Church is “the house of prayer” from which “preaching may be left out” but never “the house of preaching” from which “prayer may be left out” . . .

That is, you can do without the sermon but never without the prayer.

That’s from a John Donne sermon, 17th century, found in Prayers, selected and edited by Peter Washington, Everyman’s Library, Pocket Poets (Knopf), 1995.

Not to downgrade the sermon, but this I found helpful. The Mass has both prayer and sermon, or homily, of course, with its essence the Eucharistic Prayer serving as climactic. It has the moments of consecration, when everything shuts down, except the bell-ringer, and the priest says the sacramental words — formula, if you will — and people have nothing to do but watch. And pray.

Before and after these solemn moments, however, there is lots going on, intended to foster prayer and prayerfulness but sometimes, I think, preventing it. These are busy moments, serving to keep people on their toes — and successful in that, in large part anyhow.

My own experience, which I generously share with you, gives the lie to that scenario. I have written about kneeling for the canon, for instance, that crucial part of the whole event, remember, and waking up for the Our Father, when all rise to say or sing the words. And I with nothing to account for from the previous ten minutes.

An hour or so in the day of the fumbling, stumbling worshiper . . .

Getting there: Traffic on way to church slowed down for one car pushing another down Balmoral. It was an old-fashioned mine-won’t-start-get-me-going, bumper-to-bumper affair. To the credit of Western Civilization, honks were a scattered few along the block-long line of rush-hour vehicles. The other pair peeled off at Broadway, and the rest of us moved along.

At mass: I sit on the side under a light with my New Testament by Msgr. Ronald Knox. It’s Mark 15, about Jesus questioned by Pilate, who’s amazed at his not answering to the charges that Pilate knew were trumped up by priests and others of the established religion, that which Jesus had been challenging.

Pilate tells the crowd Jesus is not guilty. Stirred up by priests and the rest, they roar disapproval. He gives in, not looking for trouble at headquarters about rioting in his province.

He hands Jesus over to be crucified and scourged and then famously crowned with thorns because soldiers did that kind of thing. The guy was a nothing, some fun could be had. Pilate ignored his wife, who had dreamed that Jesus was a just man and told him. Both were nervous about it.

Meanwhile, Father is preaching and speaking of Elizabeth. Yes, but which one? Later about that.

I sit, as noted, outside the main stream and besides don’t always hear so well, am reading Mark and writing things down and wondering some times, Is this worship? Well if it isn’t, I have to settle for it often enough.

Otherwise I am trying to get with every prayer and holy thought emanating from the “presider” (interesting Vatican 2 terminology some times replacing “celebrant,” with effect of changing the priest’s role). Failing to do so, often instead I am thrashing about with memories of every darn thing that consoles or bothers me, making me mad or sad. I become the worried man singing the worried song.

To avoid such wasters of prayer time, more accurately meditation, I read and reflect on my man Mark, the gospel-writer, who came late to the scene but signed on for the Jesus movement heart and soul and interviewed those who were there, especially his guiding star Peter, and put it down for us to know what happened in these earth-shaking years.

Diary of a worshiper 1

A TIME TO PRAY . . .

In the spring of 2006, our parish collapsed the Sunday mass schedule from 8:30 and 10:30 to only 9:30, for reasons evident to anyone familiar with our shortage of priests and reduced mass attendance.

“Some of us will groan” at this, our pastor said in the bulletin, making the best of it: “Some have been going to [one or other of these masses] for years and don’t know the parishioners at the other masses!” The change provides a chance for us “to see each other and know each other.”

There’s merit to that. The change would be an exercise in habit-changing for the sake of “unity.” The one-mass celebration will be “joyful,” he predicted, and will “remind us of our oneness in Christ.” A stick drawing had a crew in rowing shell and the words “Pull together.”

Prudent parish management for logistical reasons. At the same time, exemplifying the community-building priority of the mass to which Catholic churchgoers had become accustomed, or inured as the case may be. Our pastor was operating in the main flow of Catholic thinking and practice. In that role, he was doing his duty as he saw it.

He also was substituting one aspect of Catholic worship for the whole. At least he was leaving it out of the equation. Nation-building was for the U.S. President for much of this century. Community-building was for the Catholic pastor. He didn’t celebrate mass, for instance, he presided. He didn’t lead people to Christ, he organized them on the premise of leading them to Him in that way. What better purpose for the mass than being crucial to that process?

It took a while for this to dawn on me. The new normal, not so new, of course, was to find God in your neighbor. The other, to find Him in prayer and meditation, though never denied — hardly, that would have given away the show — was de-emphasized or reformulated as extracurricular, something auxiliary which you can also do, while the mass was turned over almost entirely to community-building. Moments of silence were dropped in here and there — the consecration, which always got its due, the brief time for adding one’s petitions in silence, and usually a smidgen of inactivity post-communion.

Otherwise, the air was filled. If radio performers can’t permit dead air, neither can today’s priests, bishops. organists, solo singers, choruses, commentators, hey, even ushers, who on their way to usher people out of the pews for joining the line for communion stop along the way to shake hands with all on-the-aisle pewsitters. It’s gangbusters, and for what? Not, surely to enhance worship as divinely directed but to build community.

Shake hands with all the neighbors, but do not kiss the colleens all unless you know them very well. You will know you’re as welcome as the flowers in May, as if you were newly returned to dear old Donegal — playing off an Irish melody I learned from my brothers decades ago.

Whence came such a wonder, so dramatically different from a few generations ago? How happened those revolutionary changes of the 1970s and later? Who did it? Why did they do it? How did they pull it off? A little book like this can shed some light, drawing on what happened, who decreed it or opposed it, what critics said about it.

Take the all-church changeover from Latin to English after Vatican II, not just suggested or strongly urged but enforced — centralized planning and enforcement to make a statist weep with envy. The world over, Catholics got used to mass in the everyday language of each. Social engineering on a world scale, change by design of a few, not by natural influences.

Vatican II celebrated freedom for the children of God — grand phrase! — but not in liturgy. Latin had to go. Latin went. Rebels were marginalized. Only recently has Latin returned with church authority’s blessings. (And by now in limbo at best in a new regime.)

more more more later . . .

Canadian mass-going for vaccinated only. Like or lump it.

Hey, my people stopped in this area on their way to Chi-town, long time ago.

A Catholic diocese in Canada will be requiring proof of vaccination and identity verification for anyone age 12 or older to attend Mass or other events held at parishes. “Effective October 22, 2021, it will be mandatory for all persons 12 and older wishing to attend Masses or Services in our churches to demonstrate proof of vaccination by using the Vaccine Passport: NLVaxPass or by showing proof of vaccination by presenting their QR code before entering our churches,” said an Oct. 15 letter from Bishop Robert Anthony Daniels of Grand Falls to the priests and pastoral leaders of the diocese.

The Diocese of Grand Falls is located in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Its territory is approximately half of the island of Newfoundland.

As I say, I have a remote stake in this, but remote or not, I CARE!!

Indigenous prayers, dancing in San Bernardino CA Synod Mass . . .

. . . pick up rave review and defense from the diocese for their multiculturalism and helping people reflect on creation, a la the Pope’s “Laudato Si” encyclical.

A Denver liturgist thought otherwise.

“There is a danger,” said Fr. Daniel Cardó, Benedict XVI Chair of Liturgical Studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, that cultural expressions during the Mass can distract from the proper focus on the Eucharist,

“There are many occasions in the life of a diocese or a parish for cultural and self-expression, but the Mass is not the place for these,” Cardó wrote in an email to CNA.

“True and lasting ecclesial unity comes from the Eucharist, not from our well-intentioned human experiments,” he stated. “Celebrating the sacraments according to the rubrics and their spirit is the ordinary and simple path for genuine participation in the graces God offers through them.”

Spiritual reading your cup of tea? Try the great Ronald Knox

Ronald Knox as Spiritual MasterBy David Deavel|October 4th, 2021|

He addresses us where we are in ordinary life.His sermons and pastoral writings have lived on quite well, for he was a master of profound but ordinary Christian spirituality. 

The Belief of Catholics, his comprehensive apologetic text, is published by Ignatius Press, as are a number of other classic works like The Hidden StreamIn Soft GarmentsA Retreat for Lay People, Knox’s wonderful translation of Thomas A Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, and a one-volume edition of Knox’s Pastoral and Occasional Sermons

The Belief of Catholics, in particular, is one volume that has played a large role in a number of contemporary conversions to Catholicism, including that of a friend who was a former Methodist minister.

 The Mass in Slow Motion and The Creed in Slow Motion, originally given as talks to schoolgirls, keep repaying examination. I know one director of religious education at a parish who uses pages from these books to teach both children and adults.

While some of Knox’s books are difficult to read because of the classical learning in them, the prose is clear as crystal and still readable today. His apologetics and sermons, moreover, are written without the heavy adornment of Latin and Greek.

Knox spoke to the ordinary Catholic in a way that informed him, but did not overwhelm him; spoke to him without speaking down to him; and aided him on the Christian pilgrimage as a friend who spoke of things he knew about from experience.

Rather than seeing Knox as a time-bound figure from an unrecoverable past, I see him as one who spoke of eternal things in a way that was perhaps more popular in his day, but no less profound in our own. . . . 

What is greatest about Knox, in my view, is his spiritual writing. It is here that the wisdom and the timelessness of Knox are to be found, a wisdom that I believe should be shared with Catholic parishes but also non-Catholic Christians who will recognize a preacher who is careful and sometimes clever, but who always puts the emphasis on substance over showiness. . . . 

Knox’s retreat addresses—in A Retreat for Beginners, A Retreat for Priests, and A Retreat for Lay People are indeed quiet and perhaps didactic, but they sparkle all the same if one gives them room. In “Alive to God,” one of the conferences given in A Retreat for Laypeople, Knox talks about practicing the “presence of God.”

The thought of God is not one which can satisfactorily occupy the central focus of the mind. When we try to think about him, our intellect beats about the bush, takes refuge in inferences and analogies; the thought itself escapes us.

Insofar as we try to make God the direct object of our attention we are always, aren’t we, in reality trying to substitute an inferior image in place of him. We think of him as a King, but he doesn’t really wear a gold crown; we think of him as up in the air, but he isn’t really up in the air more than anywhere else. 

Being alive to God means something a little more complicated; it means that the thought of God is at the very apex of our unconscious minds all the time, overflowing all the time into our conscious thoughts, our conscious acts.

It is like a taste in the mouth, a perfume in the nostrils, that conditions for the time being the whole of your experience, without your noticing that it is there.

Not God in the very center of the picture; that is not possible in this life, even for the Saints; but God only just out of the very center of the picture so that he dominates the grouping of the whole. Alive to God, every thought of yours haunted—let us not be afraid to use that word for it—haunted by the Divine Presence.

This is vintage Knox, dispelling the illusions and disappointments that will follow from believing that we can experience in our consciousness and our emotional lives the fullness of heaven here on earth. Knox is superb at dispelling the illusions we have about what seeking God is and how we experience it.

In his sermon “A Better Country,” he addresses very well the one who has been at faith for a while and feels at a standstill—how is it that we feel so dry and languishing, how is it that we don’t seem to make much progress?

It is natural, it is right that we should sometimes ask ourselves these questions, but I think it is a mistake to be always feeling one’s own pulse, always watching one’s own symptoms. Let us be content, instead, to think of the Blessed Sacrament not as the medicine but as the food of our souls; acting on us as material food does, without our knowing it, yet all the time sufficing for the day’s needs, carrying us along on our journey, though we seem to make such a weary business of it, dragging foot after foot. The invalid who refuses food because it has so little relish for him becomes a worse invalid yet.

That word “refuses” gets at the heart of what is so often wrong. “The trouble, you know, about you and me,” he writes, “is not that we aren’t saints, but that we don’t want to be saints.” The reason we don’t really want to be saints is so often because we don’t treat the unseen reality as more real than what we can see. Knox points out that Jesus’ analogies don’t say that the Church is like a vine or divine life is like water, but instead “treats all the earthly things with which we are familiar in this world of sense as if they were mere shadows, mere inferior copies of the reality which awaits us in heaven.” Knox consistently wants us to have faith in the unseen so that it may transform our behavior in the seen world.

The products that we want in ourselves are quantifiable things—tears, feelings, and other reactions. Yet, Knox reminds us:

All those feelings of ours are a mere echo, a mere by-product of divine grace; they are no more to be confused with grace itself than the humming of the wheels is to be confused with the work the machine is doing. The growth of grace in us through holy communion is something as secret, as silent, as the restoration of tissues which natural food brings to our bodies. Only over a long space of time, as a rule, can the effects of it be observed; and even then, probably, not by ourselves.

There is something gentle yet hard-edged here—Knox encourages us not to be taken in by desires to experience the effects of God’s grace; we should instead want to experience God. And as it is in the small arenas of our lives, so it is as we experience the large things of society and life.

In a 1952 sermon “On Divine Providence,” Knox observes, “The cry of the saints, ‘How long?’, goes unanswered; and some of us will find their faith endangered by that subtle unexpressed wish we all have to be on the winning side—the faith isn’t always on the winning side.” Yet we have to understand that it is God who will provide for all our needs. Saints don’t get overly concerned about the outcomes of this world since “for the saint, you see, the essential facts are those of the next world, rather than those of this. God, your soul, eternity, sin, judgment, those are the essential facts; and the simplicity of the saints is to distinguish those facts all the time, without effort, from the unessential facts that do not matter, although human vanity and snobbishness and worldliness think they do.”

Knox understood that suffering and dying was the way in which Jesus came to us, that Providence works through our weakness and our failures, and that it could work even better if we gave up on the illusions that we could do better if we were in some other situation or were somebody else. If we were to calmly accept our failures, both our frailties and our sins, we could make so much more progress. We too often excuse our own failures by “running around in circles and complaining that the world is treating [us] badly” when we should be “taking things as [we] find them, making the best of things, as we find them.” This is the humility we need. Instead, too often, we misjudge ourselves and forget that “we shall be judged, not by what we might have done if we had been somebody different, but by what we did, being what we were.”

When we do take our sins seriously, we too often get angry. Says Knox, “[T]hat never did anybody any good.” We are not to be surprised or dismayed by our sins, for as Knox puts it so well: “God doesn’t want us to feel humiliated, he wants us to feel humbled. And that’s a very different thing.”

What we need to pray for, says Knox, is grace in the moment of our needs. And that is a very simple thing. In a sermon titled “Sins of the Tongue,” Knox advises us to remember that what we often need to ask God for is “the grace to shut up.”

“The grace to shut up.” This is about as wild and flowery as Knox gets. His preaching is not the sort of verbal fireworks show that will wow you. It is the sort of thing that is utterly useful to one attempting to live Christian life. In his introduction to the Occasional Sermons, Philip Caraman observes that in all Knox’s preaching, “There is always a sternly practical core in what he says.” But, says Caraman, Knox preaches not at “you” but to “we.” And this “‘we’ of his sermons is not the cliché of the orator; it is the unobtrusive link binding priest to people. When he gives an admonition he makes no distinction between himself and his hearers.”

People often ask me about “spiritual reading.” I recommend Monsignor Knox. He gives us no visions or holy weirdness, which are themselves not necessary. Instead, he addresses us where we are in ordinary life. Read those retreats or those Pastoral and Occasional Sermons. I think you will find what I have. It is the same thing that Fr. Thomas Corbishley wrote about him in his little book, Ronald Knox, The Priest: “No one who listened to him as he preached could doubt that here was a man who was setting out an ideal not just for his listeners, but for himself. His capacity for affecting others, by probing into the secret places where we try to hide from ourselves, arose from his own self-knowledge, from his own genuine humility. His effectiveness as a preacher came in the end, not from his skill in language but from his knowledge of the human heart.”
==============================================
The Imaginative Conservative [from which this it taken] applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. 
Source:  Imaginative Conservative Thursday, Oct 14 2021.

What To Do When You Don’t Like Your Priest

What GIL MICHELINI told his friend.

1) Bring a journal to Mass. I have done this for years to help me stay focused and to capture inspirations from the Holy Spirit. I got this idea from business philosopher Jim Rohn. Catholic apologist Matthew Kelly also recommends having a journal at Mass. Yes, people are going to look at you while taking notes because they are thinking they should be doing the same. I know this because they have said that to me.

2) Prayerfully read the readings before going to Mass. A great way to do this is with the ancient tool of Lectio Divina. There are at least three reasons to study the readings before hearing them at Mass.

  • First, it is possible that God is going to say something to you during your study that you might not have heard in Mass.
  • Second, God is also going to speak to you through your priest during the homily.
  • Finally, time is never wasted studying Scripture.

3) Arrive before Mass and pray for the priest. He is about to do THE most important duty in the world, and he needs our prayers. Offering your priest up to Jesus at each Mass helps you develop a love for him.

The truth is, the problem is not with priest, it’s with you. To love as Jesus loves, you need to ask Him to help change your heart to love your priest with all of his failings.

4) IGNORE which priest is presiding at Mass and focus on meeting Jesus during the Mass. If you feel frustration when seeing the priest you don’t like, ask Jesus why you are reacting this way. Put the answer in your journal to help you learn from this. In reading about the early Church, you will see that not all the apostles liked each other but through the love they shared in Jesus, they changed the world.

5) During the Liturgy of the Word, [write down] thoughts that come to mind while the readings are being proclaimed (not always easy to do during the Gospel). I have found this is the Spirit pointing out something important. During the homily, do the same thing. Listen for something that you connect with. DO NOT focus on the quality of his delivery; listen for what is being said.

6) Make an effort to get to know the priest. This could be as simple as meeting for coffee during the day or having him to your house for dinner. He is still going to have his quirks that rub you the wrong way but at least you can get to know him better, which will help you pray better for him.

7) Get to confession. Of course, if you have missed Mass but also for some direction in overcoming your struggle with the priest. Obviously, it would be good to talk to a different priest about your struggles.

This might be a surprise to you but priest don’t always like each other, their bishop, or their parishioners. They have been given some skills — as well as some gifts from the Holy Spirit — to help them overcome their humanness. Your confessor will be glad to share these with you.

About GIL MICHELINI . . . 

Ten Most Common Liturgical Abuses, January, 1991

Before Vatican II there weren’t any surprises when it came to the Mass.

Now in many parts of the United States you’ll find priests improvising as they go along. Even archbishops issue pastoral letters directing things at odds with liturgical regulations. As Pope John Paul II noted in a 1998 ad limina address to the American bishops of the western states, not all of the changes in the liturgy “have always and everywhere been accompanied by the necessary explanation and catechesis; as a result, in some cases there has been a misunderstanding of the very nature of the liturgy, leading to abuses, polarization, and sometimes even grave scandal.”

When the Mass is presented as something casual, entertaining, or improvisational, the whole point of it disappears. If the priest conducts himself as if Christ were not truly present in the Eucharist, why should the lay people in his parish think the Eucharist means anything? Why should they bother to go to Mass at all? Although census figures report that the Church in America is growing, only twenty-five percent of Americans who call themselves Catholic attend Mass regularly (down from seventy percent before the liturgical reforms following Vatican II). Worse, close to two-thirds of American Catholics say they don’t believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist—and many of those are among the twety-five percent who still attend Mass.

A strong argument can be made that the loss of structure in liturgy caused an erosion of faith that in turn dealt a near-mortal blow to the American priesthood. Religious vocations, always sufficient in this country, began dropping off as the new order of the Mass was imposed without the necessary explanation and catechesis. Now many parishes have priests of other nationalities; we have become virtually a missionary country.

In an atmosphere of free-form liturgy, it’s up to the laity to know the laws about texts, gestures, the sacred objects used, and the proper conduct of the Mass; to obey those laws; and to see that the clergy obeys them, too. It’s up to us to call our priests back to due reverence when it comes to matters of taste that aren’t covered by law. It’s also important to know the difference between matters of law and matters of taste, because you have to know when you can insist and when you have to persuade. But by and large the laws binding on all priests are enough to bring back the reverence that is all too often missing.

If you question some liturgical practice at your parish, go to your nearest Catholic library or bookstore and have a look at these texts: the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM); the Code of Canon Law (its acronym, CIC, is derived from its Latin title, Codex Iuris Canonici); the Ceremonial of Bishops (CB); and the Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite (CMRR). The Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979 (DOL) published by the Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minnesota, includes many kinds of regulations in a single volume; so does The Liturgy Documents: A Parish Resource by Liturgy Training Publications at the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Check the directives from popes and Vatican congregations, particularly the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship (CSDW). The Congregation publishes the answers to questions of interest in a periodical called Notitiae. These reinforcements of law are binding on all the faithful, and they go into greater detail than the laws themselves can; but mostly they repeat that the laws must be followed in this and every other instance.. Pauline Books & Media publishes many of these documents in inexpensive editions. And if you have a computer, check the Internet. You can easily find the complete texts of just about any Church document, free, including a good many articles from Notitiae.

Above all get a copy of the Order of Mass approved for use in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find the Order outside of huge altar books, which are expensive, or missalettes, which aren’t always accurate. Pangaeus Press in Dallas publishes an affordable edition of the Order.

When you have the applicable laws, write to the offending priest, citing the law, chapter, and verse and quoting it in full. Be objective and charitable; if you can, phrase your concerns as questions. An errant priest simply might not know what he’s doing, but whether he’s negligent or willful he might get obstinate or try to save face when his error is pointed out. If you get no satisfaction after a reasonable exchange, repeat your concerns to the priest in writing and send a copy to your bishop. It might end up being a longer and less pleasant process than you’d think. So be prepared to repeat the process and to keep the focus on the exact issue and the exact laws that it violates. As frustrating as the process might get, never lose your sense of charity. If your complaint comes to a successful conclusion, don’t crow about it; you haven’t won anything. The law has been fulfilled. The Blessed Sacrament has won.

Here are the most common abuses that you find in American liturgies today, with a few references to the laws that prohibit them. Check out those references and you’ll probably find laws on similar problems in your own parish.

1. Disregarding the prescribed text of the Order of Mass.

This particular abuse is perhaps the most widespread. You might think that the mere existence of a prescribed, official Order of Mass would be enough to show priests that they’re not to change or improvise, but it isn’t.

It’s not uncommon to find lectors eliminating male references to God in the Scripture readings or using the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (or other inaccurate and unapproved ones) for the readings. You sometimes hear priests changing the words of the Nicene Creed—omitting the word “men” in “for us men and for our salvation” is the most common violation—or omitting the Creed altogether; saying aloud the prayers to be said quietly; or generalizing them, saying, for instance, “Lord, wash away our iniquities and cleanse us of our sins” (instead of “my” and “me”).

You hear priests changing the tense and thereby the sense of phrases like “pray that our sacrifice is acceptable” instead of “may be acceptable” or “the Lord is with you” instead of “the Lord be with you.” You hear them inviting the congregation to join in prayers specified as the priest’s alone. On occasion you even find priests winging it during the Eucharistic Prayer. And beyond the improvised words you’ll find a lot of flippant practices like using blue vestments for Marian feasts or gingerbread for the Eucharist at children’s Masses.

All of this is unlawful: “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 22, repeated in documents like Sacram Liturgiam; Tres Abhinc Annos; CIC 841, 846; and many other laws and regulations). Deviations from the Order are illicit, and when done intentionally they’re a grave offense both against the Church and the faithful who have a right to an authentic liturgy (Inaestimabile Donum, CSDW, April 3, 1980).

2. Interrupting the Mass.

The priest has no more right to interrupt the Mass from the sanctuary than you have to interrupt it from the pews. At the conclusion of Mass the lector or priest may make general announcements for the information of the parish; that’s specified in the Order. But no one may stop the Mass to make announcements, give financial reports, or make pleas for funds (Inter Oecumenici; Inaestimabile Donum). No one may stop the Mass for extra homilies (CSDW, Liturgicae Instaurationes 2(a)) and certainly not for other activities that are themselves unlawful, like skits or “liturgical dance.”

3. Omitting the penitential rite.

This one is often misunderstood. A priest may choose to use the rite of blessing and sprinkling as given in the Order, in which case he must omit the “Lord have mercy.” But a priest can never omit the penitential rite altogether, and he cannot give a general absolution during the penitential rite of the Mass as a substitute for individual Reconciliation (nor can he do so during a communal penance service [CIC
961]).

There are other options available to the celebrant elsewhere in the Order. The sign of peace, for instance, is optional (GIRM 112). If he includes it, though, the priest is not allowed to leave the sanctuary to exchange it with the congregation (GIRM 136).

4. Replacing or omitting the homily.

A priest may omit the homily only on weekdays that are not holy days. On Sundays and holy days he must give a homily (Sacrosanctum Concilium; CIC 767); it should relate the readings to one another and indicate how their message can be applied to the lives of his parishioners (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntianidi; Inter Oecumenici). No priest can substitute announcements, financial reports, or pleas in place of the homily, nor add such things to it. Of course the Holy See isn’t going to make a fuss if he takes a couple of sentences at the end of the homily to make an announcement, tell how much is in the building fund, or mention a second collection.

Nobody who is not a priest, deacon, or bishop can give the homily at Mass; nobody who is not ordained can give a “talk” or “reflection” in place of the homily (CIC 766–768). Although some few groups like the Society for the Propagation of the Faith have a dispensation to speak on behalf of an order or mission at the time appointed for the homily, it is never permitted without that dispensation—not even if he (or, worse, she) gives a short homily before launching into the appeal. An ordained minister gives a homily structured on certain guidelines; that’s it.

Incidentally, he may not leave the sanctuary during the homily (GIRM 97).

5. Dictating posture.

There are parishes where the ushers will ask you to stand when you’re kneeling. Many churches are being built now without kneelers to discourage you from kneeling at all. This violates the law and does no honor to Christ nor to the martyrs who died rather than compromise the outward signs of their faith.

But if the celebrant and his ushers can’t mandate your posture, the law can, and it does. Everybody at Mass is supposed to be uniform in standing, sitting, and kneeling (GIRM 20), and there are universal rules about it. In this country you are still required to kneel during the Consecration, from after the end of the Sanctus until the Great Amen, even if there aren’t any kneelers (GIRM 21; Appendix to the General Instruction 21). You are required to bow or kneel at the words “by the power of the Holy Spirit” in the Creed (GIRM 98). You are required to genuflect whenever you pass the Eucharist, whether it’s in the tabernacle or publicly exposed except when in procession (GIRM 233; CB 71). And contrary to what you might see these days, the Eucharist’s tabernacle can’t be tucked out of the way. It should be “placed in a part of the church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer” (CIC 938).

After Communion, though, you’re free to stand, sit, or kneel as you choose.

6. Dictating the manner of reception of the Eucharist.

Vatican II never mentioned receiving the host in hand. But when some countries introduced the practice illicitly Pope Paul VI surveyed the world’s bishops to see if it should be allowed where it already existed. Rather than suddenly suppressing reception in the hand, the pope granted an indult intended to let the practice continue for a time in those areas where it already existed. Oddly enough, the bishops of the United States—where the practice did not exist—asked permission of the Holy See to introduce it here. Even more amazingly, they got it.

Still, universal Church law does not permit reception of the Sacrament in the hand, and John Paul II disapproves of the practice. The indult that allowed it specified that reception in the hand “must not be imposed” (CSDW, En réponse, 1969). Absolutely no priest or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may refuse to administer the Eucharist on the tongue. Your right to determine which lawful manner you use is stated in the GIRM (Appendix for the United States, 240b).

The chalice cannot be left on the altar for people to pick up and drink from, not even during lightly attended Masses. The celebrant must distribute the Sacrament (United States Bishops’ Directory on Communion Under Both Species, 47). In fact, you’re not allowed to dip your host into the chalice; you have to take the cup and drink from it (DCUBS 45).

By the way, as to Eucharistic ministers, it’s important to note that they’re not supposed to help distribute the Sacrament routinely; only if there’s an unusually large number of people at Mass or if they’re sent to distribute extraordinarily outside of Mass, as to the sick. They are not supposed to assist at all when a priest is in attendance. Their office has nothing whatever to do with increased participation by the laity.

7. Ignoring rules for reception of the Eucharist.

The official statement of the rules for reception has recently been rewritten by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and unfortunately it’s pretty vague. But it still says clearly that “in order to be properly disposed to receive communion, participants . . . normally should have fasted for one hour,” abstaining from food and drink except water or medicine.

The rewrite also goes to great lengths to say that non-Christians and Christians not in communion with the Church are welcome to come to Mass, but it’s not nearly so clear as it used to be on the fact that they may not receive the Eucharist. The new phrase “ordinarily not admitted to holy communion” makes some Catholics—and too many priests—figure that it’s all right for non-Catholics to take communion on special occasions like weddings or funerals, or if the non-Catholic is a prominent person like a government official or head of state. Exceptions are so few and given in circumstances so rare that it might have been more helpful to write simply “not admitted to holy communion”; but that’s for the bishops to say.

Naturally, you’re also required to be free from “grave” sin—what we all used to call “mortal” sin—which means Reconciliation before reception if you have committed a grave offense. And, no, the theology about what constitutes a grave sin has not changed, even if the terminology has.

8. Holding hands during the Our Father.

This is oddly widespread in the United States but it’s an illicit addition to the liturgy. The official publication of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacrament sand Divine Worship, Notitiae (11 [1975] 226), states the practice “must be repudiated . . . it is a liturgical gesture introduced spontaneously but on a personal initiative; it is not in the rubrics.” And anything not in the rubrics is unlawful, again because “no other person . . . may add . . . anything [to] the liturgy on his own authority” (ibid).

Notitiae (17 [1981] 186)) also reaffirms that the priest may never invite the congregation to stand around the altar and hold hands during the Consecration. He stays in the sanctuary and we stay outside of it.

9. Performing liturgical dance.

Introducing dance into the liturgy in the United States would be to add “one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements” leading to “an atmosphere of profanity, which would easily suggest to those present worldly places and profane situations. Nor is it acceptable to introduce into the liturgy the so-called artistic ballet because it would reduce the liturgy to mere entertainment” (Notitiae11 [1975] 202–205).

10. Closing the holy water fonts at some seasons.

This is another innovation introduced spontaneously, and while holy water fonts are not integral parts of the Mass, emptying them during Lent or Advent is wrong no matter how you look at it. It’s not found anywhere in liturgical law, which is reason enough to suppose it to be forbidden. And it makes absolutely no sense. Holy water is a sacramental, so its right use carries with it a certain degree of forgiveness of sin and remission of punishment (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1668; CB 110–114). There is no positive spiritual benefit in depriving the faithful of this legitimate aid at any time. In fact, removing it during penitential seasons is bizarre—that’s when we need it most.

By the way, because the penitential rite of the Mass and reception of the Eucharist remit venial sins, there’s no need to use holy water on the way out of Mass. Unless you’ve been up to some mischief in those few minutes.

As a postscript, I mention something that might be categorized as an abuse by the laity: parish-hopping. The Code of Canon Law provides that “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day” (1248, para. 1). Consequently, you can fulfill your Sunday obligation by going to a Mass anywhere. While your legal membership still remains in your local parish, the only times you are required to check in there are when you want to receive a special sacrament (e.g., marriage, confirmation) for which the priest needs the jurisdiction to administer.

Nevertheless, if you flee your home parish when things get ugly, you are in a sense not living up to your responsibility as a lay person. It is your duty to point out that liturgy is not entertainment. The liturgy is reality, the primary reality of this world. Christ is God, the reality on whom the secondary reality of creation depends (“through him all things were made,” remember?). And the liturgy is the sacrament by which he comes personally and physically among us. The Mass is indisputably the single most important thing that human beings can do.

You have your part to fill in this great work. In fact, that’s what the liturgy is: the word is from the Greek meaning “the laity’s job.” We are the Church itself, we are not the Church’s customers. Still less are we the Church’s audience. And we have a right to authentic liturgy (Inaestimabile Donum), liturgy exactly in line with all applicable rules and celebrated with a suitable sense of reverence (CIC 528). So if your priest offers sloppy, illicit, or even inappropriate liturgies, guess whose job it should be to pitch in and fix the problem?

How we pray “shapes what we believe”

New ritual (“new mass” since Vatican 2) vs. old:

For Catholics, how we pray shapes what we believe. The old ritual physically aims us toward an altar and tabernacle. In that way it points us to the cross and to heaven as the ultimate horizon of man’s existence. By doing so, it shows that God graciously loves us and redeems us despite our sins. . . .

The new ritual points us toward a bare table, and it consistently posits the unity of humankind as the ultimate horizon of our existence. In the new Mass, God owes man salvation, because of the innate dignity of humanity. Where there was faith, now presumption. Where there was love,now mere affirmation, which is indistinguishable from indifference. It inspires weightless ditties like “Gather Us In.” Let’s sing about us!

Hard words, from Pope Francis Is Tearing the Catholic Church Apart in NY Times . . .