna project offers letter templets as well as bishop addresses to make it easier to write your own letter.

Join a Lay Ecclesial Community

A lay ecclesial community consists of Catholic lay people, who come together to

“strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.”1

These communities exist outside of the church’s hierarchy. Lay-led communities, are not a substitute for Mass but can help combat loneliness and despair.

Conclusion

It is hard to have faith as a Catholic, but it is even harder to have faith in the midst of a scandal. We must remember that the devil comes to seek, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes to give life. We must place our faith, hope, and trust in Jesus. We must demand that The Church act justly so that Christ may transform his bride. We, the laity, must persevere in holiness, putting on the armor of God wielding faith and truth. Faith and truth come from prayer and knowing the word of God. We should strive to build lay driven faith communities. Theses communities function as places of renewal.


  1. Card. Stanisław Ryłko, “Preface,” in Directory of Associations, Published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity 

Liturgy: How to restore Balance:

Last week I attended a potluck with New Creation Charismatic Fraternity.  While at the potluck I struck up an interesting conversation with a fellow convert to the Catholic faith. He, being much older than I, shared with me some insightful commentary on the liturgy. He made the statement that as a high Episcopalian he feels he has downgraded in terms of liturgical quality. This statement comes as no surprise to me; however, it makes me sad. How is it that the Catholic Church known for its beautiful art and music produce such mediocre liturgies; the likes of which causes my friend to feel as if he has downgraded? 

Liturgy as a play

We can imagine the liturgy as like a play. If we went to a play with ugly props, and a bad score,  you would either leave or demand a refund. Yet so many people attend parishes that either have tacky decorations from the 70’s (felt banners anyone?) or no decorations at all. We attend parishes, where the music is bad and uninspired.  If the liturgy were a play, we should demand our money back. Luckily for parishes, the liturgy is not on equal footing with a play. One does not attend for entertainment value, but to receive the nourishment that comes from partaking in the Eucharist. However, even though entertainment is not our ultimate goal, reverence does demand a certain quality to the liturgy that I feel is lacking from today’s parishes. For that reason, I seek to address two questions: why should we care about the liturgy and what would my ideal liturgy look like?

What is the liturgy and why is it important?

Introduction

One of my blog readers wrote in the comments, “as long as Christ and unamended Scripture are at the center, I’m less concerned if the music comes from a little blue-haired lady at an organ or a bearded dude playing an electric guitar wearing skinny jeans.” This begs the question, aren’t certain aspects of the liturgy culturally subjective? Why should we care what the music sounds like or what the sanctuary looks like as long as the Mass is valid?

Licit verse valid: what is the difference.

I’ve gone over valid and licit in the past, but I will provide a brief recap. A valid Mass is one in which the priest says the words necessary for the bread and the wine to be consecrated. These words are: this is my body…this is my blood. A licit mass is one in which none of the rules outlined in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal are violated. These rules allow the liturgy to be uniformly celebrated. A uniformed liturgy separates Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism. Hence as Catholics, we have a right to demand a universal experience not depended on the whims of the congregation or the preferences of the priests. 

Liturgy and our Christian call

Not only is the liturgy defined by the church, but it also encompasses our call as Christians.

Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer. (The Catechism of the Catholic church, “prologue” section I paragraph 4 pg. 8)  

The Catechism cites Acts 2:42 as a reference. This scripture states that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to prayer.” The Catholic Church seeks to retain the practice of the early church through its liturgy. Every liturgy contains the reading of scripture, including a reading from the apostles typically Paul. Every liturgy includes prayer; those said by the priest and those recited by the faithful. Every liturgy contains the breaking of the bread through the shared eucharistic meal.

Christian Liturgy has dual dimensions 

The Catechism describes the tension present in the liturgy.

On the one hand, the Church, united with her Lord and “in the Holy Spirit,”5 blesses the Father “for his inexpressible gift in her adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. On the other hand, until the consummation of God’s plan, the Church never ceases to present to the Father the offering of his own gifts and to beg him to send the Holy Spirit upon that offering, upon herself, upon the faithful, and upon the whole world, so that through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, and by the power of the Spirit, these divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of life “to the praise of his glorious grace.. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacramental economy,” part two section one paragraph 1083, pg 281.) 

One one hand the liturgy is meant to be a joyous occasion where we give adoration, thanksgiving, and praise to God. On the other hand, it is meant to be a sacrifice in which we offer ourselves to God. Thus the liturgy should be a balance of both exuberance and solemness. It is this balance that seems missing in today’s liturgies.

Restoring balance: my ideal Liturgy

Sacred Art

 First thing I would do is restore the use of sacred art. The Catechism defines sacred art as being true and beautiful when,

its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God.

The current trend to remove art means that our churches no longer testify to the mysteries of God. I would like to note two things: depictions are not idolatry and art can’t replace evangelization.

Depictions of Jesus are not Idolatry

It is a common misconception that depictions of the divine constitute idolatry. We as Catholics understand that Christ’s incarnation means that we are free to detect God through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus alluded to this himself when he declared, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of man must be lifted up.”John 3:14 For those not familiar with the Old Testament story Jesus references, the Israelites were suffering from snake bites due to their disobedience. God took pity on them and instructed Moses to build a bronze serpent. The Israelites were instructed to look at the serpent to be healed. This story shows that statues and icons are not idolatry in themselves, but only when they take the place of worship owed to God. 

Sacred Art Doesn’t Equal Evangelization

I disagree with those who claim that fallen away Catholics will return by the revitalization of beautiful churches or that the dwindling church attendance correlates to a lack of art. If this were the case, the cathedrals in Europe would be full and the warehouse churches would be empty. I do not think art should be used as an evangelization tool, rather I believe good art sets the tone and brings people to the truth.

Embrace digital art

I also think that the church needs to expand its definition of art to encompass web design and communications and multimedia. This would include print media. Church lobbies should not look like a bad kid’s craft project nor should bulletins contain clip art instead of pictures. Free software such as Canva can help design beautiful bulletins.   

Sacred music

Next, I would work with the music director to focus on quality music. The next time you go to Mass, I want you to focus on the date of every song used. Depending on your parish, you may get songs from the 1800’s or earlier or every song will be from the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve always wondered why.  It seems that there has been no innovation in Catholic music since the 70’s. If you do get more current songs, it is usually from Protestant composers or Matt Maher. We need more innovation. 

Not only do we need more innovation, but we need to stop focussing on the type and style of music and focus on intent. The Catechism states that,

Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are “more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action,”22 according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration. In this way, they participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.

Contrary to popular opinion, the church does not require a specific form of music. The church does hold chant and polyphony in high esteem; however, it’s much more important that,

      1. the song fosters participation
      2. It expresses prayer
      3.  fits what is occurring in the liturgy
        1. As much as you may like an upbeat song, it is not appropriate for the moment of consecration 

For example, you may have a beautiful latin polyphony song, but if no one is singing then it fails on equal merits as a loud contemporary worship song that everyone knows.

Bring latin back

Lastly, I would bring back latin chanting for the following songs,\

      1. Kyrie
      2. Gloria 
      3. Santus
      4. Angus dei

We need to blend traditional music from our Catholic heritage with newer styles when appropriate, to invest in musical innovation and to compose hymns for this generation. 

Fellowship

I’ve been to parishes that make fellowship a priority. They are exuberant, loud, and noisy. Everyone greets each other, and they know when you are missing. Conversely, I’ve been to a church that prioritized silence. Nobody greats you, or knows your name; however, there are plenty of opportunities for contemplation and prayer. I personally think both are out of balance. Catholics seem to think that sacred silence means no fellowship. It’s a me and Jesus mentally. For these Catholics, the needs of the community are not important. I think if not kept in check this attitude can overvalue ritualistic formality over the messiness of community. For example, An elderly women consumed by praying her rosary fails to acknowledge the new person besides her. Now praying the rosary before mass is a good thing; however, loving your neighbor is the higher good. I purpose the following to achieve balance:

I would like to see the sanctuary become a silent zone. Having ushers stand outside the sanctuary door could achieve the establishment of a silent zone. They could politely tell people to please enter respectfully. On the flip side, I want to transform Catholic Narthex to look more like Protestant church’s lobbies. There should be a maned welcome desk, where newcomers can get information. There should be lounge spaces for Catholics to fellowship and a coffee bar available after mass. Parish staff should have name tags. Greeters should be at the front door of the church, welcoming everyone. Catholic parishioners should not be afraid to greet new people. 

Conclusion

I was inspired to write this post due to a series of tweets posted by Katie Prejean McGrady: https://twitter.com/KatiePrejean/status/10239663298025144320 

In this conversation, she describes how “we could argue that we don’t go to Mass to just build community but to receive the Eucharist. But the community is important too.” I think American parishes are in desperate need of balance.

Evangelization Barriers: a call for messy authentic Christianity

New Evangelization

The Pope has called for a New Evangelization or a re-evangelization, where we win back those fallen away Catholics. Cradle Catholics are not equipped for this type of evangelization and most parishes are not equipped either. The reason has to do with the walls we built around us, and our reluctance to leave our fortified parishes to embrace the other. Bishop Barron, in Getting out of the Sacristy  writes about how parish life needs to be revitalized to focus on missional oriented activities rather than existing parish structures. Gone are the days where we can expect people to show up. Rather than do the messy work of reaching the lost, we would rather protect our own through fostering divisive labels.

The Parable of The Lost sheep: How to Evangelize

Luke 15:1-7 gives us the parable of the lost sheep, and this parable gives us an important lesson on evangelization. In this parable, the shepherd is concerned about his lost sheep so he leaves the 99 sheep, which symbolizes the righteous Pharisees and goes to the lost sheep, the sinner. There is a lot to unpack here, but I think that when we use labels to describe one another, we put us in the righteous Pharisee camp.

Three labels commonly used

When I think about the Catholic church I think three labels come to mind, Traditional Catholic, Charismatic Catholic, liberal Catholic. Let us break each one down.

Traditional Catholic

The traditional Catholic prefers pre-Vatican II style worship and attends Latin Mass exclusively. At best these persons care deeply for the liturgy and reverence that it deserves. I think a desire to preserve the traditions of the Catholic church is a well-intentioned noble goal and a worthwhile pursuit. The more I learn about Catholicism, the more I went the incense, the chanting, and the beauty of more traditional churches. I think my desire comes from wanting liturgical excellence. The danger comes when we fence ourselves in and we say that the Mass is not valid and licit unless it conforms to pre-Vatican II standards. This is dangerous because the beautiful traditions of the church become a fence that prevents a person from going out into the world. Rather than engaging with other equally beautiful and valid traditions, traditional Catholics would rather label it as wrong. Also, Tradition Catholics dangerously over emphasize right practice over right belief.

Charismatic Catholics

Charismatic Catholics are completely the opposite. They emphasize obedience to the Holy Spirit and right relationship. They desire to foster an encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I would say that charismatic masses have an exuberant quality to them. They emphasize scripture reading and praying for one another. Praise and worship and community are the focus. At best Charismatics help revitalize the parish by placing the focus back where it belongs, which is Jesus. They can help unlock scripture and foster community. The danger becomes when private revelation contradicts church authority. Private revelation should never take the place of church obligations. Likewise, there is the danger of emotionalism in which a person is constantly seeking the mountaintop experiences. Thus Mass becomes mundane. Because of these dangers, it is very easy for one to make the charismatic community the sole bases of their spirituality.

Liberal Catholics

The last category is liberals. These Catholics care about social justice, so much so that the oftentimes pick and choose to ignore certain teachings in favor of inclusivity. The benefit is that it reminds the church to be compassionate and merciful. The danger is that ignoring church teachings gives way to complacency, where people are not compelled to live according to the truth.

Conclusion

The reality is that the parish needs people who go beyond the labels.  The church needs to be traditionally minded to help safeguard the parish from liturgical abuses and to help safeguard the traditions of the church. The parish needs to be Charismatic because the parish needs to be reminded that God is still working, is still performing miracles, and is still speaking outside the sacraments. The parish needs to be liberal because the church needs to balance mercy with justice and to always show compassion. Furthermore, we need to have all three types as our spirituality. Rather we should break down the labels and be authentically Catholic. To do that though requires us to be uncomfortable and messy. When we accept and love each other, we can embrace and love those who have walked away.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

Dear readers, I apologize for not posting last week; life became crazy.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

So I was talking to my mom the other day regarding my recent blog post about the dancing snakes. She says that even if she buys that Jesus gave the disciples authority to define the church doctrine; this authority became corrupt after popes began to behave immorally. My mom like so many other fallen away Catholics, question the doctrine of church infallibility. It is here that I would like to make an analogy.

School analogy: Why behavior does not affect the truth

Let’s say that you have a math teacher. He teaches you the basic principles of math correctly, but you find out later that he behaved immorally such as molesting children. You wouldn’t deny that he taught you true math principles because you can verify independently the truth of these principles and you can see that society has historically held the truth of these principles. Similarly, the church can teach historically held truths about faith and morals regardless of the outward behavior.

Some would argue that this analogy breaks down because unlike math principles, faith and morals directly relate to how one should behave. Let’s tweak the analogy a bit. Let’s say that your math teacher is not a horribly immoral person, but instead can’t add numbers without a calculator.  Once again, you wouldn’t question the principles your math teacher taught; although, you may question the efficiency of the math teacher. In other words, the ability to teach does not affect the subject taught by the teacher; the subject remains true. Papel infallibility works the same way. It states that when it comes to faith and morals the Pope can teach no wrong. I would like to explore the biblical bases for this and explore how infallibility works practically.

Biblical Bases For Infallibility

Let’s start with the obvious, Mark 16:17-19.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Scripture Interpretation of Mark 16:17-19

We’ve talked about this scripture before, but I want to emphasize the verse, “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The ‘it’ in this quote refers to the church. Now I don’t know about you, but I believe when God promises something, He keeps his word. So why would God through Jesus promise to protect his church only to allow it to be corrupted? It’s also important to note that Jesus establishes his church on a rock aka something visible. He changes Simon’s name to Peter, which in Greek means rock. In the old testament, name changes are important. For example, Abram is changed to Abraham to signify a change in God’s covenant relationship with him. Jesus is doing the same thing with Peter.

Mathew 18:18, How the Church Handles Conflict

When Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, it is not only a moment of repentance for Peter after his denial but also strengthening the covenantal bond established in Matthew 16:17-19. This promise of authority is repeated in Matthew 18:18 and Luke 10:16. Mathew 18:18 Jesus states,

 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.

It’s important to note the context of this passage. Here Jesus is instructing the apostles on how to handle conflict. He says that people should tell the church and listen to the church. If they don’t listen to the authority of the church they will be cut off like Gentiles and tax collectors. In verse 18 he gives context for this authority by reestablishing his promise to bind eternally what the Apostles bind on earth. In Luke 10:16, Jesus says that whoever rejects the authority of the Apostles rejects Jesus himself.

Acts 15:  A Model for the Church

The bible even provides an example of how this works. In Acts 15 we have the first recorded dispute in the church. Paul and Barnabas were arguing with certain teachers about whether the Gentiles should follow Jewish dietary restrictions. Because there was a dispute, they went up to Jerusalem to seek the opinion of the apostles. Note that they didn’t hold an individual Bible study or search the scriptures for their own interpretation nor did they establish their own church, rather they came together and formed a council and allowed Peter and James to have the final say.

It’s also important to note that Peter was not always faithful to his own teaching. In Gal 2:11-16 Paul describes how he need to correct Peter, who was not eating with the Gentiles. This goes to show that even the first pope was not immune to hypocrisy and yet Paul stills states in 1st Tim 3:15 that the church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of truth. A hypocritical action does not negate a person’s authority to teach the truth. So if Acts 15 is the model, the question remains does the church retain this model or is the pope’s infallibility unrestricted?

The Magisterium: modern day Acts 15

Sacred scripture and sacred tradition

There are three tiers of church infallibility that makes up the Magisterium. The first is Sacred scripture and sacred tradition. These are not two separate teaching but rather a single teaching under two modes. It encompasses everything the apostle’s taught either by word of mouth or by writing. This makes sense when one considers sacred scripture to be a product of tradition. An example would be establishing the canon of scripture. Even the most staunch supporters of sola scripture have to admit that the bible does not establish its own canon, rather one must rely on outside theological experts. In fact, the Catholic church established the New Testament canon in 325AD during the council of Nicaea. No proclamation can contradict sacred scripture or tradition.

Extraordinary Magisterium

The second tier of infallibility is the extraordinary Magisterium. This consists of solemn definitions by the pope or ecumenical council ratified by the pope. The most recent example would be the council of Trent, which sought to clarify Catholic teachings in light of the Protestant Reformation. This tier seeks to clarify consistently held doctrine and elevated it to dogma. For a review of the difference between Dogma and doctrine see this.

Universal Magisterium

The last tier of infallibility is the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This includes the ordinary teaching of the Church, accomplished via papal pronouncements, statements of bishops, catechisms, homilies, etc. By ordinary and universal, it means that the decision must be in agreement in time and space. In other words, you must have the agreement of all bishops and this agreement must be consistent with all the bishops throughout history. This makes it extremely hard to create brand new doctrine from a papal pronouncement or Bishop’s statement.

When assessing the Magisterium, it is important to remember that this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it with regards to faith and morals.

 

The Church as the Pillar of Truth

So to answer the question, Can the church teach faith and morals wrongly? The answer would be no because to say yes would make Jesus a liar. To say yes would mean that Jesus’ promise to protect the church from the gates of hell remains unfulfilled. To say yes, would mean that that the Magisterium has taught something that was not handed down to it. Just like math principles are handed down and taught historically, the church has been entrusted with teaching faith and morals. This began with Peter and the Council of Jerusalem and continues with the Council of Trent. Just like Peter’s hypocrisy did not stop Paul from declaring the church as a pillar of truth, we shouldn’t let people’s hypocrisy keep us from believing the truth of the Church.

Why does God care

Birth Control: a Defense of the Church’s teachings

Most opposition to church infallibility comes from an unwillingness to accept the papal pronouncements. Many Catholics struggled to accept The Encyclical Humanae Vitae mainly the teachings against birth control. We must remember that church authority extends to moral proclamations consistent with scripture and tradition. Scripture teaches and tradition concurs that marriage is a union of ‘one flesh.’ Humanae vitae merely issued moral guidance on what it means to be ‘one flesh’ and concluded that artificial contraceptives hinder a couple’s ability to become ‘one flesh.’ To conclude that the pope reached this judgment in error is to show a lack of faith in the promise Jesus gave to the church, which was to protect it from error.

Objection: no Authority Over Private Life

One objection might be that the church has no authority over private life. After all, God only cares about whether I am a good person. This couldn’t be further from the truth. God loves us and cares about every aspect of our lives. Yes, God wants us to love others, but He also wants to obey his will. God for better or worse entrusted his apostles to carry out his will and build his church. This means that the church can extend on the word of God. Scripture was not created in a vacuum but was fostered and preserved by the traditions of the church. If we trust the church to define the canon of scripture, then we also have to trust that God is continuously guiding the church when it defines other moral truths.

Imagine for a moment that we are walking a dog. The dog sees a car and wants to chase it. However, the dog is constrained by a leash. We as rational being know that the leash is for the dog’s own good and wellbeing. However, to the dog, it keeps it from being free. In a similar way, the church’s moral judgments act as a leash. We, like the dog, may not understand why we are being constrained, but out of obedience and love for our master, we learn to obey.