Sacramentalism used to be the thing, but in contemporary Catholicism it’s the person. Or so it seems.

We have taken our cue from Evangelical Protestantism, where grace (divine help) comes from praying with partners after service, for example, as at Calvary Memorial in Oak Park, and not from the sacrament.

Potential partners wait at the end of each service, usually couples. It’s ministry up close and personal, to use last year’s hot phrase. And a good thing.

Ritual was the prime medium in Catholicism, not one’s fellow worshipers. This was a major sticking point of the Reformation, contained in the question whether the sinfulness of the minister affected a sacrament’s grace-giving effect.

Ex opere operato was a key term, from or because of the thing done, vs. ex opere operantis, from or because of the one doing it.

It’s a 500-year-old divide. In bald terms, for the sake of argument, does it matter who administers the sacrament (who’s the minister) or does the sacrament carry its own weight?

Fall on one side, you have something good anywhere, any time, any place. Fall on the other, it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that personal worthiness.

Lacking ritual, you have something here today, gone tomorrow or next century. Lacking the personal, you have the unsalable, the unpersuasive.

You always depend on people. But with ritual, you have what lasts, what relies less on performance by the minister. Do a good formula right, you’ve got it right.

But Catholic worship has too often gotten flaccid and informal compared to 50 years ago. It features priest as performer, even showman, vs. priest as follower of ritual prescribed by the church as divinely founded institution.

Better if he’s good at it, but good even if he isn’t.


. . . where the worship is peaceful, quiet, and fruitful:

My mother, a musician, struggled to endure the off-key singers who led hymns, unfortunately for us all, at Sunday Mass in my hometown parish.

So sometimes she’d sneak out of Mass early Sunday and during the week, take me to daily Mass instead. No off-key singing there. No singing at all, actually. There was quiet, peacefulness, intimacy among the 20 or 30 communicants.

The lights were dim, the sermons short and to the point. “The apostle picked up his cross and followed Him,” the priest began one sermon I remember, then paused, then ended it: “Would that we would do the same.”

More, at Crux, by margeryeagan:

Barely a half-hour long, daily Mass felt to me mysterious and holy and sacred in a way a very busy Sunday Mass, with its ups and downs and all arounds, could not. All these years later, I still prefer it.

Try it, I tell lapsed Catholic friends who complain of no inspiration on Sundays.

It could change everything.

Deliver the body, I say. Show up.


I’ve tried daily Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine in downtown Boston, seven lightning-fast Masses per day for businesspeople on lunch hours, off-duty cops and firefighters, schoolteachers and bankers on their way to or from South Station’s buses and trains. Sometimes I’d see well-known locals, rich and powerful or politically wired, slip in and out of pews.

Like St. Peter’s in the Loop, Chicago, with its Regular Mass Times:

Monday – Friday: 6:15, 7:15, 8:15,
11:40 am, 12:15, 1:15, 5:00 pm

Saturday: 12 noon and 5:00 pm
Sunday: 9:00, 11:00 am, 12:30 and 6:00 pm

A gay-friendly church.

For years, I went to daily Mass near my office at the now-closed Immaculate Conception Church in Boston’s South End, then the heart of the city’s gay community. AIDS was still a killer, but this church welcomed hundreds of gays and lesbians unwelcome elsewhere. During November, a memorial table held pictures, draped in purple, of the very young men of the parish dead of the ravaging disease.

Getting to know people.

Later I moved to chapels at Boston College and eventually knew the regulars by sight, if not by name, the same crew day after day.

The alcoholics in recovery. Mass became their AA meeting. The pregnant women turned mothers with infants, then toddlers, then five- and six-year-olds in tow. The BC students and professors, the frail old ladies and men, the chaplain who, during the prayer of the faithful, would list his dying patients. Richard, Barbara, Gregory. “May God draw them closer, let us pray to the Lord.”

“Lord, hear our prayer,” we’d all reply.

There was the big, broad football star turned big, broad, middle-aged contractor. In his work boots and lumberman’s jacket, Francis would offer the same prayer: “In thanksgiving for innumerable blessings, for all those who need relief in suffering, and for perseverance in fervent daily prayer, we pray to the Lord.”

“Lord, hear our prayer.”

Saints in heaven.

On the day in 1999 when John Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette were killed in Kennedy’s airplane, I spoke to Francis about it after Mass by his pick-up. He was surprisingly upbeat. “Another two saints in heaven,” he said.

Years later, when he’d been missing from Mass, the woman who led the post-Mass rosary told me he was sick. Not long after that, his picture appeared on the chapel bulletin board. He was still young and strong, running down the field in his football uniform. The picture was from the cover of his funeral program. Francis was now another saint in heaven himself.

The fictional smoker, drinker, “morally challenged.”

The writer Andre Dubus, in his haunting short fiction, “A Father’s Story,” describes the intense attachment to early morning Mass of his protagonist, Luke Ripley. Ripley’s a smoker, a drinker, a man’s man, divorced and morally challenged, as it turns out, which makes him so relatable.

“Do not think of me as a spiritual man whose every thought during those twenty- five minutes (at Mass) is at one with the words of the Mass. Each morning I try, each morning I fail,” Ripley tells readers through Dubus. “I can receive, though: the Eucharist, and also, at Mass and at other times, moments and even minutes of contemplation.”

All this receiving teaches Ripley both the necessity and wonder of his morning ritual, Dubus writes, which “allows those who cannot will themselves out of the secular to perform the spiritual, as dancing allows the tongue-tied man a ceremony of love.”

As I say, show up.

New man headed up worship post, 2014

Strictly speaking he’s the new Prefect of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, and if you really want to be correct and solidify your credentials in the matter, of this dicastery (!).

Where the die is cast? At least where decisions are made about how mass is said, presumably binding on all ecclesiastical underlings, including cardinals, priests, bishops, and deacons.

Posted on 24 November 2014 by the inimitable Fr. John Zuhlsdorf:

Pope Francis has appointed Robert Card. Sarah, 69, as the new Prefect . . . Hitherto, Card. Sarah, from Guinea, has been the head of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”

At Cor Unum, which oversees Caritas International, Sarah had got iffy about supplying poor people with condoms and the like, the better to not clutter the already crowded earth with their babies, Cor Unum being a disaster-relief organization (another dicastery, by the way) established by Paul VI in 1971. (It was merged by Francis in 2016 with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which focuses largely on migrants.

Sarah’s offense at Cor Unum was to insist on evangelization, not merely social services, as its mission, as he said, citing Benedict XIV,

“Charity is very linked with the proclamation of the Gospel, and doing charity is not only giving food, giving material things, but giving God too. Because the main lack of man is not having God.”

The cardinal was not to last at his Worship posting, however, about which more later . . .

New mass a lost cause, but all is not lost. Advice here.

A pessimistic view of today’s Catholic liturgy:

The [post-Vatican 2] Pauline rite [Paul VI’s] is so radical a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Roman liturgy that it does not exist in the same tradition of organic development. It is a new departure, a new thing, not a revision of the old thing that had been handed down over the centuries.

As an artificial liturgical entity constructed out of pieces of the Roman heritage combined with modern scholarly inventions, any future reform of it would be no more than a variation on the new theme.

The only way forward is not to tinker any more with this “fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product” (as Ratzinger called it in 1992), but to return steadfastly and stalwartly to the Catholic and Roman liturgical tradition embodied in the preconciliar Missal.

Indeed, only in this way can the deepest aims and aspirations of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy be achieved and even applied.

In other words, it’s beyond fixing.

There are times when I agree, as when:

 * The fist-bump of peace before communion becomes a silly thing, with people all over the church waving at anyone and everyone eagerly, frantically.

 * The church becomes a social hall at end of mass, regardless of blessed sacrament, what we used to call the real presence up front.

 * At communion time when we jockey for position to find the extraordinary minister with bread first, then the one with wine If we take wine, in each case going up to face someone who wants to engage you when you may be seeking communion of a more spiritual kind.

* The music, sometimes piano-banging, blasts away in a sort of holy vaudeville performance, one catchy tune after another.

* The sentimental lyrics with their dreary melodies threaten to stay with you like a radio commercial.

On the other hand:

Done well, the fist-bump — handshake or hug or what suits you — can be a good thing, and one can usually manage it well enough. After all, we mass-goers are a well-meaning lot and usually more than that. A moment of sincere welcome needn’t disrupt a sacred moment. The overly demonstrative can be put off with a bit of uber-solemnity. One and done is my motto here, except on family or ceremonial occasions such as a class-reunion or wedding mass.

 After-mass chatting bespeaks love and even liking of one another. It’s a good thing, and with the weather so cold outside (in, say February) is making the best of a bad situation. Also, if you are serious about some after-mass contemplation or woolgathering, people usually leave you alone.

 Communion time is manageable. You keep your head down, avoiding eye contact with the dispenser of communion. Sticking out your tongue, eyes closed, is a bit clumsy while standing. Some churches offer the choice (a rail and kneel space), but most don’t. Take the host and run is my motto here.

Music can be ignored along with other distractions, once you embrace your freedom as a Christian. It may call for making up your mind to ignore many sights and sounds, including what the priest says and does; he has a key role but needn’t be allowed to distract.

After a while, you spontaneously supply your own distractions, say by reading the New Testament or a missal of the olden times — anything to keep you in the spirit of worship. Then you maybe can relax and above all learn to love, even like, your fellow worshipers and the relevant ministers, they being sin-filled pilgrims like you and Pope Francis.

This work-around does not address the concerns of the man quoted above. God bless him. He makes good points, is probably right. But sometmes what he says is best kept as background data while you make do.




More on how the mass is reconstituted by free-lancing priest-celebrants.


May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church. . . .

. . . is commonly changed to “our hands” and “God’s name,” which never in my hearing has been explained to the congregation. It’s been simply done, slipped in, over and over until the people do it that way too.

This has been the pattern throughout imposition of the new mass. Words, gestures, stage directions have been all changed without pointing out to people their implications in terms of belief or (hidden or at least hiding) purposes. Better to signal it, over and over, than to (have to) explain it from pulpit or lectern.

Repetition is the mother of study. Or of learning. Or reflexive response. Or . . . ?

The second of these two changes — his name to God’s name — is to reduce the number of masculine pronouns, apparently to lessen the masculinity (!) of the worship experience.

The first — your hands to our handsis more pernicious, because it ignores the sacramental minister, makes him one of the pew-sitters, which he isn’t.

Huge doctrinal change here, by which worshipers became officers, as it were, of the sacrament, not the priest, which is to carry priesthood of the faithful to new levels indeed.

Praying for peace and other half-minded thoughts (2013)

Is there room for half-baked ideas, even half-vast ones, in a discussion of worship?

Let’s see.

* Praying for peace at mass is a good idea, but for an “end to violence” or even the specific “end to violence in Chicago”? Really? Who is kidding whom?

Praying for that is praying for the end of the world, which will be a wonderful thing, to be sure, what with Jesus returning in glory. His earliest followers prayed for that. But we might add an Augustinian “not yet.”

How about “less violence”? Or “fewer killings on our mean streets”? Something we can take seriously without calling for an end to life as we know it.

* Among social-justice issues, why do we never hear about vote-stealing? Never stole one myself or saw one stolen, though I was sorely tempted in the class-president election at Loyola U. in 1949. But I read about it and at times work up some blue-ribbon indignation.

Point is, why not expand social-justice discussion to troubles behind the obvious —  poverty and the like — into political corruption, which is pretty obvious at that and does poor people no good and like everything else that’s bad affects them most of all. Vast idea there.

Meditating at Mass

2011 PRAYER AND MEDITATION: No paragon of these am I, even if at 18 I left home to study them full time.

After two years of it (novitiate), I got my SJ degree, which I relinquished many years later but would rather not go into right now.

Even so, much of it has stuck. At Mass, for instance, I often enter the zone of prayer and meditation, which makes me a poor participant in the liturgy.

Doesn’t mean I think of nothing else (distractions, you know) or that I am superior to the fellow or gal next to me who belts out the songs and other responses.

In fact, you could argue I’m not as good because I seem to reject the communal aspect that characterizes today’s liturgy.

So allow me to hang my head in shame at that, asking only for tolerance, OK? I am what I am, stuff happens, and all that. Bear with me.

However . . .

Do we not exceed the limits of liturgical propriety sometimes when, for instance, we extend handclasp of peace to other pew-sitters far and wide, even getting out of our pews to hug and chat?

Just asking, don’t get mad.

Communion time also. What about our meeting and greeting on way to the communion station?

Ushers do it. They are the souls of geniality as if they were the host greeting you at the door of a party.

And they and others seem sometimes to take it amiss if you don’t participate, like the old gent at Ascension-Oak Park a few years back who stood where communion-goers passed, glad-handing one and all. I didn’t go along, and the fellow was surprised and wounded.

It happens. We get carried away with our communality.

Something missing? Sense of the sacred, anyone? The R-word, reverence?

Communion time at a Mass of burial, an arguably solemn time on an arguably solemn occasion: Worshiper who has participated lustily throughout Mass thinks of something to call to another’s attention, does so.

But the other is in a zone and working on staying there and can only nod and turn back.

Later, returning from communion, same worshiper has to pass others to get to his place in the pew, puts head down and looks straight ahead. Others for whom this is a social occasion seem not sure about this, wondering what gives with this fellow.

I ask you.

Is something missing that used to be there at Mass? What was missing from the Mass of old, a certain on-site communality, has replaced the prayer-and-meditation aspect.

Pious chatter there is, mostly from the altar, where Father feels compelled to comment when once there was silence. Time for some sort of pendulum shift? I ask you.

Changing the words of Mass

In 2011 I wrote:

Like the TV detective Monk, I have a gift that is also a curse: I pay very close attention at Mass.

So when the priest veers away from the approved text, I hear it and fume. Used to. Now I go into my free-fly zone. Frequently.

In this zone, I wool-gather, daydream, write columns and imaginary sermons, etc. This means that one minute I’m saying “Lord hear our prayer” with the other faithful, next minute that I know about, I am rising for the Our Father.

Awful, I know. Can only say I’m working on it.

The paying close attention thing is a bigger problem.

The priest subs out “His” for “God’s,” “disciples” for “friends,” “Almighty God” for “Almighty Father,” etc. Two of these reduce masculine references, sparing feminist sensibilities. The other is apparently meant to de-emphasize levels of authority in favor of intimacy.

Irritating, if you are a listener like me, who has leaned toward close listening for years, even before becoming a reporter and having to get things straight: listen, listen, scribble, scribble.

Our friends  at the Vatican paid attention to this phenomenon. In 2004 they called it a “reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful . . . alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce.”

They said this in a disciplinary document, “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” issuing a must-cease order in the matter because such freelancing with the liturgy makes its celebration “unstable” and distorts its meaning.

I think so.

Unstable because worshipers who pay attention never know what they will hear from the man with the microphone up front.

Distorts meaning in various ways, including (egregiously) in the matter of the centrally located doxology.

That’s when the priest says in a fairly dramatic wind-up to the canon, “Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

To which the people say the Great Amen, affirming trinitarianism, telling the world we are not Unitarians, not Arians, that we think Jesus is God the Son. It’s a very important case of lex orandi lex credendi. As we pray, so we believe.

I have heard, however, “Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in, all glory and honor is yours, almighty God, for ever and ever.” For “Father,” God. It doesn’t deny the Trinity, of course, but it undercuts the liturgical expression. Why? Apparently to cut back on masculine references.

The priest sidesteps the fatherhood of God in favor of the politically correct non-reference to gender. It’s part of the church’s save-the-women project.

As for the Lord’s Prayer, I am waiting for “Our Parent, who art in heaven,” etc.

Changeover Latin to English . . .

. . . was a triumph of centralized planning, enough to make a statist weep with envy, I wrote in 2006.

The world over, Catholics got used to mass in everyday language. It became part of a worldwide social engineering victory — change by design, not by natural influences or “organically,” as you hear.

Vatican II celebrated the freedom of the children of God, but not in liturgy. Latin had to go. Latin went. Rebels were marginalized. Only recently (in 2005) had Latin returned with church authority’s blessings.

So it goes, change dictated from above for our own good by people who know what’s best for us.

A whole new mass developed after Vatican II, developed quite consciously by dedicated experts.

Young Jesuits like me debated the coming changes in the mid-50s. It was already foreshadowed.

This liturgy of the future, in the vernacular, would be as much communicating with each other as with God. The priest would face the people, look at them, saying the sacred words, making them more pew-sitter-friendly.

Mass today has the arguably good thing, in our celebration of community with each other. As for the mystical and mysterious, that’s a memory fast fading from Catholic consciousness.

Saginaw Priest Removed From Parish for Traditional ‘Style of Worship’

Tradition works, bishop objects because of “division.”

Blithe Spirit

It would seem this young priest touched all the bases when in the face of declining attendance he introduced a legal, hybrid Novus Ordo mass (the “ordinary” form) with (legal but out of the ordinary) Latin and Gregorian chant, “bells and smells” to his parish, after prepping parishioners for the change.

But he’s now out of work though not penalized
, because some parish members complained and “division” ensued. And the acting bishop stopped him.

Good rundown here, closing with this from the priest:

“Believe it or not, tradition works,” he said. “So-called ‘old ways’ are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, Latin are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church.

Furthermore, when younger non-Catholics experience these traditions, they are struck by how different they are from everything else they experience in a noisy, secular…

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