Liturgical abuses, Catholic identity,and Catholic culture

When we talk about changes Catholic parishes can take to become more welcoming, automatically people become defensive. There are two reasons for this defensive posture. The first reason has to do with culture in that this is the way we’ve always done it and there is no problem with the way we are doing it. These people do not see the church as a way to foster a relationship with Jesus; instead being Catholic is something you do just to do it and it is ritualistic. The second reason is the fear that if we change and implement strategies from other churches and other denominations, we lose what makes us Catholic. The second reason is a legitimate concern. The Catholic identity is very important and must be protected. The problem becomes when we confuse our Catholic identity with our Catholic culture. It is this confusion that can lead to liturgical abuses.

What is Catholic identity?

There are certain characteristics that I believe define a Catholic church and separate it in a good way.

  1. The Eucharist
  2. unity
  3. beauty

The Eucharist

The Catholic church teaches that the Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of our faith. We believe that it is Jesus’ body and blood made manifest in bread and wine. It re-presents  for us Jesus’ death on the cross. This miraculous event takes place during every Mass. This is the distinguishing feature of Catholic worship. In order to have a valid consecration you must have:

  1. Bread and wine in which a little water mixed
  2. the bread must be only wheat and recently made
  3. The communion may be received under  both species or only one
  4. both matter must be present
  5. sacred vestments must be worn
  6. must be celebrated on an altar
  7. must be celebrated by a Validly Ordained Male Priest
  8. The priest must have the intent to make Jesus physically present
  9. the words, “this is my body, this is my blood” must be said.
  10. Must use the Eucharistic prayer listed in the Roman missal
  11. The priest must wash his hands in water after offering the bread and wine, but before the eucharist prayer

We, as Catholics should recognize the importance of having a valid consecration. Thus any changes suggested can’t effect any of these requirements.

Unity

The definition of  the word Catholic means unity. Thus the sacrifice of the Mass should be celebrated in a uniform way in so far as it  follows the liturgical guidelines found in Cannon law and in The General Instructions of The Roman Missal. A violation of these requirements does not make the consecration invalid if the above is followed, but it does make the sacrifice of the Mass and the liturgical celebration illicit. So a typical Sunday service at any Catholic parish, you have the liturgical celebration, which includes the introductory rite, liturgy of the word. and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Each of these different stages have different elements and each element has different requirements.
The structure is as followed:

  • introductory rite
    • the entrance
    • the greeting
    • the penitential act
    • the kyrie
    • the glory to God in the highest
    • the collect
  • The liturgy of the word
    • Silence
    • the biblical readings
    • the Responsorial psalm
    • The Acclamation before the gospel
    • the homily
    • the profession of faith
    • the universal prayer
  • the liturgy of the Eucharist
    • the preparation of the gifts
    • the eucharistic prayer
    • the lord’s prayer
    • the rite of peace
    • Communion
    • the concluding rite

 
Rather than going through the requirement of each part, I will just say a few words about a few observations that I have made by visiting various parishes. I invite my readers to read the The General Instructions of The Roman Missal ( GRIM) themselves for more details.
I think a priest does the congregation a disservice if any parts are omitted or changed. For example, I believe that it is wrong to omit a part of the introductory rite in order to make room for something else. I have attended parishes that did not sing/recite an entrance chant in order to spend more time welcoming new people. The only aspects of the introductory rite that can be omitted are, the Gloria and that is only during Advent and Lent, and the Kyrie, which can only be omitted if it is incorporated into the penitential rite. Likewise I believe a priest does a disservice if he ad-libs the collect prayer or the greeting after the entrance song. Lastly as far as introductory rites go, I would like to see more reliance on using the antiphons in the missal for the entrance songs rather than automatically replacing them with another liturgical chant. There is nothing in the GRIM that says the antiphons chosen by the church can’t be played in a more modern setting.
The liturgy of the word offers another way to emphasize unity. In the Catholic church, the biblical reading come from a lectionary, which is a book of scripture assign for each day. According to the GRIM, the Homily should be “an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.” It should never be given by a lay person and it should never be omitted. All of these guidelines are designed to ensure that not only is every Catholic hearing the same readings, but that every Catholic receives a similar message. Sadly I have seen priest forsake their sacred duty by allowing a lay person to give a homily or even worse I have seen priest use their homily time to talk about unrelated scripture. Priests and churches who allow this to happen may indeed be successful at captivating an audience, but I have to question whether they really are Catholic. Do you really intend to submit to the authority of the church if you chose to deviate from the readings she has deemed appropriate? If you are  not submitting to the church’s authority in this regard, what is stopping you from not submitting to her on other issues? They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. For example, I have seen a Catholic church use the homily time to do a sort of FAQ about the Catholic faith. This is a great idea, but not to be done during Mass; because, as a Catholic parishioner I am entitled to have the treasures of the bible opened up to me and for a homily to expound on the scripture read.
During the liturgy of the Eucharist, unity can be hindered for two reasons: 1. regional gestures are added into certain parts of the Mass, or 2. the prescribed gestures are not done by the faithful. The most common violation of number 1. is hand holding during the Our Father. Rather than enter into that messy debate, I will give you readers a link to an interesting EWTN article: https://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zlitur10.htm  .  The second one is violated most when it comes to kneeling during consecration. The GRIM says,

In the Dioceses of the United States of America, they should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by ill health, or for reasons of lack of space, of the large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause. However, those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the Priest genuflects after the Consecration. The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) unless the Diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.

 

Beauty

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and thus it is difficult to talk about beauty and unity in the same breath. What appears beautiful to one person may not appeal to another person. I do believe that the Catholic church does have its identity firmly placed in fostering the development of religious artwork; whether it be stain glass, paintings, flowers, or statues. The GRIM says the following about beauty:

the Church constantly seeks the noble assistance of the arts and admits the artistic expressions of all peoples and regions.[108] In fact, just as she is intent on preserving the works of art and the artistic treasures handed down from past centuries[109] and, in so far as necessary, on adapting them to new needs, so also she strives to promote new works of art that are in harmony with the character of each successive age.[110]

On account of this, in appointing artists and choosing works of art to be admitted into a church, what should be looked for is that true excellence in art which nourishes faith and devotion and accords authentically with both the meaning and the purpose for which it is intended.[111]

I would feel very strange if I were to attend a Catholic church with no artwork or statues. However, I echo the sentiment of the GRIM that such artwork should be simple. I have felt the distracting effect of sitting next to a large statue of Mary during Mass.  Too often we have stripped out sanctuaries bare in an attempt to be more protestant, when the reality is that we should be fostering the next generation of Catholics to develop beautiful faith art. Authentic beauty speaks to the soul and helps it transcend.
Just like the song says that we will know they are Christians by their love, we will know they are Catholic if they love the Eucharist, promote unity, and seek out beauty. I believe a welcoming parish need not sacrifice these values.
 

How to build a more welcoming Catholic Church?

When attempting to speak about developing a more welcoming Catholic church, the phrase, “opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one,” comes to mind. There are plenty of books and articles written about how the Catholic church needs to change. Some Catholics argue that a return to pre-vatican II is in order and that if we could reestablish our traditional Catholic culture, we could win back those lost by the changes in the liturgy. Others suggest that we should adopt protestant evangelical style methods of winning the lost. Some take a middle ground and suggest that a greater focus needs to be on establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Others don’t see the need to change.
A brief look at Pew statistics shows the unhealthy state of the Catholic Church. The 2014 Religious Landscape Study asked 35,000 Americans about their religious affiliation. 21% identified their current religion as Catholic. Of those 21%, 39% go to Mass weekly while 16% never attend Mass. Out of those 21%, 9% belong to a faith other than Catholicism, but are Catholic by virtue of culture, ancestry, ethnicity, or family tradition. Another 9% consider themselves ex-Catholics. More startling is that among all United States adults, who were raised Catholic, nearly 52% have left the church and only 11% returned to the Catholic church. 89% of ex-catholics stated that they cannot imagine ever returning to the Catholic church.
Clearly there is a mass exodus of people leaving the Catholic church. I believe that the number 1 problem has to do with a disconnect between a personal relationship with Jesus and the teachings of the Catholic church. 68% of Catholics say that having a personal relationship with Jesus is important to their Catholic identity; but 76% of Catholics say that the church should allow birth control. This example shows me that Catholics do not see the relationship between the church’s teachings and their relationship with Jesus.
Having diagnosed the problem, I believe that a strategy to win back the cultural Catholic, ex-Catholics, and to stop the mass exodus has to do with marketing the Catholic church in a way that demonstrates that the teaching of the Catholic church do indeed foster a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This entails several interrelating topics: use of technology, the emphasis on tithing, the fostering of community, enhancing the Mass experience. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be touching on each one of these topics and showing how small changes can improve the attractiveness of the  Catholic church and in turn make intentional disciples.

Feeling paralyzed

Dear readers,
I am paralyzed. I have a ton of ideas swimming around in my head and I don’t know where to turn or what to do. It’s like I’ve been given the destination without the map. May be though I have the map, but I don’t like where it is taking me. I want t go on the highway, instead of the back country roads. On the highway, you feel safe, secure, surround by others, and you can fly. Highways don’t offer much in terms of scenery. It doesn’t offer a sense of culture; instead it caters to the masses. God is challenging me, especially this week to take the back country roads. To dare to take a different path. To dare to follow Him into the unknown. In fact, I believe this challenge isn’t just for me, but for everybody.
Matthew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
So God is challenging me to examine myself to determine, whether my desires are leading my down the highway or the narrow path. So many times, I’ll think of ways the Catholic church can improve by doing things the way the world does them. While there may be legitimate concerns that I have with the Church’s tradition with  a little t; I have to stop myself and ask, does the practice of The Catholic church put us on the narrow road? I am wrestling with this because I want the Catholic church to be on the highway. I try to rationalize it by saying we can attract more people on the highway. If the church embraces the latest trends then surely it will look more attractive and inviting.
The reality is though that I think deep down inside, I want the Catholic church to be more attractive and inviting, because then it’ll be more comfortable to me the consumer. I truly never learned to die to self. Last Wednesday’s gospel reminds us that we must die to self. “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can die to self, only because Christ died for us. Only by considering what it cost him, can we begin to make sense of what it will cost us. I can guarantee that Christ did not die for you to have convenient parking on Sunday, to listen to great music, to hear a great message, or to have fellowship. Instead, he died so that we might have a chance at holiness. Now should we expect a good, welcoming experience, yes, but if we begin to think that is what it is  about, we have missed the point entirely.
In this self-discovery that I need to practice self-denial, God is showing me that I need to be more generous; not just with my time, but my treasure. You see, I’ve embraced the lie that as long as I am volunteering my time and talents, then I can keep my treasure. The reality is that all three aspects are necessary sacrifices in order to be a healthy disciple of Christ. I know I’m not alone in believing this lie. I’m sure that there are plenty of people, who serve their parish through volunteering with out serving financially.
Lastly I want to emphasize that dying to oneself is a gradual undertaking. I do not expect to give a full 10% of my income each month, but I can start with 1%. This is what Matthew Kelly defines as continuous improvements, in which a person takes small and consistent steps to meet a large goal. We, as Catholics, tend to be very rigid with rules and regulations. We focus on applying the rules; however, rules do no change hearts. If we want people to  give, we need to help foster gratitude for their parish community.We need to lead by example, and show why giving is important.
God gave us everything and it cost him his life, what would it cost you to follow him?

Mountain top experience, now what?

So for the gospel reading of August 6th, we have the story of the transfiguration. In this story, Jesus has chosen his closest followers to come with him and pray on a mountain. The gospel describes how Jesus’ appearance changes and he is dressed in dazzling white. Here for the first time the disciples’ are experiencing, not just Jesus the human being, but Jesus in his full glory. Every Christian and every Catholic also will eventually have a similar experience in which they experience the presence of Christ in a real and tangible way. For more info about this, see my blog post, Have you had a transformation experience? What happens afterwords? How should we respond? Why do we have such experiences in the first place?
All these questions can be answered by looking at Luke 9:33-35. Having experienced Jesus in his fully glory, Peter exclaims, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  It is so easy to make the same mistake as Peter. We  can have  an amazing Godly experience and want to stay there forever. We want to pitch our tent. Every time we pray, go to mass or adoration or listen to music, we expect God to speak to us in the same way, to have the same emotional high.
I am guilty of this way of thinking. I remember when I first started taking my Christian walk seriously. The churches I attended were mainly non-denominational churches and sometimes my mother’s Baptist church, I remember watching other people have emotional responses to either the pastor’s sermon, the music, or a particular prayer and I wouldn’t feel anything and wouldn’t know how to respond. I took Spiritual formations at Regent University and there was a moment where the whole room erupted in spontaneous praise, and I did not know what to do. I felt like my faith was somehow inferior because I lacked these emotional responses. Luckily I have the type of personality that doesn’t renege on her commitments and I had made a commitment to follow Jesus.
Finally a member of my spiritual formation small group invited me to her very large non-denominational church. I don’t know what made that night different or why God decided to speak to me, but I finally had that mountain top experience. For awhile I would chase after these emotional highs, and only attend non-denominational or pentecostal services. I evaluated my relationship with Christ with how on fire I was about my faith. Just ask my parents lol, I couldn’t do anything that wasn’t Christian minded. Eventually though I couldn’t keep up especially after becoming Catholic. My Mom remarked that she was glad that the Catholic church has mellowed me out, but it wasn’t just a mellowing, I was becoming cold and dead. So where did I go wrong?
After Peter makes his statement about pitching a tent, God speaks up in verse 35, “This is my chosen son; listen to Him.” God gives us these amazing experiences, but he doesn’t want us to seek after these experiences, He wants us to seek after Him and obey Him. So If you are lucky enough to have one of these transformation or mountain top experiences, learn from Peter, don’t try to pitch a tent there. First of all, it is exhausting to be spiritually high all the time, and secondly we have all of  heaven to have these amazing experiences with God. Instead strive to obey God; don’t go back to the way you were before. If you have not had such an experience, try to persevere in obedience for surely by your obedience you will encounter God. Take advantage of all the different ways one can encounter God in the Catholic Church.
As for me, I am trying to develop Godly habits such as daily prayer, daily scripture reading, and going to Mass and adoration when I can.
A quote from my  Holy Spirit devotion book is really insightful, ” The Spirit reveals the glory of God to us in those moments when we transcend our daily life and catch a glimpse of the grander and Holiness of God. These moments gives us the strength to walk the difficult path of daily life.”
My prayer for you all is the same as in the book, “unfold the veil for a moment, Lord and let us see Your glory.”

Patience like a banana?

I’ll never forget, during the life in the Spirit seminar, when Father Dave Pivonka compared patience to a banana, because both go bad so quickly. In a way, it is true. I never feel like I have enough patience. One minute I am responding brilliantly to a crisis, and the next minute I am frustrated and venting with everyone I see. What throws me off my game? The answer is simple; other people and my inability to control them. It seems I have adapted the uncanny ability to accept unforeseen circumstances provided that it is no ones fault, but the minute something goes wrong and it was someone’s responsibility, then I become frustrated. I know that I am not alone in this. Most of my friends are having their patience tested in one way or another. God’s ways are not our ways. Instant gratification typically doesn’t happen with God; he’d rather test our faith and trust. Never has this point been made clearer, then in August 3rd’s daily mass reading. I must admit that my eyes had not been open until attending mass and listening to Father Charles’ homily.
The Old testament reading for that day was Jeremiah 31:1-7. According to Father Charles, Jeremiah is prophesying that the lost remnant of Israel will be found. Father Charles explains that in a literal sense this prophecy never came to pass and that the remnant of Israel lost in exile would remain lost. However, in that day’s gospel, we can see that the prophecy figuratively came true trough the person of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 15: 21, we are told that Jesus is traveling through the areas of Tyre and Sidon. Father Charles points out that this is the area where the lost tribes of Israel would have relocated. This helps explain Jesus’ statement in verse 24. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” We can also see that this is no ordinary pagan woman. In verse 22, she refers to Jesus as the son of David. This shows that she has some familiarity with the Jewish religion. This is not enough for Jesus, who rebukes her by saying, “it is not right to take food away from the children and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26). This line always confused me because I failed to understand the symbolism behind it. However, coupled with Jeremiah it makes sense. The tribes of Israel, who had managed to survive the exile would have considered themselves God’s chosen people. Over time when Jeremiah’s prophecy had failed to come to pass, they would have considered the lost tribes as inferior. Hence the reason why Jesus refers to the woman as a dog. He  is essentially testing her ability to be persistent. She remains humble and acknowledges  that she is not equal with the children of Israel, but that even she deserves the leftovers (verse 27). It is with this proclamation of faith that Jesus agrees to heal her child and in turn begins the reconciliation process that was foretold in Jeremiah. It is important to note that between Jeremiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ ministry was 600 years.
The point is that God gave the Israelites a vision in which the lost would be restored. It was their job to trust that God would be faithful. However, I don’t blame the Israelites for losing patience, because I know that I could not have maintained my patience for over 600 years. Yet it is not just patience that we need. From the woman we learn that in order to withstand God’s rebukes, we need to be humble, trusting and persistent. So if God has given you a vision, stay humble, be persistent in prayer, trust that God will bring it through, and have patience in God’s timing.  Also remember that God can use other people to rebuke us and that he is waiting to see how we respond. Lastly I am thankful for Daily Mass in which my eyes can be opened to the meaning behind God’s word for us.