Sabbath vs Lords day: What is the Big Deal?

Introduction

People always seem surprised when I tell them that I have seldom missed Mass. In fact, the only time I missed Mass in recent memory occurred during a snowstorm. Some people I have encountered view church as optional. They tend to believe that you can call upon the Lord anywhere. The New Testament has certain scriptures that seem to abolish the Sabbath requirement. Yet The Catholic Church makes observing The Lord’s Day a requirement. The Church makes it a mortal sin to miss church without a grave reason. Why does The Church care so much about our presence in a building? After all, Jesus spoke against the Sabbath in Luke 14:1-6. Like all biblical interpretations, context is important. The Catholic Church’s teachings reconcile the Old Testament scripture with the words in The New Testament.

Old Testament

Genesis 2:3

The first reference to a mandatory day of rest occurs in Genesis. Here, God is creating the universe. Then, we read Genesis 2:3

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. Genesis 2:3 (NABre).

We as the readers learn key things about the Sabbath. God made it a day of rest. We believe God is all powerful. He did not need the rest. Rather God is choosing to rest. This choice gives an example to humanity. God knows we need the rest. We learn that the 7th day is blessed. Thus when we set aside the 7th day, God blesses us. Last, this verse tells us that God made the 7th day holy. Thus, we should keep our mind on holy things. Thus The Church has decided to make the 7th day a time of corporate worship. When we get to the New Testament this will be further expanded upon. From Genesis, we learn that the Sabbath is a concept that directly comes from God and not man-made laws.

Exodus

The next mention of the Sabbath occurs in the book of Exodus. In this book, God rescues the Israelites from spiritual and physical slavery in Egypt. Once the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, God gives them a code of laws. God designed these laws to help set the Israelites apart from other pagan nations. When dictating these laws, God said,

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day, he rested. Exodus 20:8-11(NABre).

So The Old Testament, The Book of Exodus marks the beginning of the Sabbath being encoded into the law. The Book of Leviticus, The Book of Numbers, and The Book of Deuteronomy all mention the Sabbath. In those books, the Sabbath is no longer a mere memorial for the creation of the world. Rather, The Sabbath commemorates God freeing the Israelites from Exodus. The Sabbath has become a form of corporate worship.

Call Upon the Lord

Yet some people point to verses like Psalm 145:18 as proof that one is not obligated to keep the Sabbath. Usually, people who make this argument focus on the first part of the verse, but ignore the second. Psalm 145: 18 says

the Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth

The interpretation depends on how one defines calling upon the Lord in truth. In my Bible, there are two scriptures cited after this passage: Deu 4:4-10, and Isa 55:6. Deuteronomy says,

See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinances as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

Thus to have the privilege of calling upon the Lord, the Israelites must abide by the laws and statues. Calling upon the Lord is not merely making a request, it is submitting to the will of God. His will in the Old Covenant was to set aside a day to rest and honor Him.
So In the Old Testament, God instituted the Sabbath in order to provide us with a day of rest. He codified it as part of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11. The Books of Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus provide information regarding the Sabbath practice. Obeying the Sabbath is necessary in order to call upon the Lord in truth.

New Testament

Yet we as Christians are not bound by only the Old Testament. We also follow the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. A thorough examination of the scriptures shows that Christ honored the Sabbath. Yet he also challenged the authority at the time. He presented himself as a living sacrifice. He replaced the temple sacrificial system. Yet Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law, but rather fulfilled it.

Jesus in the Gospel

We know that Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law based on Matthew 19:16-17.

”If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”(NABre).

Jesus told the rich young man to keep the commandments. Hence, we as Christians are also obligated to keep the moral law. This moral law includes a prescription to keep the Sabbath holy and to rest. If that is the case, did Jesus do or say anything to undermine this commandment.

Luke 14:1-6

On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him, there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question Luke 14:1-6 (NABre).

Here Jesus deliberately heals on the Sabbath. This at first glance seems to undermine the authority of the Sabbath. The reality is that Jesus is not saying to not rest or worship God. Rather, the Israelites needed to be reminded about mercy. The Pharisees had interpreted a law to allow the untying of bound animals on the Sabbath. Jesus is extending that compassion towards humans, who are bound by affliction.

Matthew 12

Jesus also spoke about the Sabbath in Matthew 12:5-8

Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees rebuke the disciples for picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath. In verse 5, Jesus mentions that the requirements of the temple outweighs the requirements of the Sabbath. If that is the case then Jesus’ presence outweighs the Sabbath as well since he is the son of God.

Jesus establishes a new covenant during the Last Supper. He gives us his flesh to eat in the form of bread and wine. This meal takes the place of the Passover meal. The Sabbath celebrated by the Jews commemorates God rescuing them from Egypt. The early Christian Church established The Lord’s day to celebrate The New Covenant.

Writings of the Early Church

St. Paul writes about the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16-17.

Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.

Here St. Paul says that the Jewish traditions were shadows of things to come. In other words, the Jewish traditions point to Christ. Christians do not need to celebrate the Sabbath but celebrate Christ. Yet the Sabbath rest is still a moral requirement. In Hebrews 4, the Bible says, “Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.”

The example of disobedience refers to the Israelites. They were given the promise land as a share of God’s rest but failed to honor the Sabbath.

In Hebrews 10:19-26, the Bible describes how Christ has replaced the Jewish temple worship.

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-26

This passage opens by explaining that we can enter the Holy of Holies. Jesus Christ made a way through his flesh. The term flesh represents His sacrificial death on the cross and His flesh given to us in the Eucharist. The terms sprinkled clean and bodies wash with pure water refers to Baptism. Finally, the author of Hebrews states that we should not stay away from our assembly. The assembly refers to Christian house churches. These assemblies are described in the Book of Acts.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart Acts 2:46 (NABre)

Since there were not physical buildings yet, the early Church met in houses. The term break bread refers to the Eucharist. The Bible even tells us what day of the week these celebrations took place

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight Acts 20:7 (NABre)

The early Christians broke bread on the first day of the week, which would be Sunday. Hence Sunday is now the new day of rest.

Conclusion

The Sabbath foreshadowed the celebration of The Last Supper. The former was a memorial to the Passover meal. It helped the Israelites remember how God rescued them from Egypt. Similarly, The Lord’s day memorializes Christ’s death on the cross. We break bread with one another as Christ commanded us to do. We are still bound by the moral command of the Old Covenant. This entails, “taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.” (CCC 2176). Therefore I ask you, what is more, important than honoring God through the breaking of the bread? If nothing is then why are you not observing the Lord’s day?

Three Ways to Restore Joy This Christmas

Introduction

I remember December as a kid. It felt like a time of peace, love, and joy. A time for watching holiday classics and eating cookies. The anticipation of gift giving filled me with joy. Now as an adult I know about all the work that made the magic happen. I know how hectic the holidays can be for people. I believe the west has lost sight of the true joy and wonder of the holidays. Let us restore joy by forgoing the commercialized Christmas.

3 ways to restore joy this Christmas

1. Embrace Advent

Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and in that remembering, we look forward to the second coming of Christ1. The proper attitude is anticipatory joy1. High liturgical churches emphasize advent. You don’t have to be a member to adopt this attitude. Traditionally a person will give up something. Instead, a person will do a spiritual reading and prayer. A lot of different Advent devotionals exist. I like and use Reedemed online.

Some people may object that waiting until December 25th takes away from the fun of the holiday. If we spend December fasting and doing good works while everyone else is partying then when we miss out. This leads me to my second point.

2. Embrace the 12 days of Christmas

We have all heard the silly song, The 12 Days of Christmas. What we think of as a silly song actually teaches truths about how we are to celebrate Christmas. Church tradition tells us that Christmas is not just one day, but a whole season. Over the years the numbering has gotten off, but the twelve days run from December 25th until January 6th. Some European children receive their gifts from the three wise men on Epiphany Sunday. Rather than enjoying all things Christmas for one day, you can enjoy it for twelve.

3. Nix Santa and embrace Saint Nick

I know this is controversial for some parents. They worry that their kid will be left out or spoil it for other kids. I grew up with Santa and don’t regret it. Santa is not bad. However, inventing a lie to capitalize on childlike wonder is not necessary when the original story is full of the miraculous. His first miracle was to heal a woman of a withered hand.

As Nicholas was growing up, he regularly went to study and learn with his teacher. One day as he was on his way he came upon a woman with a withered hand. Stopping, he approached her, laid his hand on her, prayed to God, and made the sign of the cross. The hand miraculously became whole. 2

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children. He models the values of love and generosity. In some cultures, St. Nicholas brings candy and sweets on December 6th, his feast day 2. We can honor St. Nicholas by baking cookies and sweets on his feast day. We can also give to the poor.

Conclusion

The holidays don’t have to be hectic. We can have wonder, peace, and joy. However, we must be intentional in how we celebrate. We must set aside time to pray, and love others. The commercialized world will tell you that you most do and buy everything. However, the reality is that we are to love those closest to us. By loving others, we restore joy to the holiday season.


  1. Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Calendar 
  2. From St. Nicholas Center, where there is more information about the saint, customs from around the world, stories and activities for children, recipes, crafts, and much more to help families, churches and schools learn about and celebrate St. Nicholas. Used by permission. 

3 ways to hear the voice of Jesus

Introduction

Last Sunday marked an end to the liturgical year for the church. This year was filled with sex scandals, confusion, and ambiguity. Yet the Church reminds us that Jesus Christ is king. He is the one in charge; not the corrupt bishops or priests. In our democratic republic, we tend to believe that we are free from tyranny. After all, the American people spoke out against taxation without representation. Thus, Americans tend to value individualism. This attitude conflicts with Jesus’ call to surrender and follow him.

Gospel of John

I want to turn our attention to last Sunday’s gospel reading. The Gospel was:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:33-37

Before Mass, I prayed over this gospel passage. “ Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” stuck out to me. I take this to mean that we cannot proclaim the truth of the kingdom until we’ve heard the voice of the King. So how do we hear Jesus’ voice? I suggest three ways.

  1. Pray in silence

Matthew Kelly calls silence God’s classroom. Only in silence can we prepare ourselves to hear the still small voice of God.

  1. Meditate on scripture

The Bible is considered to be the word of God. When we meditate and internalize it, we can then use passages to align our will with God’s will.

  1. Participate in the sacraments

Another way to hear Jesus’ voice is through the sacraments. Priests are in persona Christi or in the person of Christ. This means that when they are performing the sacraments they are representing Christ. Hence, an encounter in confession is not an encounter with the priest, but with Christ himself.

Conclusion

Jesus came to speak the truth in love. He calls us to do the same. Yet we cannot proclaim the truth until we hear the voice of Jesus. We cannot proclaim the truth unless we make Jesus king over everything. Americans may think that they escaped the tyranny of a constitutional monarchy. Yet we remain slaves to our individualistic pursuits of perfection. Only a divine king can help free us through mercy and love.

Protestant churches: Six Things I Miss

Introduction

As a convert, you bring with you an appreciation for your faith upbringing. You accept that the Catholic has the fullness of truth. You still recognize the good in other faith traditions and Christian denominations. I have bittersweet feelings about leaving Vineyard church. Most Catholics often treat my feelings with haughtiness. They usually tell me that I need to study more or pray more. I do wish Catholics had more of an open mind to the beauty of other Christian denominations. I admit that I miss certain things about the Protestant services. Yet I do not want these aspects present in Catholic liturgy. Here I describe six things I miss from Protestant worship service. Just a reminder, I was inspired by What I still hate about Catholcism.

1. Community groups

In most large Protestant churches, you have smaller groups of people that meet weekly. These groups went over what the pastor talked about on Sunday. Yet, the relationships were more important. This small group of women holds each other accountable. Catholic parishes are now starting to implement small groups. I lead a small group of Young Adults. However, it seems that the intentionality is not as present. In the Catholic world, small groups are one of the many ways one can get involved in parish life. I have never heard a priest emphasize it in a homily and I’ve only seen it mentioned briefly in a bulletin. Protestant churches devote whole Sundays to help plug people into small groups. It feels intentional and not an afterthought. Second, Catholic small groups always revolve around an agenda or program. Most Catholic adults experience small groups through the Alpha or Discovering Christ program. These programs offer a good introduction to the gospel message. However, small groups serve a different purpose. One enters into a small group to waste time with each other, to pray and support one another. In Catholic circles, once the program or Bible study ends, the group ends. If we want to build community, we need to see beyond programs and see relationships.

2. Hospitality

Lizzieanswers touched on this a lot in her video. A lot of Catholics don’t want to admit a lack of hospitality in today’s parishes. I think it stems from a genuine fear that Mass will become nothing more than a social club. They see the feel-good services of Protestant megachurches and want nothing to do with that mentality. However, as a newcomer and convert, one can experience a sense of isolation or lack of caring. Especially if one does not have time to get involved. I never felt like an outsider. I always volunteered in youth ministry or adult ministry in some capacity. Through volunteering, I got to know other people in the parish. Most people my age do not have this type of patience. In the world of instant streaming, they want to be connected and feel welcomed. I think the Catholic Church could do more in this area.

3. Intentionality

When something is an obligation it ceases to be intentional. Most Protestants do not see the church as an obligation. In fact, for them, the church is an invisible institution. Thus for them, a gathering of three or more people is the church. Catholics think differently. The church is a hospital for the sick. It is necessary in order to get well. Thus, a lot of Catholics go to church because they need to and not because they want to. Hence, you have lukewarm Catholics not caring for the liturgy. The come late, leave early, and etcetera. I have heard the churches, who celebrate The Latin Mass, have less of a problem with this. People mistakenly credit the liturgical form for this. Rather it may be that the Latin mass attracts a more intentional type of Catholic. I am not sure how to fix this problem except by helping people fall in love with the Mass. Ironically, if a parish offered such a program, it would

4. Energetic

I am on the fence about this one. Some mornings I love the fact that the Mass is meditative and peaceful. I find that I can pray easier in a Mass setting. Yet on certain occasions when the homily is dry, I find myself wishing the service was more lively. When I attend Protestant services I know I’m going to leave energetic and inspired. When I attend Mass, I know that I’m going to leave with a sense of peace and intimacy with God. I do not think that one is better than the other. I do not want the Mass to become more energetic. Rather, I want opportunities to have those experiences in a Catholic context. Sadly I have only experienced the same energy during Catholic retreats and conferences. I have never seen anything offered on the parish level.

5. Music

I am not sure when or why it happened, but the Catholic Church no longer has a reputation for good music. I feel like most Catholic hymnals are filled with bland, boring, and safe songs. After the explosion of new music in the 60s and 70s, there hasn’t been anything new from Catholic composers. Parishes stopped valuing music. Meanwhile, groups such as Hillsong, Bethel, and Elevation produce music that influences millions. I believe the Catholic Church needs to start valuing the arts again. We need to produce good quality music. We need to produce both contemporary pieces of music and return to supporting chant. For me personally, I don’t need a hymn book for Mass anymore because the parish choir recycles the same hymns.

6. Bible Appreciation

A lot of Catholics don’t know the Bible, as well as, Protestants do. One reason has to do with catechesis in the Catholic Church. Most young Catholics learn bible stories that we hear on Sunday. They learn what the Catholic Church teaches. They fall to learn the biblical bases for Catholic teaching. Rather than learning from the Bible itself, they learn from a textbook. I am trying to change that. I requested and got permission to use bibles in my CCD classroom. Every lesson has a scripture associated with it. We talk about said scripture and how it relates to the lesson. Then they are given an opportunity to memorize it. Second, Catholics through history have not needed to defend themselves. They didn’t need to have an answer memorized because everyone believed the same thing.

Conclusion

When I express my feelings, Catholics accuse me of not loving the Catholic Church. They are mistaken. I deeply love the Catholic Church and I understand why she does what she does. I would rather have a meditative peaceful service than an energetic worship concert every Sunday. I do recognize that certain people need community and find these things attractive. As I grow, I long for more silence, contemplation, and beautiful chant. Yet I still look back in fondness for what brought me to Christ in the first place. If Catholics desire unity, then we must be open to learning from and appreciating the other.

Miracles: do they exist anymore?

Do Miracles actually happen?

Introduction

The book of Acts describes the early church. During this time many miracles occurred. One example occurs in Acts 3:7-11. In this chapter, Peter heals a beggar sitting at the temple gate. Yet in today’s society Miracles like the ones in Acts are rare. Likewise, people treat miracles with skepticism. On the other hand, you have evangelicals, who make miracles a priority. Given these two choices, How should one view miracles?

My Testimony

I too have a difficult time with healing and miracles. As a disabled person, who has yet to receive God’s gift of healing, I find the miracle stories hard to believe. I also have had spiritual harm done to me by well-intended Evangelicals. While out shopping, some religious person stopped me and told me that if I believed in Jesus Christ, I’d be healed. When belief is a prerequisite for healing, then a lack of healing must mean a lack of belief. Thus, when I am confronted with healing, I feel a sense of unworthiness. My experience highlights one viewpoint on healing called Name it and claims it. The Catholic Church denies this viewpoint. Instead, The Catholic Church offers the notion of redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is a very well rationed theology. However, it can become a crutch.

Name it Claim it

The name claims it theology is related to the prosperity gospel and word of faith. The idea is that if we say certain words or perform certain actions then God will bless us. While all of God’s promises are true, his ways are also higher than ours. We cannot fathom the mind of God. Persons who claim that we can somehow manipulate or control God by the words we say or the amount of faith we have. This seems arrogant. God is not a vending machine. One positive contribution is that it teaches people to expect the miraculous.

Redemptive Suffering

The Catholic Church is not ashamed of suffering. Most icons depict suffering. In our sanctuary hangs a crucifix of Jesus. Outsiders would claim that Catholics are obsessed with suffering. Unlike evangelical Protestants, Catholics pinpoint the moment of salvation at the cross. Christ suffered to save the world. We can take part in this salvific act by uniting our suffering to Christ. St Paul testifies to this in Colossians 1:24

”Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church”

Of course, nothing is truly lacking in Christ, but God chooses to honor our sacrifice because he loves us. However, if this is true, how do miracles fit in?

It’s important to distinguish redemptive suffering from the gift of healing. The former is a vocation and the latter is a gift from God. When we choose to offer up our suffering as a sacrifice, we are choosing a way of life. We are working the salvation of others. God bestows healing upon us as a free gift. Yes, we can pray for healing, but whether it comes is not up to us.

Finding Balance

Individual Catholics and Christians need to find balance when it comes to healing. God does not bend to the whims of men. God chooses at his discretion who receives healing. When healing does not come, a person’s faith is not the direct cause. Furthermore, we cannot use redemptive suffering as a crutch. The notion of redemptive suffering was not designed to quench the Holy Spirit. Thus even if we feel that our vocation is to offer up our suffering, we should still pray for healing. The world is full of negativity. The church needs a renewal. As a part of this renewal, The church needs to reclaim miracles in order to be hope for the hopeless. 

Catholic church’s promotion problem

177 project

Project spotlight: 177 project

Last Friday, I attended Eucharistic adoration at St. Nicholas church. This event intrigued me. It included performances by Tom Young and Taylor Trippoli. Who are they, you might ask? They are Catholic Contemporary Music artists. I’ve written about the existence of such artists and their struggles before. I criticize Contemporary Christian music (CCM) for failing to have an authentic expression. Rather, the industry seems to push commercialized generic music produced by mega churches. Catholic artist tends to write lyrics that feel more authentic, and real. However, their minority status causes Catholic artist to have difficulty with exposure. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about an event featuring Catholic artists. Yet, I was disappointed with the level of promotion.

How I heard about the event

I heard about the event through social media. When I studied at Yale, I joined a Catholic Young Adult group. Even though I am now back in Virginia Beach, I never unfollowed the group. Therefore, I will occasionally get updates about events. A post about the 177 project caught my eye. I saw that they were traveling to other dioceses. I visited the website and saw that they were coming to St Nicholas Catholic Church. This surprised me because I had not heard it mentioned. I found no event info on the Richmond diocese website nor the parish’s website. The Catholic Church claims to be universal, yet it has a myopic view on promotion. Rather than coming together, parishes would rather promote their events. The vision of the 177 project encompasses the New Evangelization and deserves the promotion.

the 177 project’s vision

The 177 project is an initiative from Adoration Artist designed to help spark a renewal in parishes across the country. They seek to bring renewal through hosting nights of worship. These nights include Prayer of the rosary, confession, Eucharistic adoration, and music. The artists belong to an organization call Adoration Artist. This organization seeks to invest into Catholic artist. They invest by providing them with resources and exposure. In the hopes that they can turn their gifts into a career. As Tom Young said, “it’s nice to be able to command my music talents with my faith as I usually have to write commercial jingles to get by.” All artist struggle with exposure, but Catholic artist most of all due to lack of parish support. I think the lack of support needs to change. The church should promote because music unites everyone. Also, it creates a community event, where Catholics get to hear music that reflects their values.

Music Unites Everyone and is Ecumenical

Vatican II recognizes the Holy Spirit working in other Christian denominations. Believers baptized in the trinitarian format are incorporated into the unity of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church works with other Christian denominations to come together in unity. Music helps facilitate this goal because music has universal appeal. Both Protestants and Catholics enjoy spiritual songs.

Creates an Event to Invite Others

Catholic parish life is commonly devoid of outreach activities. I read a tweet once that said, “can we decide whether the Mass is welcoming or not. If not, can we have community events.” A major liturgical divide among Catholics centers on the question, should the Mass be accessible to outsiders? If you answer yes then you change the liturgy to be appealing to outsiders. This is the main argument in the book, Rebuilt by Father White. However, if the Mass is for baptized Catholics then when and where do we invite our non-Catholic friends. A Night of worship with adoration makes the Catholic faith accessible to the outsider.

Catholics Get to Hear Music that Reflects Their Values

So much of Christian music is written by Protestant artists. They may share our faith in Christ. Yet they often don’t acknowledge or understand sacramental theology or Marian devotion. Therefore, whenever possible Catholics should support the artist that uphold these values. Unfortunately, Catholics only know hymns and not contemporary music.

Conclusion

In short, I think the 177 project and Adoration artist offer good contributions to the Church. I hope Catholics will come together and worship regardless of parish affiliation.

Why Praise and Worship is Important to Catholics

Left side is man raising hands praising and right side is a church choir practicing

Introduction

Catholics tend to criticize praise and worship music. I’ve heard it described as sappy emotionalism that has no place in worship. Catholic rightfully criticize its presence in Mass. Yet, praise and worship may have a legitimate place in Catholic spirituality. St. Paul speaks of spiritual songs in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

According to this verse, we are to keep the words of Christ in us. St. Paul offers two ways of doing so by teaching and admonishing each other and through singing. According to Paul, we are to sing: 1. Psalms, 2. Hymns, and 3. Spiritual songs. Most Catholics are familiar with singing Psalms and hymns because it happens at Mass. Yet, I’m sure the concept of spiritual songs would confuse most Catholics. I argue that hymns are distinct from Spiritual songs. I also argue that one needs both in order to “let the word of God dwell in us.” Praise and worship songs fall under the category of spiritual songs. I will use both spiritual songs and praise and worship interchangeably. First, I need to explain the difference between Hymns and Spiritual songs.

What are hymns

Hymns are a piece of music that the church uses to give glory to God. In a Catholic context, a piece of music qualifies as a hymn when it also qualifies as Sacred Music. A hymn qualifies when it is: 1. Holy, 2. Has beauty of form and 3. Is universal.1 Traditionally the church only allowed for Gregorian chant and Polyphony. Since Vatican II, the church has allowed newer composition. Newer compositions do not automatically include modern songs. To understand why we need to understand the philosophy behind beauty of forms.

The criteria that allow Forms to be Beautiful 2

The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas helps define these criteria. If you hate philosophy, you may want to skip this section as the concept can get pretty confusing. Aquinas stated that a person conceptualizes beauty. A person bases beauty on actuality, proportion, radiance, and integrity.

Actuality

Aquinas argues that everything is beautiful in proportion to its own form. Every object that exists has a form. A form helps distinguish different objects. For example, the body of a human takes a different shape than the body of a dog. When a human possesses all the correct body parts, that is beautiful according to form. The object must have action. In other words, the object must be doing a thing that makes it different from other objects. A dog must be acting like a dog. A human must be acting like a human. So to summarize, actuality requires existence, a form, and action. All this is necessary for anything to have beauty.

Proportion

This pertains to the idea that all the parts relate to the whole in a balanced way. Going back to our human example again. We can imagine a human with all the typical body parts, but those parts are out of proportion. For example, if one arm is longer than the body, then it would be impractical and not beautiful.

Radiance

Radiance refers to the shine that comes from the object and seizes the attention of the beholder. Music has radiance when it captures the attention of the listener.

Integrity

An object has integrity in two ways. The object must be perfect concerning it’s being. Likewise, the object must be perfect in operation. In other words, the object is not missing anything.

Hymns conclusion

So, Aquinas laid the groundwork to argue for an objective nature of beauty. So the church states reference the above criteria to determine beauty of form. If an object has beauty of form then it will have universality. Holiness refers to the purpose of the music, which is to give glory to God alone. So a perfect hymn must honor God, be beautiful to everyone. At the very least it must honor God and be in harmony like choir music.

Are praise and worship considered spiritual songs

These are songs inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are spontaneous and have no proportionality. They incorporate multiple instruments. Modern praise and worship music incorporates all of these characteristics. One such example would be Bethel, who will often sing spontaneously. They also create a mashup of two different songs. Catholic artist also performs this style of music. One artist that comes to mind is Emmanuel worship. Some people will mention that praise and worship are repetitive and emotional. This serves the purpose of spiritual songs. Spiritual songs help us reflect on God and his relationship with us. Hymns on the other hand help give God honor and praise. Thus spiritual songs are more meditative. Repeating over and over that God is a good father may sound simplistic, but it helps internalize the truth.

Conclusion

My frustration as of late stems from Catholics wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Some want traditional chants and to look down on praise and worship. Others want the mass to incorporate praise and worship. The songs may not be appropriate to function as a hymn. The former while correct denies the power of praise and worship. The latter waters down the Mass. I would like to see a balance. I would like to see beautiful harmonized music during Mass. The church can also have monthly spontaneous worship events. Yes, I can listen to praise and worship in my own time. Yet, there is something exuberant about worshiping spontaneously with the body of Christ.

Problems with Youth ministry part two

In my last post, I highlighted 4 aspects of healthy youth ministry. These were relational, proclaiming the gospel, discipleship building, and missional. I mentioned how programs such as lifeteen can incorporate all 4 aspects, most fail to do so. I think the ultimate reason is that most youth ministers become so because they want to interact with youth. While youth ministers do work with youth, the job is multi-faceted in that you are also an administrator, event planner, graphic designer, web designer, social media manager, volunteer coordinator, and whatever else your ministry needs. Because there are so many jobs to do, a youth ministry’s success is determined by the number of volunteers. Having worked with youth ministers in the past, I feel more effort needs to be spent on volunteer recruitment.
Christopher Wesley,  the founder of Marathon Youth Ministry Inc, echos this sentiment in his blog post, Let’s Play The Numbers Game: What You Should Be Measuring And What It All MeansHe says, “there is nothing wrong with wanting to reach a large number of teens, but to sustain those large numbers, you need volunteers. Once again, Lifeteen’s advice is very insightful regardless of what program you are running. They recommend having at least 2-3 volunteers per event. A semester of youth ministry typically has 8 events. Hence if volunteers serve on rotating bases then you are looking at 24 person team. Not to mention that there are other teams that need volunteers such as

  1. environmental team- a group of people responsible for decorating the room to fit the theme of the night and setting up equipment.
  2. hospitality team- a group of people, who check kids into youth night, greet them and provide snacks

Most of the teams I’ve served on consisted of only 4 people and our role was to facilitate small group discussion. The environmental aspects were neglected and the youth minister planned the activity and messages. I do believe that even a small team of 4 people could work; however, I think coordination and communication are needed. I think having weekly team meeting is important in that it gives volunteers an insight into the planning process and helps them contribute. I find it hard to lead a small group discussion when the questions are given to me the night off and sometimes right before the discussion is to take place. More importantly, I think regular volunteer meetings help with volunteer retention in that it helps volunteers to feel a part of something. I did have a youth minister, who did have regular meetings, these were not disclosed upfront and I had made other commitments. An active young adult ministry helps procure volunteers. Christ the King parish in Atlanta, Georgia is an example of a well-run youth ministry, where most of the volunteers come from the active young adult ministry. Sadly though, most youth ministers neglect young adults because they are busy with serving high school and sometimes middle school youth.
However, even if a youth minister is the best volunteer recruiter ever, there may be financial setbacks due to lack of support. Youth ministers are underpaid. I once assisted a youth minister, who was only paid part-time. The lack of a living wage means that there is a heavy turnaround. Even If the job does pay full time, there may be a distinct lack of resources. These can be seen in the Teen hangout space. Ideally, the youth room offers a place, where youth can hang out and want to hang out. The room should include minimalistic furniture and tables, speakers, microphones, and projector. However, these things are expensive. At my current parish, there have been budget cuts and the youth meet anywhere and everywhere that’s open. In addition, programs for youth catechist are not cheap. To run lifeteen for High schoolers and middle schoolers, it cost $1,395. While not enormous for what you get, it still may be too pricey for smaller parishes

There are excellent programs to help develop teenagers into disciples especially Journey to Emmaus and lifeteen. However, programs will only be as deep as the effort that you put into them. If you are forced to cut corners financially or you are short staffed due to lack of volunteers; the effort will be missing and you will not have the manpower or stamina to tackle all 4 aspects of youth ministry. Parishes can help by providing financial incentives or moderate budgets. Parishioners can help by volunteering their time and talent. Youth ministry is not an easy job and it encompasses much more than hanging out with youth.

The problem with Youth ministry

Having served under two youth ministers and as a middle school catechist, I have observed that youth ministry in the Catholic Chuch varies widely. Youth ministry suffers for three reasons: 1. over-reliance on outdated methods and 2. failure to focus on all aspects of ministry.

 Over-reliance on outdated methods

I find that in certain parishes; there still is a tendency to rely on old-school CCD methods of catechism. This is especially true of middle school age youth. Textbook catchism is problematic. First, it doesn’t help people fall in love with Jesus. Second, it creates students of religion rather than disciples. Disciples are people, who follow the example of a teacher. When Jesus formed the 12 disciples, he did not demand they learn about his life, but rather he invited them into a relationship. Third, it encourages memorization rather than practically doing. For my 7th-grade catechism class, the textbook had self-assessments and vocab words. For me personally, I’d rather my students know and be encouraged to pray than know the proper definition of the magisterium. Fourth, youth spend so much time in the classroom already that they don’t want to spend time in another. Fifth, youth especially males have so much energy; and I found it is easier to have them focus on an activity. Lastly, there is a disconnect between what is being learned and what is relevant to them and what is relevant in the Mass. In my 7th grade class, one kid had a peer, who had committed suicide; another kid whose parents were not religious, and a group of kids, who were debating whether to protest school shootings. My textbook was woefully tone-deaf. Also, it is disconnected from what they experience at Mass.

Failure to focus on all aspects of ministry

Edmund Mitchell, in his blog post, AN EVANGELISTIC MODEL FOR YOUTH MINISTRY, describes 4 aspects of youth ministry.  These 4 aspects include relational, KERYGMA, discipleship, and mission. Let’s unpack each one. Relational has to do with meeting kids where they are at and inviting them to form a trusting relationship with you. These may entail going to sporting events, high schools, and anything else the teen was involved in. The second is KERYGMA or proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ; this might be achieved at a life night. The third is discipleship, which describes the desired response such as growing deeper in prayer or attending a bible study. Lastly, mission entails equipping the individual to go out and spread the good news.
Most parishes in Hampton roads run a ministry known as Lifeteen. Lifeteen is a company that creates catechetical lesson plans to be used by a youth minister and a team of volunteers to help create a series of talks called life nights. These life nights form the basic catechetical component. Sadly for reasons I will get into in my next post, most parishes do not run it properly. Life nights by themselves are not meant to incorporate all 4 aspects of youth ministry; however, if you use all the resources Lifeteen can incorporate most. Here’s what a subscription includes:

  1. Life nights Designed to evangelize and catechize the youth; these nights have a theme that centers around what teens need to know
  2. Summit discipleship resource-Weekly bible study resource around the Sunday readings
  3. Unleashed Missionary Disciple resource- Takes teenagers deeper into aspects of faith and prepares them for leadership

Now I am not here to sell lifeteen nor do I think it is completely necessary, but I do think that a well-run youth ministry needs to encompass all 4 aspects. In my next blog post, I will talk about how a lack of volunteers, a lack of financial support, and a lack of engagement with the wider parish hinders the lifeteen model.

What is branding? Why is it important

This weekend I attended a worship, tech, and creative conference put on by The Church Collective. I attended workshops on video production, branding, and creative arts. These workshops were extremely helpful especially the branding one. I attended because I currently assist a Catholic Charismatic ministry in communications and outreach marketing. It seems like so many Catholic parishes and organizations don’t understand branding.
The real reason has to do with the difference between a parish and a church. According to the Catholic encyclopedia, a parish is created when a priest is given authority over a certain body of faithful, which is determined by geographical location. Hence, if a parish assumes to have authority over you by virtue of where you live then there is no incentive to market itself to the community. In light of travel and the consumer mindset of modern society, I don’t think the local parish can continue to assume that local Catholics will flock to local parishes. Now a common objection is that if people are traveling to other parishes because the ‘experience” is better, then they just don’t understand the point of Mass, which is not to be entertained but to receive Jesus in the sacraments. While I want to address this concern later, I will say that it is not an either, or choice. We can desire to want to have a definite identity that makes us feel like we belong and still acknowledges that the church is bigger than our one parish In other words, I think most Catholics leave, not because protestant services are more entertaining or because they don’t understand the Eucharist, but because it’s easier to feel like you belong.
On the other hand, Protestant churches do not receive authority based on geographic location. Anyone can start a protestant church simply because they feel called by God. We’ve seen streets with churches lined up back to back. This lack of authority over a group of people means that they must work to win your loyalty. Because they are working to win your loyalty, they pride themselves on offering an excellent experience. Not only that, but they must define who they are and what separates them from other organizations. The speaker on branding, Ethel Delacruz said something insightful; if we are not a good fit, we want to plug you into a church that is. This way of thinking is completely different than Catholic parish level, which typically tries to reach everyone.
As a Catholic convert, I hate how some Catholics will dismiss effective protestant practices under the guise that it is all done for the sake of entertainment. We don’t need to market ourselves or make people feel like they belong because the truth of the Catholic Church should be enough. I maintain that these people have never spent a large amount of time in a well-run protestant church. The difference between the Catholic parish experience is night and day. It is nice to be part of a well-oiled machine that knows what its job is then to be part of a church with 1,000 different non-connected ministries. When I was Protestant, I never had to lead anything; I was encouraged to and it was easy to do so. Attend a class and you can lead a small group. Need something designed; no problem submit it to the creative arts team that way you can focus on the relational aspect of your small group ministry. I feel bad for Catholic parish secretaries, who must design the bulletin announcements, maintain the website, maintain calendar, social media (if such exists), and answer the phone. Some parishes try to get around this by funneling everything into the parish council. However, if you’re trying to start something new, then you must not only get permission from the ministry head but then they’re responsible for everything. For example, my parish had 75 different ministries, and each ministry had a ministry head. The ministry head was responsible for all digital communications in addition to the duties of that ministries. This means that if I wanted something done for the Young adults, instead of doing it myself after it got approved, I would have to wait and hope that the youth minister would remember to do it.
A brand and mission statement can help because it helps to trim the fat so to speak. If our mission is to equip people to evangelize than we might put more emphasis on formation opportunities and less on knitting blankets (yes, my parish has a knitting ministry). Fr. James Mallon has a great example of how he tried to eliminate bridge playing ministry in order to make room for Alpha/discovering Christ courses. It helps all the ministries work together. If the parish’s mission is to equip others to evangelize, then all ministries work towards that mission. A brand embodies the story the particular church wants to tell.
Coincidentally, a person I follow twitted this:
https://twitter.com/schrenk/status/1005830212196687872?s=20
It is a fair point. If Catholic Church is universal then parishes should not have distinctive identities, but rather be uniformly Catholic. So what is the overarching mission of the Catholic Church and why in my opinion is it no longer adequate for parish activity.
Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christianfaithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.
In order to understand why this is not sufficient, we must understand what a mission statement is. A mission statement describes the relevant and time bound goals of a parish. A parish, whose mission statement is something like: “A place where the Word of God is proclaimed, social justice is promoted, the youth are formed, and the gospel is sent out might be true; but it doesn’t tell me the practical goals that particular parish has. All parishes have to proclaim truth, but how does your parish do it. Maybe it’s through bible study, maybe it’s through studying the themes of the homily, maybe it’s through offering a particular program. Similarly social justice is a huge issue (one, where a lot of parishes break down in doing so much), and needs to be focused into issues for your location. Maybe there’s a high crime rate and prison ministry is better; however, maybe your parish is by an abortion clinic so pro-life is more important. The point is pretty clear, location effects the methods used to fulfill the mission of the church and we must tailor to the needs of the community while not forsaking the overall mission of all Catholic parishes.