31 March 2010

Spy Wednesday

The Gospel at Mass on the Wednesday of Holy Week tells of an event that yields the curious alternate name for this day: Spy Wednesday.

All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-12, Luke 22:3-6) give an account of the same event. On the day before the Lord Jesus celebrated His last supper in the upper room, Judas Iscariot went in secret to the chief priests to find out what they would give him if he handed Jesus over to them. They promised him thirty pieces of silver, and the deal was done.

What led Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, to betray Jesus? We know that he was a thief and that he stole from the common purse which Jesus had entrusted to his care. Perhaps one of the others found him out and was prepared to expose him. 

Perhaps Judas expected Jesus to raise an army, throw off the yoke of Roman occupation, and rule a newly unified Israel from the Throne of David in Jerusalem. When it became clear that nothing like this would happen, perhaps Judas grew angry at having wasted three years of his life with this itinerant rabbi and decided to get even.

Perhaps he was jealous of not being in the inner circle of the Twelve, all of whom argued with each other over their importance and precedence. Peter, James, and John were singled out by Jesus for special instruction and responsibility; perhaps in a rage of envy Judas decided to show them who had power.

Though we do not know the motivation of Judas because Holy Scripture does not tell us, all of the above are plausible, if partial, explanations. But there is one thing further revealed about the matter in Scripture, and this we must always bear in mind: Luke and John both assert that Satan entered into Judas, and so his interior freedom would have been either deeply compromised or even destroyed. Luke (22:3) places the demonic oppression or possession on Spy Wednesday, while John (13:27) describes it happening at the Last Supper. In either case, both Evangelists attribute some part of Judas's betrayal to the direct action of the Enemy.

Judas Iscariot. Even 2,000 years after he betrayed the Lord Jesus, his very name is a curse. But whatever moved him to turn traitor, we must also acknowledge that Judas was not the only apostle who betrayed the Lord that night; they all did. Peter, who boldly exclaimed that he would go to prison and die rather than betray Jesus, found himself within hours of that boast lying to a scullery maid about even knowing Jesus, so afraid was he of sharing the same fate as his Master. Prince of the Apostles, indeed. And all of the apostles ran away from the garden in fear-- the first act of apostolic collegiality.

We know that as soon as Jesus was arrested, Judas regretted his betrayal and tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests. They wouldn't take the silver back because it was blood money -- tainted by the perfidy of the treasonous apostle. Then in desolation and despair Judas hanged himself and died alone.

Or did he die alone? Even as the good thief turned to the Lord Jesus for mercy at the moment of his death, is it possible that Judas Iscariot in the instant before the rope ended his life might have cried out to Jesus for mercy? Is it possible that even on the Cross the Lord might have heard and answered the cry of Judas?

I believe that we can and must dare to hope that on the Last Day we will find that even Judas Iscariot has been gathered into the Kingdom of God. After all, Spy Wednesday leads to the Friday we call Good, because on that day the Author of Life died for our sins to destroy death. As the temple veil was rent down the middle, and the earth shook, and the sky was darkened, and hell was harrowed, perhaps the Enemy who had entered into Judas was cast out and cast down by the Lamb once slain so that the first of His Twelve to die could be united at last to his Lord and Savior. It is devoutly to be hoped.

29 March 2010

Fight the Real Enemy

On Palm Sunday, Sinead O'Connor (who was allegedly once a singer when not ripping up photos of the pope on television) had an egregious piece of nonsense in the Washington Post, and at the heart of her essay was an oft repeated lie about an arcane bit of canon law from 1962 which the Church's enemies would like the world to believe is evidence of an international criminal conspiracy to protect child molesters.


George Weigel and I take issue with Ms. O'Connor at National Review Online.

Time for Reckoning Rightly

Since the Solemnity of the Annunciation last week, the "prestige" press on both sides of the Atlantic have been in high dudgeon at the Catholic Church for ... well, for being the Catholic Church. But since it is still not possible simply to say that in public (though probably not for much longer), the assault on the Church being led by the New York Times has been an outraged protest against the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the absurd response to that abuse by bishops.

Now comes some clear thinking from George Weigel, biographer of John Paul II and arguably the dean of Catholic thinkers in the United States. Please take time to read slowly and carefully what he has to say about this latest campaign against the Church:

28 March 2010

Palm Sunday

Though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.


Rather, he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men.


He was known to be of human estate,
and it was thus that he humbled himself,
obediently accepting even death,
death on a cross.


Because of this,
God highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
above every other name,


So that at the name of Jesus
every knee must bend
in the heavens, on the earth,
and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim
to the glory of God the Father:


JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!


(Philippians 2:6-11)

27 March 2010

The Path of Purification

My blog is just a few days old, but given the attention in recent days to the sins of priests and bishops, it seems worth recalling my very first post, entitled "The Church is Always in Need of Being Reformed". In part, I wrote:


"Why is the Church always in need of being reformed? Because I am always in need of being reformed.


"Yes, the Church is holy because she is the spotless Bride of Christ, vivified and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. But she is also an assembly of human persons, each of whom is a sinner in need of redemption, and for this reason, the Second Vatican Council likened the Church to the Incarnate Word, who is a single Person with two natures: one divine and one human. Because the Church is 'at once holy and always in need of purification, (she) follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.' (Lumen Gentium 8)"

This path of penance and renewal is the Way of the Cross, and we are called by the Lord Jesus to follow Him in that Way each day of our lives. But during Holy Week, our need for constant conversion is brought home to us with great force by the sacred liturgy, the source and summit of the Church's life. To help the people of my parish enter fully into the sacred mysteries we celebrate during these days of Holy Week, I wrote to the people of my parish:


We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through Him we are saved and made free.

These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper which we will celebrate this week on Holy Thursday, and by these words, taken from Chapter Six of St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, we are reminded of several essential truths of the Christian faith:

✠ only by Jesus Christ are we made free
✠ only by Jesus Christ are we saved from sin and death
✠ only by our share in the Cross of Christ do we find our salvation, our life, and our resurrection

Because our lives are so full of noise and distraction, so full of anxieties and disappointments, so full of struggle and grief, we risk losing sight of these saving truths and the evangelical freedom that they can bring to our hearts. The strain we have all experienced in this Great Recession, the normal struggles of family life, the challenges of raising children and remaining faithful to the promises of our Baptism -- all of these things can impede us from hearing and heeding St. Paul’s exhortation:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! But how do we do that? How do we glory in the Cross of Christ?

The first and most important way is that we take up our own crosses each day and follow Christ in the obedience of faith. Living in fidelity to the promises of marriage, ordination, or religious profession, living as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, living by grace the life of the new creation -- these are the practical ways we glory in the Cross of Christ. And given the complexity of these tasks, a quick reference guide to Christian faith and life would be most useful and is included with this letter. On the back of the Holy Week Schedule, you’ll find the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, along with a brief Act of Contrition for the times when we do not live according to these precepts. Please read and ponder these simple measures of the authenticity of our lives, and where needed, resolve to take your failures to the Lord in the Sacrament of Penance and to begin again the daily work of following Christ in the Way of the Cross.

The schedule for each day of Holy Week is included, and each of us is called by Christ to accompany Him to His Passover:

✠ On Palm Sunday we go with Jesus to Jerusalem where He will arrive at the Hour for which He came into the world.

✠ On Holy Thursday we gather with Jesus in the Upper Room to receive the New Commandment of love and the inestimable gifts of the Priesthood and the Eucharist.

✠ On Good Friday we stand with Jesus in the Praetorium and walk with Him to Calvary, even as we acknowledge that we also stand in the howling mob that shouts: Crucify him!

✠ On Holy Saturday we keep vigil with the holy women who kept watch at the tomb, and in the night we worship the Lamb once slain who reveals His Resurrection in the New Fire and the Paschal Candle.

✠ Finally, on Easter Sunday we rejoice and exclaim: Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast!

The Passover of the Lord, which only English-speaking Christians call Easter, is usually known by some form of the Hebrew word for the lamb sacrificed at the Jewish remembrance of Passover, pesach. From this term we get our words pasch and paschal, so that the passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is called the Paschal Mystery. This is what we celebrate at every Mass, on each Sunday of the year, and most especially in the sacred days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum: Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and He alone is our life, our salvation, and our resurrection.

26 March 2010

Keeping the Record Straight

The National Catholic Reporter is a weekly news and opinion journal of the far Left, and they are no friends of the theological project of Pope Benedict XVI, which makes all the more remarkable the very fine essay today from their Vatican specialist John Allen.


Allen is a thoughtful reporter and an experienced hand at interpreting for English-speaking readers the sometimes arcane language and customs of those who work for the Holy See. Here is his take on the real story behind Joseph Ratzinger's involvement in the Church's effort to respond effectively to the crimes of sexually predatory priests:
Keeping the Record Straight

A Bone in the Throat

Continuing yesterday’s attack on Benedict XVI, the New York Times today alleges that then Joseph Ratzinger, while serving as Archbishop of Munich and Freising did know, contrary to earlier assertions, about the transfer of a priest who had been credibly accused of molesting adolescent boys to a new post for pastoral ministry. The story refers without citing a source to two documents (a memo and the minutes of a meeting) which theoretically establish the point the Times is trying to prove: that Joseph Ratzinger once did as a diocesan bishop the very thing he now condemns other diocesan bishops for doing in Ireland, the United States, and other places.


It will take some time to untangle the facts of this case from the sensationalist charges aimed at the pope by the Times and other newspaper of the cultural Left, but when the sifting is done, I am confident that one thing will be demonstrated beyond all cavil: Joseph Ratzinger is not and never has been a liar or a man who fails to call sin by its name. But even if that be proved beyond any reasonable doubt, the Times and the high salons of the Left will not be satisfied because of the point I made yesterday: They hate the Catholic Church with a perfect hatred and will do anything to discredit the pastors of the Church so that the Gospel they preach will itself seem to be discredited.


The Catholic Church is like a sharp bone caught in the throat of the secular West, and until it is coughed up and spit out, there can be no peace for those who have come to believe that the Bible, the God of the Bible, and the Church which preaches that God and His Scriptures are the chief obstacles to human freedom and flourishing left in the world.


Tragic mistakes were made by Catholic bishops, both the good and the bad ones, during the last four decades in deciding how to respond to priests who violated their promise of celibacy, the norms of human nature, and the eternal law of God by having sex with children and adolescents, but these mistakes were usually made despite and not because of what the Catholic Church teaches about human sexuality and priestly discipline. The Times, however, is trying to convince the world that the Church is little more than an international criminal conspiracy to protect child molesters.


Finally, it is worth noting that the stories of the past two days (and the ones which are no doubt waiting to be published in the coming days) have arrived at the threshold of Holy Week. Much like the annual appearance of the apostate priest John Dominic Crossan who flickers on our TV screens each year sometime around Easter to “expose” yet another myth about the rabbi from Nazareth, the arrival of these stories seems perfectly timed to throw the Church off balance as we prepare to celebrate the Passover of the Lord. 


Every office in Rome is soon to be closed for the observances of Holy Week, and so the response of the Holy See to the charges being made by the Times will seem tepid and slow and therefore unconvincing. This, in turn, will only feed the frenzy of those who want us to believe that Benedict XVI is personally complicit in the evil of clerical sexual crimes he has spent four decades fighting. Accordingly, everyone who believes that the Catholic Church is the universal sacrament of salvation for all mankind needs to calm down and remain focused on the one thing necessary: the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and risen. The New York Times and CNN may operate on 24 hour news cycles, but our 2,000 year old Church does not. Let’s take the time to get this right, while always remembering that only the truth will make us free.

25 March 2010

All the News That's Fit to Print

In this morning’s New York Times, there is a story about a wretched priest in Milwaukee who allegedly molested over 200 boys committed to his care in a home for the deaf to which he was assigned from 1950 to 1974, but the story is less about this depraved degenerate than about the alleged cover-up perpetrated by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The Times makes every effort to place the full responsibility for this monster not being punished on Ratzinger, but as is always the case, there is more to the story than is published by the rag that brags it has “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” In response to this naked effort by the Times to paint Benedict XVI as a man who gave aid and comfort to child molesters, the Holy See issued this statement:


“The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.


“During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.


“It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of Crimen sollicitationis and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.


“In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically. The Congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.


“In such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, no. 2). In light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested that the Archbishop of Milwaukee give consideration to addressing the situation by, for example, restricting Father Murphy's public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts. Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident.”


The molestation of boys and young men by a priest is a grotesque crime and a mortal sin that endangers the immortal soul of the molester, and the failure of bishops and other superiors to remove these criminals from priestly ministry is an even worse and more outrageous abdication of responsibility. But the New York Times is not attempting to find justice for the poor boys who were so injured by this one sordid reprobate; instead, the New York Times is today attempting to make Joseph Ratzinger the story because it hates the Catholic Church and everything she stands for. 


Sadly, the priests who molested minors and the bishops who did nothing about their crimes handed to those who hate the Church the club with which we are all now being beaten, but let us not accept the lie that the beating is for the sake of children and teens who were injured. The Catholic Church is the last voice in the world raised loudly and clearly in defense of the traditional understanding of human sexuality and the right to life of unborn children, and this the self-important mandarins of our culture, starting with the inky wretches of the New York Times, cannot abide.

23 March 2010

The Dangers of False Religion

On 30 August 2009, the Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year, I preached about the danger of the false religion which arises from belonging to the tribe rather than believing the Word. Given the complicity of so many nominal Catholics in the various catastrophes now unfolding in the nation's political life, it seems timely to recall what I said following the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy:

In the first lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the children of Israel: “In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.”

In the second lesson from the Letter of St. James, the Apostle urges the disciples of the Lord Jesus: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”

And in the Gospel from Mark, the Lord Jesus excoriates the Pharisees: “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

In each case, Sacred Scripture warns us today against the danger of false religion. Here we must first note a problem for modern man: If all religion is merely a private matter of taste, how can there be true religion and false religion? This is one of the many reasons why neither a Christian nor a Jew before us may ever consent to the assertion that religion is a private matter of personal taste. Now in Christian thought, there are two kinds of false religion: worshipping false gods is the first, and worshipping the true God in a false way is the second. There are many religions in the world, but only three of them claim to be revealed by God: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jews and Christians believe that Muslims worship the true God but in a way invented by man, and that very possibility reminds Christians of the danger posed to us by the second kind of false religion: replacing divine revelation with human wisdom and calling it faith. In the teaching of Moses and the Lord Jesus, this very simply constitutes false religion.

For the past two months, we have been reviewing the Eight Principles of Evangelical Catholicism to help us understand the challenges posed by false religion in our day, and perhaps the most dangerous false religion we face is what I call cultural Catholicism, which begins by belonging to the tribe rather than by believing the Word. “Of course I’m Catholic,” the cultural Catholic exclaims, “my great-grandmother was from Sicily.” This is false religion. Fill in the blank to account for your own tribe, but if ethnic identity is the only source of one’s religion, then that religion is false. No one is born a Christian; each man is born only a child of Adam  and a child of wrath and must be born again a child of God by water and the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of Baptism, like all the sacraments of the New Covenant, is a sacrament of faith: faith in the Word of God, the Word of God made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And it is belief in that Word, not the place on the map in which one’s ancestors were born, that makes one a disciple of the Lord Jesus.

The false religion of cultural Catholicism is crumbling fast before our eyes: today one in ten Americans is an ex-Catholic. This is what happens when membership in the tribe, rather than faith in the Word, is the foundation of one’s religion: once the bonds of tribal loyalty are loosened, religious identity is the first thing to be cast off. But there was once a time when cultural Catholicism, whatever its flaws, was a powerful force in American life, shaping our great cities and raising up vast networks of parishes, hospitals, school, colleges and universities, announcing the arrival on these new shores of the ancient Church. And perhaps no family in American history better embodies this sort of cultural Catholicism than the storied Kennedy clan of Boston.

This was brought to mind yesterday by the funeral of Ted Kennedy, who spent his entire adult life in the United States Senate, being known since the murder of his two brothers as the most visible Catholic in the nation’s public life. Ted Kennedy was, by all accounts, a man of rare charm and numerous gifts; he was loved by his family and friends, respected by his colleagues, and trusted by the voters of Massachusetts who faithfully returned him to the Senate no matter how scandalous or numerous his personal flaws. But whatever his political or legislative accomplishments, we must reckon with this fact: the most visible Catholic in the nation’s public life spent the past four decades defending, promoting, excusing, and seeking to pay for by your taxes the wholesale slaughter of babies in the womb.

The mind reels at this contradiction and seeks for a plausible explanation of the fact that the unrestricted abortion license which has exterminated over fifty million American children was devised and constructed, promulgated and defended very largely by men and women who call themselves Catholic. And I believe that the primary explanation of this abomination is simple: the self-identified Catholics who stoutly defend the murder of unborn children are cultural Catholics only; they belong to the false religion of the tribe, rather than the living faith of the Word, and so like the Pharisees condemned by the Lord Jesus, they do not hesitate to replace the Word of God with human wisdom, in this case replacing worship of the true God with the worship of a false god named “freedom to choose.”

But how did we come to this sorry pass? While legions of cultural Catholic politicians have collaborated in building the culture of death, it is not the work of the laity alone. In 1964, a groups of six priests (including the notorious pro-abortion Jesuit Robert Drinan) met with the Kennedy’s at their home in Hyannisport, and during a long day of debate, the six priests worked out the false theological logic used to justify the support of abortion by Catholic politicians. The details of that meeting were later revealed in a book written by one of the six priests, long after he left the priesthood and the Catholic Church, and this sorry tale is sad confirmation of the terrible fact that the false religion of cultural Catholicism includes among its adherents too many priests and religious, too many theologians and professors.

So, what are we do? In the face of such treachery and collusion with the culture of death, what can we do? Let us heed the Letter of St. James:

“Put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is in vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1: 21-27)

My friends, this is evangelical Catholicism, and once we have surrendered our minds, our wills, our bodies, our entire selves to the Word of God in the obedience of faith, then we find the perfect freedom, the evangelical freedom, of the children of God. The remedy for the false religion of cultural Catholicism is the true religion of evangelical Catholicism. We are Catholics not because we belong to the tribe but because we believe the Word, and we have work to do. The eighth Principle of Evangelical Catholicism puts it this way:

All the baptized are sent in the Great Commission to be witnesses of Christ to others and must be equipped by the Church to teach the Gospel in word and deed. An essential dimension of true discipleship is the willingness to invite others to follow the Lord Jesus and the readiness to explain his Gospel.

That is our task: to be doers of the Word and not hearers only, lest we delude ourselves and make our religion in vain. And how do we accomplish this mission?

At our Baptism, the Lord Jesus called each of us by name to follow Him in the Way of the Cross. Let us heed that call by living as Evangelical Catholics who bear witness to the Savior through radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. This is how we welcome the Word that has been planted in us and is able to save our souls. This is religion pure and undefiled. This is true Catholicism. Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

Jesus Christ yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega,
all time belongs to Him and all the ages,
to Him be all glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.




21 March 2010

The Folly of Appeasement

Neville Chamberlain declares: Peace for Our Time!

The Gospel of Life and Health Care Reform

Here is the homily I preached at St. Mary's, Greenville on 21 March 2010, the Fifth Sunday of Lent:


On 25 March 1995, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, on the value and inviolability of human life. Today, four days before the fifteenth anniversary of that glorious defense of the Gospel of Life, the Congress of the United States, led to this moment by the President of the United States, is poised to enshrine in American law a savage assault on human life and the freedom of conscience of those pledged to help heal the sick. Make no mistake: This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and the tyranny of abortion is about to be enshrined under the guise of health care reform as a public entitlement which will be paid for by public funds collected from every tax payer and from which, in due course, no doctor, nurse, hospital, or clinic will be permitted to withdraw on a conscientious objection. This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and we have been led to this hour by self-described Catholics.


It must be said that the general effort to change the ways in which we Americans pay for our health care is a prudential matter about which reasonable people are free to disagree in good conscience. Passionate arguments have been advanced in this debate by partisans of every viewpoint, and in most of these arguments no absolute moral truths have been at stake. But there is one absolute moral truth at stake now, and it is this: Abortion is a crime against God and man which no human law can legitimize. And as John Paul the Great taught us in Evangelium Vitae, not only is there no obligation to obey such laws; there is, instead, a grave and clear obligation to oppose such laws by conscientious objection and, when necessary, civil disobedience.


In these last days of this national debate, some voices have been raised by those who identity themselves as Catholic to say that the bill which will be voted on today does not provide funds for abortion, but that is simply false. Our Bishop Robert wrote to every priest of the diocese on Friday to say that “It is evident the current health care legislation before the House of Representatives violates the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church in several areas. As pastors of souls we have an obligation to form our people to understand the end can never justify the means. The lives of the innocent unborn cannot be sacrificed so that health insurance can be extended to some who do not have it.” Then in a companion letter addressed to all the faithful of the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Guglielmone asks all of us to oppose this legislation “because it will allow for federal funding of abortion and will not provide conscience protection for health care professionals and health care institutions.” The bishop then adds that “Unfortunately, some organizations and individuals have decided that it is better to pass something to help a few. We can never allow evil to be done for own personal gain or for the benefit of some. Abortion should not be a part of health care reform, nor financed with tax dollars.”


Sadly, despite the clear and constant teaching on this point by our bishop and the entire United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there have been declarations in support of the present legislation by organizations calling themselves Catholic. The Catholic Health Association supported the bill, as did a left wing lobbying group of nuns called Network. And perhaps most disappointing for us locally, so did the Bon Secours Health System which owns and operates St. Francis Hospital here in Greenville.


The approach advocated by these groups, namely, to accept an evil that good may come of it, is the devil’s bargain, and it will inevitably ensnare everyone who accepts that bargain in material cooperation with evil. This means that even those who do not endorse abortion will be bound up with the actual performance of abortions in some way, and now the entire nation will be bound by law to pay for abortions. But my friends, abortion is not health care; it is murder most foul. And for us to look away from this abomination would entail our own cooperation with evil.


At the risk of raising eyebrows or worse, I must pause here to say that no one in this congregation should be surprised by these developments. In November 2008 I wrote to you that the election of Barack Obama ended “a political process that started two years ago and revealed deep and bitter divisions within the United States and also within the Catholic Church in the United States. This division is sometimes called a ‘Culture War,’ by which is meant a heated clash between two radically different and incompatible conceptions of how we should order our common life together, the public life that constitutes civil society. And the chief battleground in this culture war for the past 30 years has been abortion, which one side regards as a murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance and the other side regards as a fundamental human right that must be protected in laws enforced by the authority of the state. Between these two visions of the use of lethal violence against the unborn there can be no negotiation or conciliation, and now our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president.”


At the time I wrote that column, my words were regarded by many as extreme, but here we are, a year and half later, poised at the brink of tyranny. Now even those who oppose abortion may say, Tyranny? Really, Father, isn’t that a bit over the top? No; not in the least. When moral relativism is made a legal absolute even by a legal and democratic process, then basic human rights will be violated by the state in the name of tolerance. We have seen this in recent years in Massachusetts where the Catholic Church was forced out of coordinating the adoption of children because we will not place them with homosexual couples and in Washington, DC where Catholic Charities can no longer offer health insurance to spouses of its employees because we would otherwise be forced to do the same for domestic partners living in what we know to be a state of sin. These are examples of what Joseph Ratzinger called the dictatorship of relativism in the homily he preached just before the conclave that elected him to be Benedict XVI, and now this dictatorship has come to the Republic founded on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed every man with the natural right to life as the ground of living in liberty and pursuing happiness. Make no mistake: This is a dark hour in the history of our Republic, and we have been led to this hour by Catholics. Or, to put the matter more sharply, by those who call themselves Catholics.


So, what are we to do?


First, we must resist unjust laws and fight the dictatorship of relativism with every means at our disposal. If you have ever considered a politician’s position on abortion to be a minor matter in deciding on how to vote, I hope you now understand the folly of that position. Direct political action, constant vigilance against the growth of the dictatorship of relativism, civil disobedience, and a valiant defense of the Gospel of Life are all required of us now that a grave injustice will be enshrined in law.


Second, we must call things by their true and proper names. For example, where abortion is concerned, there is no such thing as being pro-choice. When the thing being chosen is murder, there is only pro-life and pro-death. I set before you today life and death. Choose life! that you and your children may live. And to take another example, the Bon Secours Health System has now laid bare the terrible truth that St. Francis Hospital is a Catholic institution in name only. You may continue to need their services for medical reasons, but please do not make the mistake of supporting that institution simply because there is a crucifix on the wall. There is no essential difference between a secular hospital and a theoretically Catholic hospital when the latter does what the Bon Secours System has done: namely, accept and endorse material cooperation with evil against the teaching of the Bishops of the Catholic Church.


Third, we must commit ourselves with new energy and fervor to living as evangelical Catholics through radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. This is the only way to expose the false catholicisms which are helping to destroy our nation by building lies into laws. A good way to begin the long campaign which has now been forced upon us is to read John Paul’s masterful encyclical, Evangelium Vitae or the Gospel of Life. You can find the English text in five seconds on the internet, and it is well worth a careful study. John Paul the Great, a man who saw with his own eyes the terrible consequences of a tyranny which denies the essential humanity of an entire class of persons, opens his letter with these words:


“The Gospel of Life is at the heart of the message of Jesus. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture. 


“At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news: ‘I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10-11). The source of this ‘great joy’ is the Birth of the Savior; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. John 16:21).


“The Church knows that this Gospel of Life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person -- believer and non-believer alike -- because it marvelously fulfills all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light  of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the human heart (cf. Romans 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.” (EV 1).


Listen again to that last sentence: Upon the recognition of this right, the right to life, every human and political community is founded. And now the Congress and President of the United States of America are preparing, in the name of extending health care in our nation, to embrace a refutation of the very right to exist of unborn children. My friends, this cannot stand, and while it stands we cannot cooperate in any way with the slaughter of the innocents. Such resistance may cost us dearly, but this is not the first time in the history of the world that following the Lord Jesus has been costly. Hear the Apostle Paul, Teacher of the Nations, in this morning’s Second Lesson:


“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know him and the power of resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)


Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

20 March 2010

Turning Together Towards the Lord

During Lent 2008, I dedicated five bulletin columns at my parish to an explanation of the history and purpose of the priest standing on the same side of the altar with the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer. Those five columns and a brief post script follow:


Mass celebrated versus populum


I. From Christian antiquity, priests and people have celebrated the Holy Eucharist by facing together towards the Lord. This simple and obvious theological precept has been somewhat obscured in the last generation by the novel practice of the priest standing across the altar from the people during the Eucharistic Prayer, a custom almost never before found in the sacred liturgy except for rare instances of architectural necessity, and in the last few years, theologians and pastors have begun to review this novelty in light of the best scholarship and the experience of the past 40 years.


Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was one of most thoughtful and respected critics of the unintended consequences which flow from the priest and people facing each other across the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. Ratzinger argued that this arrangement, in addition to being a radical novelty in Christian practice, has the effect of creating a circle of congregation and celebrant closed in upon itself rather than allowing the congregation and celebrant to be a pilgrim people together turned towards the Lord. And this closed circle, in turn, too easily renders the Eucharist more of a horizontal celebration of the congregation gathered than a vertical offering of the sacrifice of Christ to the Father. This flattening of divine worship into a self-referential celebration is, in part, what leads many Catholics to experience Mass as much less than the source and summit of the Church’s life, and the remedy for this malady is to open the closed circle and experience the power of turning together towards the Lord.


This can be done primarily in two ways: 1) return to the ancient and universal practice of the priest standing with the people on one side of the altar as they together face liturgical East, the place from which the glory of the Lord shines upon us, or 2) even when the priest and people remain separated on opposite sides of the altar, place a cross at the center of the altar to allow both celebrant and congregation to face the Lord. Pope Benedict, through his writing and by his example, is encouraging priests everywhere to work towards these goals to enrich the experience of divine worship and free us from the danger of solipsism which is contained in self-referential ways of praying.


This is why you see today in the sanctuary a new crucifix standing at the center of the altar. In the weeks ahead, as we grow accustomed to this gentle modification of the way we pray together, I will review with you the meaning and practical consequences of the priest and people turning together towards the Lord. For those of you who would like to read about these matters in some depth, I recommend two books. The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger and Turning Towards the Lord by Uwe Michael Lang are both excellent places to learn about the nature and purpose of divine worship and the ways in which the Church’s ritual must reflect the reality of the sacred in liturgical prayer.


The Benedictine arrangement for versus populum celebration


II. The ritual forms of Catholic worship have changed and evolved many times throughout the centuries, and the architectural arrangements for the celebration of these ritual forms have likewise changed. Ordinarily, this process of change is slow, deliberate, and incremental, but in the 1960’s the Church experienced an intense burst of change which dramatically altered both the ritual forms of our worship and the architectural arrangements of our churches. Because there were so many changes in such a short span of time, all of the alterations were considered by most people to be essentially connected to each other, but that is not the case. A good example is the use of Latin in the liturgical texts promulgated after the Second Vatican Council. Many people falsely believe that because Vatican II permitted the use of the vernacular languages in worship, the Council banished Latin from the modern Roman Rite. In fact, however, the same Council which permitted the use of the vernacular also insisted that all Catholics should be able to say and sing their parts of the new Mass in Latin. Celebrating the modern Roman Missal in Latin, therefore, is not in any way a rejection of the Second Vatican Council; rather, the regular use of Latin in modern worship is precisely what the Council Fathers called for.


A similar confusion exists with respect to the location of the altar and the place of the priest at the altar. From Christian antiquity, most churches had only one altar, and it was freestanding, meaning that the priest could walk completely around it during the celebration of the liturgy. This custom was retained in the Christian East by Orthodox and Catholics alike, but in the West the altar was gradually pushed back from the center to the rear wall of the sanctuary, in large measure to allow it to merge architecturally with the tabernacle. This change was later accompanied by adding additional altars to most churches, eventually yielding the custom of having three altars in each church. Even before the Second Vatican Council, pastors and theologians began to argue for a return to our own tradition of having but one altar in each church and insisting that it once again be freestanding. This was, in part, the fruit of the Liturgical Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries which reminded the Church, among other things, that the altar is the preeminent symbol of Christ in the liturgy. Accordingly, throughout the Western Church the old “high altars” found at the rear of the sanctuary were abandoned, changed, or replaced to allow the ancient and new custom of a freestanding altar. But just as this was happening, a novelty was introduced and attached to the newly detached altar: the custom of the priest and people facing each other across the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. How and why this novelty spread so far and so fast is a tale for another time and place; for now I want only to make this point: there is no essential connection between the liturgy of Vatican II, the freestanding altar, and the priest facing the people at the altar. In fact, even now the rubrics in the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest and people are together facing liturgical East during the Mass, and as I explained last week, Pope Benedict XVI wants Catholics everywhere to understand that to be faithful to our own tradition, we must live in continuity with the Church’s worship in every age.


III. Praying in a “sacred direction” is a feature common in many religions (Think of Muslims who pray facing Mecca—a practice instituted by Mohammed, who initially had his followers pray facing Jerusalem.), and following similar customs in Judaism, the idea of a “sacred direction” has been a part of Christianity since the beginning. Only since the 1960’s has this concept been neglected in the Western Church, but now Pope Benedict XVI is teaching the whole Church to retrieve the babies that were thrown out with the bathwater during the confusing days of liturgical change over 40 years ago. The first Christians expected the return of Christ in glory to occur at the Mount of Olives, from where He ascended to His Father, and so it was a common practice for them during prayer to turn towards the Mount of Olives. This practice later evolved into the general custom of preferring to face Jerusalem during prayer, and as the Church spread through the Mediterranean world, this notion further changed into a connection between the light of the rising sun and the glory of the returning Son. The seeds of this idea are planted throughout Scripture (Wisdom 16:28, Zechariah 14:4, Malachi 3:2, Matthew 24:27 and 30, Luke 1:78, and Revelation 7:2), and the early Church placed great emphasis on this point. In the second century, St Justin Martyr wrote “For the word of His truth and wisdom is more ardent and more light-giving than the rays of the sun, and sinks down into the depths of heart and mind. Hence also the Scripture said, ‘His name shall rise up above the sun.’ And again, Zechariah says, ‘His name is the East.’” And St. Clement of Alexandria was even more emphatic: “In correspondence with the manner of the sun’s rising, prayers are made toward the sunrise in the East.” (For a much fuller explanation of this theme, I again recommend the splendid little book Turning Towards the Lord by Uwe Michael Lang, published in 2004 by Ignatius Press and introduced with a forward by Joseph Ratzinger.)


For these reasons, since the building of Christian churches began on a large scale in the fourth century, they have literally been “oriented” to the East wherever local geography permitted this, and even when the building could not run on an east-west axis, the apse of the church and the altar within it have been understood as “liturgical East”, the symbolic place of the glory of the Lord. Moreover, because the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to God the Father and not to the congregation, the normal posture of the priest has always been to face the East with his congregation and offer the sacrifice of the Mass with and for them to the Father. Accordingly, it is a simple mistake to think of the priest as “having his back to the people” when they stand together on the same side of the altar; rather, the priest and people by their common “orientation” show that they are turning towards the Lord, a physical metaphor for the interior work of conversion which can thought of as the “reorientation” of our lives. This is why in nearly every place and for almost all of Christian history, the priest has stood with his people on the same side of the altar so that, together facing the East of the sacred liturgy, they could offer their lives while pleading the sacrifice of Christ, and it is this deep dimension of our common prayer which Pope Benedict wants us to retrieve from our own tradition.


The Benedictine arrangement for ad orientem celebration


IV. One objective of the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s was to encourage the active participation of the Catholic people in the celebration of the sacred liturgy, in part by reminding them that they are participants in, not spectators of, offering the sacrifice of praise at the heart of all Christian worship. Unfortunately, in the years following the Second Vatican Council, the Church’s desire that all the faithful participate fully in the sacred liturgy was too often rendered a caricature of the Council’s teaching, and misconceptions about the true nature of active participation multiplied. This led to the frenzied expansion of “ministries” among the people and turned worship into a team sport. But it is possible to participate in the liturgy fully, consciously, and actively without ever leaving one’s pew, and it is likewise possible to serve busily as a musician or lector at Mass without truly participating in the sacred liturgy. Both of these are true because the primary meaning of active participation in the liturgy is worshipping the living God in Spirit and truth, and that in turn is an interior disposition of faith, hope, and love which cannot be measured by the presence or absence of physical activity. But this confusion about the role of the laity in the Church’s worship was not the only misconception to follow the liturgical reforms; similar mistakes were made about the part of the priest.


Because of the mistaken idea that the whole congregation had to be “in motion” during the liturgy to be truly participating, the priest was gradually changed in the popular imagination from the celebrant of the Sacred Mysteries of salvation into the coordinator of the liturgical ministries of others. And this false understanding of the ministerial priesthood produced the ever-expanding role of the “priest presider,” whose primary task was to make the congregation feel welcome and constantly engage them with eye contact and the embrace of his warm personality. Once these falsehoods were accepted, then the service of the priest in the liturgy became grotesquely misshapen, and instead of a humble steward of the mysteries whose only task was to draw back the veil between God and man and then hide himself in the folds, the priest became a ring-master or entertainer whose task was thought of as making the congregation feel good about itself. But, whatever that is, it is not Christian worship, and in the last two decades the Church has been gently finding a way back towards the right ordering of her public prayer. In February 2007 Pope Benedict XVI published an Apostolic Exhortation on the Most Holy Eucharist entitled Sacramentum Caritatis in which he discusses the need for priests to cultivate a proper ars celebrandi or art of celebrating the liturgy. In that document, the pope teaches that “the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself,” and an essential part of that work is removing the celebrant from the center of attention so that priest and people together can turn towards the LORD. Accomplishing this task of restoring God-centered liturgy is one of the main reasons for returning to the ancient and universal practice of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar as they offer in Christ, each in their own way, the sacrifice of Calvary as true worship of the Father. In other words, the custom of ad orientem celebration enhances, rather than diminishes, the possibility of the people participating fully, consciously, and actively in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.


V. In the last four bulletin columns, we’ve seen that:


+ until the 1960’s the vast majority of Christians in every time and place offered the sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist with the priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar


+ this ancient and universal practice of offering the Eucharistic Prayer ad orientem, or facing East (whether geographical or liturgical East), is rooted in Judaism and the practice of the first Christians and emphasizes the vertical dimension of worship by opening the circle of priest and people to the presence of God among us in the sacred liturgy. For this reason, the custom of facing East is also described as praying ad Deum or towards God.


+ when properly understood and celebrated, this form of prayer not only does not constitute an impediment to the full, conscious, and active participation of the people in the sacred liturgy, it actually enhances that possibility by removing the priest from the center of the action and allows him to be once again merely a steward of the Sacred Mysteries rather than a host charged with entertaining his guests


+ the Second Vatican Council said not one word about the direction in which the priest should face at the altar, and even now the rubrics of the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest is facing East at the altar. Moreover, the Congregation for Divine Worship has clarified that facing East and facing the congregation are both equally lawful and that no special permission is needed for the priest to face the East, a fact underscored recently by Pope Benedict’s public celebration ad orientem, something he does everyday in his chapel.


Mass celebrated ad orientem


For all of these reasons, we will begin to celebrate Mass ad Deum at St. Mary’s sometime between Easter and Pentecost, after all the clergy and servers have been prepared for the logistical changes which will attend this development. This return to our own tradition is not an exercise of change for the sake of change; it is, rather, an effort to respond to the leadership of our Holy Father, who reminds us that what has been held sacred by all generations of Christians is to be held sacred by us. Let’s work together in this retrieval of an ancient and noble part of Christian prayer to see how it might strengthen our union with the Lord Jesus and deepen our capacity to worship the Father in Spirit and truth.


Post Script. During Eastertide 2008 we made the move to ad orientem worship after weeks of careful catechesis and preparation, and since then almost every Mass celebrated at St. Mary’s has been celebrated ad orientem. The results have overwhelming positive, and now it is both both priests and people the most natural thing for us to face the same direction as we plead the Holy Sacrifice.


Every priest who celebrates Mass in our church is free to choose his posture at the altar, and so visiting clergy often choose to celebrate versus populum, which requires only moving the crucifix and candle sticks to the other side of the mensa. In this way, the people of the parish see and learn that both postures are legitimate ways of celebrating the sacred mysteries and that no ideological statements are necessarily connected to the direction in which the priest faces at the altar.

19 March 2010

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

In November 2005, I wrote this essay on how to re-enchant the liturgy for my friend Father Alvin Kimel who was then writing his splendid blog, Pontifications, and in the years since my essay was first published by Father Kimel, I have received many requests for the text. So here it is again. But first an explanatory note.

Cradle Catholics born in or after the 1960’s often have great difficulty understanding why the sorry shape of worship in too many of our parishes is now an impediment to countless souls from entering into full communion with the Catholic Church ... particularly Anglicans and Lutherans who are accustomed to splendid music and reverent worship. This difficulty, I believe, comes from not grasping that the “living room liturgy” to which legions of Catholic have now grown attached is not the only way to pray; indeed, it is arguably not an appropriate way to pray at all. But this truth about the nature and purpose of the sacred liturgy has become very difficult for many people to understand; after all, people who live in old shacks still come to think of them as home. But the experience of sloppy worship so common in the past 40 years is an aberration in the long sweep of Christian history, and I believe that we are coming gradually to a recovery of rightly ordered prayer in keeping with our own ancient tradition and contemporary teaching. The principles and practical steps described below, all of which are solidly grounded in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent liturgical norms, are offered in the service of that recovery. 


Finally, because this essay was written in 2005 it does not discuss the Benedictine altar arrangements or the return to ad orientem worship which are suggested and modeled by Pope Benedict XVI and which are gradually gaining attention throughout the Church, but these two omissions only suggest how much progress has been made in less than five years. Here is the original essay:

Worshiping the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

I was baptized in the Episcopal Church, and there I learned to worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. When I became a Catholic, one of the most difficult adjustments for me was learning to accept the generally wretched state of the sacred liturgy in most parishes: banal language, casual atmosphere, mediocre secular music, ugly buildings badly decorated. In all too many places, the result is simply unspeakable. But this need not be.

The Catholic Church gave us Chartres and Canterbury; she gave us plainchant and Palestrina. The Catholic Church saved the language of Cicero, and gave birth to the Christian poetry of the West. The cultural and artistic riches of the Western Church are still in our storehouse; we need only deploy them in a way adapted to the present structure of the Roman Rite.

I have been a priest for more than twelve years, and in that time I have served four parishes, one college chaplaincy, and one seminary. In all of those posts, the following characteristics were observed (mutatis mutandis), and the results were splendid. I offer these suggestions for those who seek to “re-enchant” the sacred liturgy for the purpose of leading those who worship more deeply into the Paschal Mystery.

For the building and its contents

1. The tabernacle must be on the rear wall of the chancel and on the central axis of the church. Putting the LORD anywhere else turns everything else on an angle, and no ideological justification will change the way in which this simple fact destabilizes the liturgy.

2. The priest’s chair should face the ambo, not the congregation, and it should ideally be located on the opposite side of the altar from the ambo. When he is seated, the celebrant (like the congregation) should be facing the proclamation of the Word of God; to have him face the people from his chair makes him the focus of attention and invites him to behave like a talk show host.

3. Right angles are preferable to oblique ones. The eye senses rest when it follows one line to a 90 degree angle with another line; it senses motion when any other angle is present. One of the reasons many of our churches do not feel like peaceful houses of prayer to most folk is that the entire building and all of its furnishings are constantly “in motion”.

4. The altar candles should rest on the mensa (the top surface), not on the floor around the altar. The passion for the “naked altar” is bizarre, pagan, and antiquarian for its own sake. Yes, the rubrics do allow for the candles to be on or near the altar, but I believe that placing them on the mensa has an immediate effect towards the re-enchantment of the liturgy.

5. Avoid kitsch in all its forms, including most especially the trendy and sentimental, in decorating the church. Too many churches look like someone’s Italian or Irish grandmother has just finished sprucing up the place. Is it any wonder we have such trouble convincing our men that religion is not women’s work? The sanctuary is the home of the Son of Man; let’s make it look like a place in which most men would be comfortable spending a little time.

For the sacred music

1. Stop balkanizing the Mass schedule with different types of music. This trick comes from Protestant church growth strategies, and it teaches our people that divine worship is just a matter of personal taste. Yes, progressive solemnity can distinguish one Mass from another in a large parish (low Mass, sung Mass, solemn Mass, etc.), but the basic approach to matters musical should remain essentially the same.

2. If the choir is visible to the congregation, move them to a place where they will not be. This is absolutely essential to celebrating liturgy as worship rather than liturgy as entertainment. Yes, Anglicans more or less successfully replaced priests with lay choirs in the chancel, but for several different reasons, that simply does not work in the contemporary Roman Rite. The ideal place, of course, is a loft for organ and choir at the rear of the church. Failing that, at least move them to the back of the church.

3. Sing only sacred music. Much of what is now marketed as “liturgical music” is not sacred at all, and congregations addicted to that pablum are not capable of entering the liturgy as a participation in the worship of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Sacred music is a happy marriage of text and music, and both halves are necessary to re-enchant the liturgy.

4. If you sing hymns, sing the whole hymn. Stopping after the second verse because Father is at his chair makes as little sense as reciting half the Creed. And no “closing hymn” is needed. “The Mass is ended, go in peace” means what it says. Where possible, the priest and ministers should depart the sanctuary to an organ postlude or something comparable.

5. The Anglican, Methodist, and Lutheran traditions have given us an extraordinary treasury of hymnody, most of which can be used in the Catholic liturgy with little or no adaption. This music has proven itself to be durable, effective, and sacred. Do not be afraid of using hymns from this patrimony because they are “Protestant”. In truth, these texts are far more orthodox and “Catholic” than most of the tripe published by Catholics in the past two generations.

6. Plainchant was, is, and ever shall be the music best suited to the Roman Rite. Teach your musicians and your people some simple chants, and sing them well. Even those who struggle with Latin grammar will not need to be taught that this is sacred music.

For the congregation

1. Silence is indispensable. No talking before Mass. Teach the people to be comfortable with prolonged sacred silences during the liturgy by explaining that we’re not just waiting for the next thing to happen; we’re waiting together for the LORD.

2. Teach the people all the gestures proper to them, e.g. profound bow in the Creed, striking the breast at the Confiteor, kneeling at all appropriate times, etc. If the liturgy is just talking, talking, talking, then half the human person is left out of worship.

3. Emphasize coming early and stigmatize leaving early. Being casual about being on time renders the entire activity casual. Ditto for clothing. Same for the eucharistic fast.

4. Give constant, clear, and firm instruction about who should and who should not receive Holy Communion. Nothing desacralizes the sacred liturgy more than sacrilegious Communions, and the people need to be told this regularly. If you are not in full communion with the Church, if you are married outside of the Church, if you are in serious sin (including missing Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day) and have not yet been to Confession: Do not eat and drink your own condemnation. Reasserting that the Most Holy Eucharist is the most sacred reality on earth and not to be profaned by unclean lips will go a long way towards sorting out the McChurch atmosphere that poisons our souls.

For the priest

1. Say Mass as though the people were not present. This means that the priest is thinking about, speaking to, and turned towards God Most High. Paradoxically, it is this benign neglect of the people that gets the person of the priest out of the way and invites the people into the most intimate participation in the sacred mysteries. This is now counter-intuitive to most priests, who were taught that their first, last and constant job is make the people “feel welcome”, but it is absolutely and unconditionally true: say Mass as though the people are not there, and they will start to say things like, “That’s the first time in 40 years I feel like I’ve been to Mass.” Guaranteed.

2. Naturally, when speaking to the people, the priest must look at them. But except when speaking directly to the people, the priest’s entire attention (shown by posture, direction of eyes, etc.) must be directed away from the people and towards the Throne of Grace. For example, the Collect is not addressed to the congregation. Why face the people when you are speaking to the great I AM? And in the Eucharistic Prayer, the words “Take this all of you..” are not directed to the congregation, so when you say those words, Father, do not look at the people. The entire Anaphora is directed to God the Father, so do not look at your congregation when you are speaking to the Ancient of Days.

3. Eliminate the words of introduction in the entrance rite. Simply cut them out completely. This little interlude is one of the worst mistakes in the 1970 Missal; it’s like pulling the emergency brake on a train moving at 80 mph: the whole thing comes crashing to a disturbing halt. Give one homily, and give it when you should … in the homily. No off the cuff remarks, no improvisation after Holy Communion.

4. To the maximum extent possible, hide your personality under the chasuble. Who the celebrant is ought to be as nearly insignificant as possible. The priest’s job is to pull back the veil between God and man and hide himself in the folds, and this task is made nearly impossible by the ever expanding personality of “The Presider” who feels compelled to intrude his personality into every part of the sacred liturgy. The people aren’t there to see us, Father, and if they like our jokes, then we can let loose at cocktail parties. But not in the liturgy.

5. Sing the liturgy. Most parishes sing around the liturgy, but the liturgy itself is meant to be sung. Unless a priest is truly tone deaf (and even then he can learn to sing recto tono), he should sing, at least at Solemn Masses, nearly every word out of his mouth. From “In the Name of” to “The Mass is ended” and including most especially the Eucharistic Prayer (in whole or at least the words of the institution narrative), the priest should sing the liturgy. In the Christian East, it was once clear that a man who could not sing had no priestly vocation. I wouldn’t go that far, but singing the priestly prayers is an essential part of the sacred liturgy, and when it is done well, the re-enchantment of the liturgy is literally at hand.

6. Remember that every liturgy leaves chronological time and enters kairotic time. In chronos we say Good Morning; in liturgical kairos we say Dominus vobiscum. If we do not depart from the texts of the Church, then we stand a fair chance of taking the people with us into the never ending liturgy of the New Jerusalem. This is also why slow walking, talking and gestures are important. Same with hiding street clothes under sacred vesture. Ditto for the athletic shoes of the altar boys.

7. Yes, that’s altar boys, not androgynous altar servers. Want to encourage young men in the parish to think about the priesthood and all the men to take seriously their responsibilities for masculine headship in their families and the Church? Then restrict the service of the altar to boys and young men.

What’s This About?

Remember that the cult of the ugly and the mundane was forced upon the Church in the service of an ideology. And if 40 years ago there was any doubt that this ideology is the enemy of the Gospel of Christ, there can be no doubt now. A bare ruined choir is all that is left in many corners of the vineyard, but even (and sometimes especially) in the ruins, God can make all things new. In the service of this renewal, or re-enchantment:

1. Take Cardinal Mahony’s pastoral letter on the celebration of parochial liturgy and throw it on the fire. Watch it burn. Now go take a hot shower.

2. Reject the ideology that got us here. Root and branch, cut it out of yourself. Empty seminaries, despoiled religious orders, plummeting Mass attendance, and wholesale immorality among clergy and laity alike are probably pretty good clues that the vocation to holiness which is our baptismal second birthright is getting obscured along the way.

3. Read good books that will help you understand the real nature and purpose of the sacred liturgy. Two excellent places to start are The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger (who now goes by a new nom de plume) and Looking at the Liturgy by Aidan Nichols, O.P. For the mechanics of celebration, start with Peter Elliott’s Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite and Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year.

4. Now approach the altar in spirit and truth, and worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.