Ecumenism: Why I attend Protestant praise and Worship concerts

blue and pink lights shine as people perform on stage. The word Jesus is in the background. The crowd has hands lifted up

# Introduction

What Is Ecumenism

Ecumenism promotes the idea that Jesus calls all Christian denominations to unity. Jesus speaks of this in John 17:20-21

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Vatican II stressed that a valid baptism makes our Protestants one in the Catholic faith. The question remains, what does that look like practically speaking? I have encountered fruitful ecumenical relationships by attending praise and worship events.

Bridge Live Worship Night

I was on the outreach team for New Creation Charismatic fraternity. We had decided to host a praise and worship concert. After reaching out numerous bands, we booked Bridge Live. Ryan Knight is the lead singer and worship pastor. I heard about the night of worship because Ryan and I had become Facebook friends. I decided to attend to support him since his band had supported us.
Unlike most Catholics, I have no problem attending protestant nights of worship. As a convert, I have experience with raising hands, dancing, praying over people, and speaking in tongues. None of those activities freak me out or make me uncomfortable. Thus it is easier for me to blend in and go with the flow

Radical Encounter or Emotionalism

A lot of potential ecumenicalism gets lost due to skepticism. Catholics are skeptical about the advert emotionalism on display at these events. St. Teresa of Avila once said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” God gave us emotions and joy is one of the fruits of the spirit. Thus I would rather believe the joy I receive from these events is authentic. I receive the same joy from adoration of the blessed sacrament.

When I attended the night of worship on July 22nd, I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. The pastor had prayed from an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to fall upon us. He prayed that we would bring renewal to our churches. Afterward, the band just played instrumental music while others continued to invite the Holy Spirit into their lives. Most Catholics never have such an encounter. A consequence of making confirmation into an educational program rather than a relationship. Most Catholic apologetics dismiss these encounters as illegitimate. We are better off helping fit such encounters into sacramental theology. Thus, I appreciate and support the efforts of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Being Unapologetically Catholic

I have learned that I must maintain my Catholic identity in order to not lose myself too deeply. When asked, I always insist that I am Catholic. This leads to some surprised looks. When the associate pastor introduced me to his wife and kids, he said, “this is Sarah and she’s Catholic.” The wife was instantly curious. She asked a lot of questions. She was curious about the Mass. She wanted to know how I could enjoy both when the Mass is so different. I explained that I was a convert so that I was used to this worship style. Rather I had to get used to the Mass, but there were other avenues in the Church for Charismatic expression. She asked me why I had converted. I shared my love for The Eucharist and how I believed it was the real body and blood of Christ.

Conclusion

Dialogue like the one above I believe is important for bridging the gap. I believe they respected me more because I participated in praising and worshiping Jesus. I prayed for them and with them and they also prayed for me. In the midst of supporting one another, we were able to discuss key differences. I’m aware that it does not always work out this way. I had a friend, who had attended a Protestant service. While there, a member had accused her of not being Christian or reading the Bible. Ignorance does exist. If they never see us or interact with us will it ever be corrected? We need more ecumenical worship events.

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.

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.