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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

I had a friend – a saintly friend who died seven years ago next week – who, as I said, was saintly and much holier than I.

I have written about her before, mostly about the time I visited her a couple of months before she died of the cancer she had been fighting for years, and that was finally winning. She talked about how she felt about what was coming, and one of the things she talked about was Purgatory.

I can’t wait to go to Purgatory, she said. To have everything but love burned away. Nothing but love left.

Anyway, this is not about that.

One of the things Mollie used to mention was how watching people receive Communion was a spiritual act for her. To watch women, men and children each receive the Lord and walk away, Christ dwelling within, was something profound.

I get it. But at the same time, I want to say:

Stop staring at me.

For me, that moment of Communion is, indeed strong. Taking in the congregation as a whole, all of us, present in the moment of sacrificial Love, bound in and by Him, I know I’m living in what is most really Real and it’s a glimpse of Heaven. But still. Come on.

Stop staring!

The demise of the hand missal is what did it, and it was no accident. Many of you weren’t there, but in those post-Vatican II years of “renewal,” the anti-private prayer at Mass game was strong. THIS IS NOT PRIVATE PRAYER, they said. THIS IS LITURGY, WHICH MEANS WORK OF THE PEOPLE. YOUR PRIVATE PRAYER TIME COMES LATER.

Stop praying privately!

How that was supposed to work, I never really understood. I mean, even if I’m praying with others, I’m still here and I’m still praying out of my own self, which is not obliterated in the Community Borg..but anyway.

To this end, congregations were told to pay attention.  They were encouraged to be social before and after Mass in the sanctuaries. Missalettes were removed from pews so you could not follow along with the readings privately. The Proclamation of the Word was originally and primally an oral activity, and so two thousand years later, You Must Just Listen as a Community and May Not  Follow Along with Your Own Set of Private Eyes, despite the useful invention of moveable type and widespread literacy. Hand missals, full, not only of the prayers of the Mass, but prayers for Mass and other occasions, once ubiquitous, stuffed with holy cards that marked the owner’s journey from First Communion through marriage and parenthood, through prayers for lost keys and lost jobs and lost children, through sickness, through the inevitability of suffering, decline and death…pray for us! 

Gone.

 Mass is not the time for private prayer.

Post-Communion time was the prime battlefront. Kneeling was discouraged in some locations, with Standing as a Community, at the Ready to Welcome the Lord became the normal posture. Standing, yes, and singing. This is what expresses our identity as the Body of Christ. This moment is for visibly witnessing to this community and is not….NOT for private prayer.

STOP PRAYING.

And so we did. Yup. But most of us don’t sing, we don’t have anything to help us pray, so we stare instead.

Good job!

I’m sure more than a few of us come to that moment with Mollie’s spiritual vision and indeed, witnessing our brothers and sisters encounter the Lord is part of our own post-Communion prayer.

But I think most of us would welcome a little help, too.

Magnificat certainly fills a gap here. But why not revive that hand missal? They do still exist, you know. Or include a variety of private (yes, I said it) pre- and post-Communion prayers in missalettes?

There are, of course, quite a few small, hand-held Catholic prayer books out there that include these types of prayers. There are some good ones (recommend your favorites), but they tend to have a dated, crowded aspect about them – I think the market is there for a prayer book of this type that does not feel like it was printed from plates last used in 1950 and found in the church basement. Not  – let me repeat NOT with “contemporary” prayers penned by a committee, either.

Further, even if the current selection out there were to remain static, it seems to me that parishes would be doing a real service -an act of mercy, shall we say – by encouraging their use and making them available at low cost.

It is not a matter of going all fascist in the opposite direction now. It is about recognizing that people, in those moments after Communion, are seeking to deepen that encounter with the Lord. Many would welcome the use of prayers to do so, and it is the parish’s job to provide them with the opportunity and the means. Buy a bunch and sell them! Why not?

Let me interject another point here. I said that it’s not about being authoritarian in the “private prayer” direction either. What I mean by this plays off of one of my observations about this post-V2 era: how the liturgical changes, intended to bring the congregation more into the action of the Mass, did so by taking away the congregation’s freedom.

In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, all the burden was on the priest and the other ministers. It was their visible actions that defined the Mass and they were to be performed in specific ways, under pain of sin.

If you think about it, what the congregation did was almost irrelevant, as long as they didn’t touch the  Host and were present from one specific point to another.

Which, of course, in the eyes of liturgical reformers was part of the problem: the promotion of a minimalist, spectator role for the congregation.

Swing, pendulum!

….to the point at which the priest can do whatever the heck he wants, but the congregation’s incorrect actions are given the side-eye and finger-shake.

Members of the congregation are told that they must stand, sit and kneel as a group at these points, and they must sing and pray aloud…with gusto! (has anyone ever been in a congregation in which the celebrant orders the congregation to do a Do Over of a response with more vigor? I have) and they will not receive Communion if they dare to kneel and the children must march out for their own Liturgy of the Word, you must stand and march to Communion when the usher directs you to and you should not privately pray because…this is the liturgy, not your private prayer time

Now, in my limited experience, this is a Middle-Class Caucasian American Catholic problem.

When I have gone to Mass in Europe, when I have gone to Hispanic Masses in the US, when I have attended Easter Catholic liturgies…I don’t feel this. People come and go. Their postures are all over the place most of the time. A good portion of the congregation might be doing the same thing at any given time, but those that are doing something different…are fine.

And then Communion?

Scrum.

Which I like. It takes the pressure off.

So where was I in this blog post I was going to dash off in twenty minutes?

The post-Vatican II emphasis on the Participation of the People in the Mass has come, in many places, to somehow mean The Controlled Movement of the People in the Mass.  As we sit in churches  barren of décor, with nothing to read to help us focus and pray, we watch others walk up in the line when the usher greeter welcoming committee member tells them to, we watch the priest clean the vessels, and we wait for it all to be over.

But at least we’re all doing the same thing in community by God.

Prayer happens. It does. But I do think it’s time to get over that reflexive fear of Private Prayer! During Mass! and consider the possibility that some people’s experience of the reality of our Communion with the Lord and with each other, so profound at the moment, might be helped along by the provision of books with appropriate pre- and post-Communion prayers, and the encouragement to use them.

My true, real and deep pet peeve related to this involves school Masses. Catholic schools are about formation. About helping children draw closer to the Lord by giving them every resource we possibly can to help them focus on Him in this stage of life in which they are open and seeking, and in a culture that encourages them to focus on themselves instead of anything solid and real outside of themselves.

Magnifikid is good, but is a disposable and for Sunday Mass.

I would love to see a publisher produce an inexpensive, attractive, but not twee or childish Mass book especially for groups of CatmAGholic children. It would include the main parts of the Mass in English and Latin, the rite for Benediction, and a few pre and post Communion prayers. That’s it. Nothing more fancy than that. Sell it in bulk, teach schools how to teach their kids to use them, and boom. More choices, more active participation than just sitting and watching the first grade trail up the aisle, hands folded over chests for their blessing while not singing “Our God is Here.” Yes, there are children’s missals, but I am thinking about something that falls between that kind of vinyl-bound actual book and a flimsy pamphlet and that is not as picture heavy as a typical “Mass for Children” book. Something that a school or parish can publish in bulk and pull out for Masses and encourage children to use. Perhaps it exists? If so..tell me!

Note that this is not a screed against “how people act in Mass,” even though it may sound like it. Some bloggers do that. I don’t. I stand (or kneel or sit..whatever) in awe of every congregation of which I am a part and indeed, contemplating the diversity of people there and praying for their needs, whatever they might bed, forms a bedrock of my own experience at Mass.

But still, it  bothers me to see all of us – us – just..staring at the Communion line as it creeps up that aisle.

Because it is a struggle to focus, isn’t it? You are curious to see who’s there. You’re starting to think about what you have to do and where you have to go later. Your kids are poking at each other. You know you should be praying, and indeed you want to, for Jesus is here, right now, but you are not a Spiritual Master, it’s hard to concentrate, it’s hard to know what you want to say, what you could say, what you should say, and it’s really hard to know, simply, how to listen, since you know that’s what you should be doing right now, above anything else.

Different people are helped in this moment by different things: contemplating the congregation, the priest’s actions, the crucifix, the art in the church, listening to the music, singing the music, smelling the remaining scent of incense, fingering beads, closing one’s eyes and listening, opening one’s eyes and seeing.

And one of those things that can help are words printed on a page in a small book you’ve slipped in your purse or pocket, words that reflect what others – hundreds, thousands and millions – have found in this moment, in this Presence. It is good to have that book, to open it up right now in this place, present with your own quiet, noisy, still, moving, wandering crowd – to open it up in this Presence, see those words, and join them.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints

and with Thy angels
Forever and ever

 dorothyday-at-mass

Dorothy Day at Mass. Source.

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He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

"amy welborn"

 

 

In 2010, the Church experienced the same close juxtaposition of the the Lazarus Gospel and this saint as we did this year. B16 commented:

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 16: 19-31), Jesus tells the Parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. The former lives in luxury and egoism and when he dies, he will go to hell. The poor man on the contrary eats the food left over from the table of the rich man, and at his death he will be brought by angels to his eternal dwelling place with God and the saints. “Blessed are you poor”, the Lord proclaimed to his disciples, “for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Lk 6: 20). But the message of the parable goes further. It reminds us that while we are in this world we should listen to the Lord who speaks through the Sacred Scriptures and to live according to his will, otherwise after death it will be too late to repent. This parable teaches us two lessons: the first is that God loves the poor and comforts their humiliation; the second is that our eternal destiny is conditioned by our attitude, it is up to us to follow the path that God has laid out for us in order to attain life and this path is love, not intended as a feeling but as service to others in the charity of Christ.

By a happy coincidence, tomorrow we shall be celebrating the Liturgical Memorial of St Vincent de Paul, Patron of Catholic charities, on the 350th anniversary of his death. In 16th-century France, he himself keenly perceived the strong contrast between the richest and the poorest of people. In fact, as a priest, he had the opportunity to experience the aristocratic life and life in the country, as well as the dregs of society in Paris. Encouraged by the love of Christ, Vincent de Paul knew how to organize permanent forms of service for marginalized people, giving life to the so-called “Charitées” and “Charities”, that is the groups of women who gave their time and belongings to the most marginalized people. Some of these volunteers chose to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the poor, with St Louise de Marillac, and St Vincent, Founder of the “Daughters of Charity” the first female congregation to live a consecrated life “in the world”, with the common people, including the sick and the needy.

 

More about St. Vincent de Paul:

 

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A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.

****

This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?

*****

(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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Seven Quick Takes

Sorry. SexyTime is over!

— 1 —

Well, last week, it was Ben Hatke with good news, and this week it’s Gene Luen Yang, who was awarded a McArthur “Genius” Fellowship.  Yang is the author of some excellent works, including AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and the 2 volume BOXERS and SAINTS. Catholics might have first “met” him as the creator of a really good “Rosary Comic Book” published by Pauline Books and Media in 2003. Yang is Catholic and up until last year, worked in a Catholic high school in Oakland.

So great to see Yang’s fine work recognized in this way.

(By the way, Hatke is on a short book tour right now in support of his new series, Ordinary Jack…and Birmingham is on the list! Looking forward to meeting him next week.)

— 2 —

Good news: my favorite podcast, the BBC4 history-themed series In Our Time has returned for a new season. I haven’t yet listened to the first episode, aired Thursday, on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but I did catch up this past week with an excellent episode on Margery Kempe.

kempeFor those of you who don’t know, Kempe was a medieval English mystic. She experienced her first vision of Christ after a profoundly difficult post-partum experience, bore thirteen more children, then started having more visions and going on pilgrimages. Her account of her life and visions was well known, but, of course, the Reformation Vandals took care of that, and – this, I didn’t know – a complete version was unknown to the post-Reformation world until 1934, when a copy was found in a cabinet in which someone was looking for ping-pong balls. You can read about the story of the discovery, and theories as to how this copy survived and got to its finding place here.

— 3 —

This jibed nicely with some reading I’ve been doing for a project on women and the Reformation, only serving to reinforce my convictions about what a disaster the Protestant Reformation was for women (not to mention most other aspects of life in the West) and contribute to my inexorable, steadily growing aggravation with the apparent approaching canonization of Martin Luther.

It’s going to be a loooong 500th anniversary, and..

wehavenoliquor

 

But wait! We do! Never mind. We’ll get make it. God’s got this!

 

 — 4 —

Also on the listening front: this episode of The Food Programme, another BBC radio show I really like. This episode told the story of Charles Green, who was the cook on Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Oh, what a tale. Green lived until 1973, and for a time, gave talks to groups with slides that Shackleton had given him, slides which he unfortunately felt necessary to sell when times got hard.

There is one audio recording of an interview with Green, and in the program, his own voice is interspersed with the narration of Gerard Baker , who has served as a cook on modern Antarctic expeditions. The account of what Green had to and did accomplish to keep the men alive, as healthy as possible and, in a sense, spiritually fed is quite moving. It is a reminder of all that goes into human accomplishment, and how most of it is unseen and unheralded.

 

— 5 

Today is the memorial of Padre Pio – or, more formally, St. Pius of Petrelcina, by far the most popular saint in Italy. His image is in every church and more shops than you can count. …..The relic of his heart has been in Boston over the past couple of days. Domenico Bettinelli writes a bit about it here and has links to other accounts. And oh, you must see the photos. So moving.

6–

Here’s a good blog post. Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, on why “Chant is Good for Children.”

Last Sunday, we went to the Melkite Liturgy on campus. The entire liturgy, as anyone knows who has attended Eastern liturgies, is sung. Despite our son’s lack of familiarity with the words on the page, he hummed along the entire time (sometimes even during the Eucharistic Prayer). With his slight speech delay, with his limited grasp of understanding of English, the chant allowed him to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice in a way that he rarely experiences.

Not once did he ask to leave.

Not once was he bored (though he did perform frequent prostrations and crossing of himself).

To this Catholic, we have to admit that music too often functions in our parishes as quaint interludes between the rationalism of speech. Our liturgies are wordy, sounding more like bad speeches than prayer. Why would anyone believe that we’re participating in the very liturgy of heaven itself?

If this is heaven, perhaps, I don’t want it. It seems really boring.

The chant of the Roman Missal should be normative in our parishes. Priests should learn to sing. We should chant the readings, the Psalm, the Creed, the Intercessions, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Pater Noster. Everything that can be chanted.

Years ago, I made a similar observation, also partly inspired by the experience of Eastern Catholic liturgy:

The organic integrity of the chanted liturgy. I must say that is attendance at the Eastern Catholic liturgies that helped me understand the concept of “singing the Mass” as opposed to “singing at Mass.” Chant is, I think, the natural language of vocal prayer – not recitation, but chant, even if that chant is nothing more than a sing-song. There was one aspect of this last liturgy that was recited – the prayer before reception of Communion. But that was it.

— 7 —

Get some copies! Spread the word! There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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You may or may not have heard about a controversy in the Diocese of Nashville about sexuality education. Some parents at Father Ryan High School are protesting the content of the 9th grade theology program, and the bishop has told them straight up too bad. No opting out allowed.

I looked at some of the material that’s been posted online. (warning…)

I’m a mother of five kids. I’m a grandmother. I’ve taught high school theology. I’ve written for Catholic teens and young adults. I’ve stood up at meetings and defending the teaching of sexuality education in a Catholic middle school program.  Here’s my response.

Wow. This is some really, really weird s***.

Not inherently, mind you. It’s just basic sexual mechanics and physiology. But in context? Of 14-year olds in classrooms? In between Algebra and History class? In a Catholic school? Right after Mass?

Weird.

Work with me here.

You’re the parent of an 8th grader. Maybe not a sweet innocent 8th grader, but just your normal 13-year old. You’re all pretty excited about next year.

High school!

And what’s more…

Catholic! High school!

There’s going to be Mass and crucifixes and people are going to talk about Jesus and there’s going to be praying and saint-talk, not to mention algebra and history and literature and Spanish….

Awesome!

Oh, and did you get the memo on this class?

OUTER LIPS (Labia Majora) a. The outermost hair-covered folds of skin surrounding the genitals. b. They vary greatly in size. c. Like the scrotum, the outer lips swell slightly with  stimulation; in their stimulated state they pull back and expose the Inner Lips.

That’s happening too.

Is that what you envisioned for next year for your kid?

29815779

Now, in the official responses from All The Officials, I’m reading a lot of consistent with Church teaching…sanctity of human body….the…and…maybe…shut up…

And words like that.

Guess what?

Nope.

Classroom lessons and tests for teens on the effect of stimulation on lady and gent parts? Not sane Catholic pedagogy. Pretty much not sane pedagogy at all.

But you know what? I’m not even going to focus on the Catholic part of this, because it’s seriously so stupid that anyone thinks that “Instruct the Ignorant” means “Provides schematics of spread-eagle Views of Vaginas for Teenagers to Share.”

One Mad Mom has all of that covered, and very well, thanks. Oh, and the parents, too. They know what’s right.

They’re articulating all of that very well.

I just want to focus on something else.

The weirdness.

Maybe just distance yourself from this for a minute. Pretend that you don’t know anything about culture wars, Catholic or otherwise, or that you don’t have a stake in any of these issues.

Now. Consider this.

Consider the possibility that it’s a little …weird for an adult to stand in front of a group of young teen boys and girls and teach this material:

CLITORIS a) This is the most sexually sensitive part of the female body. It corresponds to the glans or head of the penis. b) Though there is no reproductive purpose, the clitoris is made of erectile tissue and contains a high concentration of erotic neural receptors and blood vessels. c) When flaccid or unaroused the tissue is c.1” long; when aroused, it swells to 2” to 3”.

Not weird in a counter-cultural Albanian-nun-picks-up-dying-poor-from-Calcutta-streets kind of way.

More like…what adult in their right mind wants to talk to other people’s 14-year old kids about the clitoris? kind of weird.

And more like…with all the fascinating things to learn about the world that will help kids find a unique way to help make the world a better place, YES let’s spend time on the mechanics of sexual activity with 14-year olds kind of weird.

(Imagine you are a parent of a teen. And then you stand up in front of your kid and his or friends and give this lesson.

GLANS 1. Located at the tip or head of the penis is a structure which contains a highly concentrated amount of neural receptors sensitive to stimulus; it is the center of sexual pleasure for the male.

That would be weird of you. Your kids would die. You might even get arrested.)

And no nonsense about “What they already know” and “what they see on their smartphones.”  No kidding. And you think this helps? 

It’s not weird at all to want to help kids navigate this culture and their own desires and questions. It’s not weird to want to share the Good News of the truth about sexuality in a reasoned, understanding, realistic way. It’s really important to do this, as a matter of fact.

But again…context. Which is SCHOOL. Required attendance. Grades. Mixed gender groups.

More context:  14-year olds, boys and girls of varying levels of maturity and awareness, going to school as part of a system in which modesty and discretion are still key values and parents have prime responsibility for education. There are many ways that a Catholic school can and should work with parents on fighting this battle and helping kids. Sniffing that  parents should just bug off because they’re not keen on your program that tests their  son or daughter on the physiology of sexual simulation and even subtly encourages them to envision their classmate’s bodies on that level is perhaps not on the top of that list.

Have some mercy for pete’s sake!

Let me share a couple of experiences that might make my perspective clearer.

(Perhaps beginning by reminding you of my fundamental school-skepticism on every score. Remember that?)

Many, many years  ago, the Catholic middle school that one of my kids was attending was going to incorporate some sexuality education in the 8th grade. Very mild, general stuff, really, but there were some who objected, and made that clear at a meeting. At the meeting I defended the curriculum, partly because it was fine, in my opinion, and also because the teacher was a much-beloved, trusted, deeply faithful Catholic woman whom the kids all loved as a firm, calm, charitable person of faith. I felt really good about Theresa affirming in the classroom what we were doing at home, and it was not explicit at all. It was spirituality. 

(But some objected nonetheless, and that was their right! And their kids didn’t have to participate!)

Flash forward a bit. Now it’s another kid in 7th grade parish religious education. Theology of the Body had been mandated, and there was a parent meeting. Things went okay until the actual instructor stood up to talk. I had no idea who she was . My kid didn’t know her. A woman in her mid-40’s, a mom, a parishioner known to many, but not to me – not that that matters.  But this is what she said, in the most casual, hey you guys!  tone about what was coming up for the 12-year olds, and as I recall it, it was almost as if she was chomping gum – “Now I don’t know what you all have told your kids  about the details of sex, but you need to get caught up before we start the class. They need to know everything because we’re going to talk about everything– we’re gonna  talk about masturbation, we’re gonna to talk about porn…”

mad men 6x03 betty draper season 6 field trip

Who are you???? 

Yeah, so that didn’t happen for us.

This is about more than this particular situation. It gives anyone working on these issues in parish or school settings something to think about.

So if you’re in charge of things like this in your school or parish, you might want to consider the weird factor. You might want to consider that the parents who are not down with your plans don’t hate sex, don’t want their kids to be ignorant about sex and don’t want them to be ignorant of the Church’s teaching. The parents of kids in your school might even have had some sexy time themselves recently.

Maybe, just maybe…they think it’s…. odd …for random adults to be bound and determined to talk to young teens  – who are required to be in this setting, without parents present and are graded on their responses- about the mechanics of  sexual activity, diagrams and aroused clitoral dimensions helpfully included. 

f5bbeec9d5e0c9fa5329319f46448a8f

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Early this past summer, Cardinal Sarah gave a talk at a conference in London in which he suggested that priests take another look at the ad orientem posture during Mass.

Many, many blog posts and articles have been written and passed around since, and I’m sure there are more to come if, indeed, some priests and bishops have been inspired by Cardinal Sarah’s gentle suggestion that if one is going to revisit the practice, the First Sunday of Advent would be a good time to do so.

I have written quite a bit on this matter before, and in a minute, I’ll link to some of those older blog posts, but for the moment, I just want to share some of what I’ve been thinking about on this score in the wake of the Cardinal’s talk and the fallout from it.  I offer these points in the hopes that they’ll be a help to the people in the pews who might be seeing this posture for the first time and are confused by it, as well as for priests who might be considering it.

  • This shouldn’t be a big deal. Both postures are permitted – and ad orientem is even assumed by the rubrics in the sacramentary.
  • If you see a priest celebrating Mass this way, don’t be shocked or offended. It doesn’t mean he hates you or thinks he’s better than you are. He’s praying. For you.
  • Celebrating Mass in this posture – facing the same way as the people in the congregation – was the norm for most of Catholic history. It is still the way the liturgy is celebrated in most Eastern Catholic Churches (not Maronite Rite, in my experience), Eastern Orthodox Churches and even in some High Anglican parishes and some Lutheran churches. Here, for example, are photos of  Lutheran services:
  • Source of photo on left. Photo on right. 
  • To flesh out this last point – here’s a blog post from a Lutheran blog on liturgy expanding on the logic of ad orientem.
  • So why did versus populum become the norm in Latin Catholicism? Many reasons, but when you read the literature of the liturgical movement on this score, the idea was that in turning the priest around (in conjunction with the vernacular) , the people would understand more of the Mass and feel more connected to the action at the altar. There is more, but I think that is the simplest way to look at it.
  • But as is always the case, change produces unintended consequences. We can argue about this all day – and who knows, we might! – but in my mind, the primary and quite negative consequence of versus populum has been pervasive expectation that the personality of the priest has an important and even central liturgical function.
  • In other words, ironically, the act which was supposed to involve the people more rendered the person of the cleric more important.
  • In the Mass, the priest is, of course, of central importance because he serves as in persona Christi. But the genius of the Roman liturgy historically is that the ritual supports his role at the same time as it buries and subsumes his individual personality under vestments, prescribed movements and words, not to speak of the roles that other ministers play. He does not wear his own clothes or say words of his own choosing. He must be present, but everything about what surrounds him in the moment points us to Christ, not this individual human being.
  • Which now brings us to possible complaints about this posture. These are simply an intensification of the complaints one hears about priest-celebrants all the time, and are reflective of the misplaced expectations congregations sometimes have of priests and which, in turn, I think are fed and enabled precisely by the versus populum posture, especially if a priest encourages it by his own liturgical stylings.
  • This childish notion that one’s experience of the liturgy is somehow dependent on whether or not Father is looking at us when he is praying to God is just that. Childish. Add to that concerns about how much he smiles, how friendly and welcoming he is, the jokes he tells and how relaxed he is, and you have, not The Most Well-Educated Laity in History at Mass, but a bunch of needy infants.  It also puts an inordinate amount of pressure on priests. Not only are they shoved up on pedestals, they are considered deficient if they fail to  warmly crack jokes and make eye contact in the process.
  • I’ll also be so bold as to offer some suggestions to parishes and priests considering incorporating this posture into liturgy.
  • Don’t make a huge deal of it. Explain things simply. Emphasize historical continuity, that the rubrics assume it, and that many, many other Christians experience worship in this way. Explain the purpose is to help everyone focus on God as a community. Extra points for mentioning that this is the way Thomas Merton celebrated Mass.
  • Consider making a joke or two about how the congregation might be relieved not to have to study your face through the entire Mass or something. I know! A joke!
  • Start with daily Mass, school Masses or special Masses for smaller groups.
  • Don’t elevate this change to The Most Important Thing About Our Parish. If it is a new initiative, consider coupling it with another new mission-oriented, Work of Mercy-type  initiative for the parish. (or 2!)
  • Catechize, explain thoroughly, but don’t clutch the podium, heave deep apologetic sighs, and generally act as if you expect the worst.

 

"amy welborn"

 

As I said, I’ve blogged on this before. Here are some links.

From a previous iteration of the blog, I crowdsourced for feedback on ad orientem in non-Catholic Christian traditions. 

Back in 2008, I had three days in a row of focused discussion of this issue.

First – and actually, this is one of my favorite blog posts – I posted a photograph of a TLM, and just asked people to respond to it. I called the post “Necessary Conversations” because I wanted to encourage people on all “sides” to express their responses and listen to each other.

The next day, I reflected on those responses. At the end of the post, I highlighted one of the responses to the photograph, a response I still think about when I’m in the pew, and the priest in chasuble passes me in the entrance procession:

I see a man offering a sacrifice. The man has a cross on his back.

The third day, I reflected a bit on clericalism in this context.

Finally, I’m going to reproduce part of a two-year old blog post here, just because I like it and it encapsulates so much of what I want to say pretty succinctly:

As it happens, last weekend, we attended Mass in South Carolina, and this happened:

"amy welborn"

It was at Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island. Stella Maris is a lovely, tiny church.  I had hoped that it might be a little less crowded this time, since the summer season was, of course, over, but it was not to be.  The place was packed, with, I believe, the overflow area packed as well.  Fortunately, we got there just in time to get a seat in the main body of the church – which, as I said, is tiny and historic.  It can’t be physically expanded…so they just have to pack them in in whatever way they can.

Tons of servers, good music, solid, focused preaching. Post-Mass prayers, which, in my limited experience, are becoming more and more common in the southern Catholic churches.

And, of course,  the Eucharistic Prayer prayed ad orientem. The fact is, the sanctuary is too small to accommodate another freestanding altar, and that is just fine.  It was all done matter-of-factly with no fuss and it didn’t seem that the engaged, loudly-singing congregation felt excluded, alienated and crushed by clerical privilege, but who knows, I could be wrong.

 

 

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A few St. Matthew links for you.

From B16,back in 2006:

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the"amy welborn"People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

This is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

This, of course, is from one of his GA talks on the apostles and which were collected in book form by various publishers, including OSV. Back in the day, I wrote a study guide for these collected talks to be used either by individuals or groups in parish discussion settings. Here’s the section on Matthew. Feel free to use!

 

 

Speaking of St. Matthew and speaking of parish adult religious education, maybe consider this Loyola Press Six Weeks with the Bible book on the Passion accounts in Matthew:

From today’s Office of Readings:

There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.

What strikes us about the story of Matthew is the immediacy of his response. Invited by Jesus, he simply leaves his sinful life behind. No ambiguity, no parsing of matters of subjectivity and objectivity. This perhaps is not something we are all capable of at every moment, but it is certainly a response we recognize as the ideal one, articulated by Jesus himself (Mark 10:29) and lived out by people like Matthew.

The spiritual life is a never-ending, fascinating and mysterious dynamic, it seems to me, between finding God in all things and if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother…cannot be my disciple. 

 

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