Tuesday, April 21, 2009

GIRM Warfare: Part One

(<--- shamelessly lifted from Fr. Z's blog)

Even before I was Catholic, I loved liturgy. When I was ten, my family attended a traditional Episcopal church for a few months, where the liturgy was beautiful, the priest was reverent, and the community was flourishing. We ended up leaving because, among other things, the liturgy made my ex-Catholic mother uncomfortable. However, I can still remember loving the rhythm of the service; the mystery and beauty of incense, vestments, and chanting. (*note: I’m calling it “the service”, not “Mass.” Mass is where Jesus becomes present in the Holy Eucharist, made possible through consecration via apostolic ordination. Episcopalians don’t have a valid priesthood (so far as I understand it), so the liturgy they celebrate doesn’t culminate with true consecration like ours does).

I was drawn into the Catholic Church partly due to the mystery and beauty of the liturgy, and so I am easily saddened when I visit a parish where liturgy isn’t always up to snuff. I’m a huge fan of Fr. Z and his motto (“save the liturgy, save the world”), and I find myself often thinking about liturgical abuses. Where’s the line between nit-picking and being genuinely concerned?

A few liturgical abuses that secretly drive me crazy include:

Female altar servers. This is one of the areas I just bite my tongue and grimace, because I know that 99.99% of the parish would burn me in effigy if they knew how I feel about this.
If altar service is meant to inspire and foster a call to priesthood, why the heck are girls encouraged to be altar servers? To be fair , the girl servers at our parish are awesome, and most of them serve with reverence and do a great job. But it just seems strange. Of the dozen or so servers at our parish, more than half are girls.

I wonder if boys simply don’t serve because they think it’s girly? After all, an alb looks suspiciously like a dress to a teenage boy. This is what liturgist Fr. Edward McNamera seems to be saying: “Among the pastoral factors to be weighed is the obvious yet often forgotten fact that boys and girls are different and require different motivational and formative methods. This difference means that both boys and girls usually go through a stage when they tend to avoid common activities. Preteen boys in particular are very attracted to activities that cater especially for them, and they tend to reject sharing activities with girls.They also tend to have a greater need for such structured activities than girls who are usually more mature and responsible at this stage of life. As a result, some parishes have found that the introduction of girl servers has led to a sharp drop-off of boys offering to serve. Once the boys have left and enter the years of puberty, it is difficult to bring them back.” (source)

Similarly infuriating is mixed gender foot washing on Holy Thursday. One of my co-workers (who also happens to support women’s ordination…) organized twelve people to come forward and have their feet washed at the Holy Thursday Mass. This year I think there were six men and six women. I’m not aware of precisely what the GIRM says on the matter, but the foot washing recalls what Jesus did for the apostles. The apostles were men. It’s not really an accurate representation of the Last Supper, then, eh?

Extraordinary Ministers of Communion. Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems that one of the only redeeming qualities of the EM is speeding up the progress of the Communion line. Those who serve as EMs might find is a special ministry, which is great, but I have several issues with it. First, EMs seldom are comfortable with distributing on the tongue. Priests and deacons are trained to do this. EMs often aren't. Secondly, when I go to Communion, I want to focus on Jesus, not if the EM serving me is someone I know. Thirdly, during his ordination a priest's hands are bathed in chrism, specifically prepared to consecrate and distribute the Body of Christ. The EM's hands weren't. Fourthly, an EM is less likely (if at all) to withhold Communion from someone who shouldn't receive. This applies more specifically to people publicly dissenting from the Church. Last week at Abp Dolan's installation, Rudy Giuliani refrained from receiving- and good for him! However, had he gone up, would bet Dolan might have refused him the Eucharist (rightly so). Would an ordinary EM have the moxie to do that? My guess is no.

Sloppy terminology. A few months ago our pastor decided to slightly tweak the way in which people come forward for Communion. The new set-up makes a lot more sense, and things go more smoothly now. To explain the new system, he included a “map” in the bulletin to demonstrate the Communion flow. The map showed the six stations where people receive the Body of Christ, the six where they receive the Blood Christ, and how to move among them. It was a great map.

Except that instead of “Body/Blood” of Christ, it said “bread” and “wine.”

I almost screamed. I brought this up with several people and explained (I had to explain this? Really?) that labeling the stations as “bread and wine” is simply bad theology. When people come to Communion, they don’t receive bread and wine. They receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. If they want bread and wine they can go down the block to the Lutheran church. All of them scoffed at my concerns. "Everybody knows what it means," they reassured me. "What the map says doesn't matter."

But doesn't it?

Last Sunday at youth group one of my eighth graders - a smart girl very involved in the parish, whose family attends Mass each week -- was genuinely surprised when I explained that we really receive Jesus' Body at Communion. Was this news to her? Really? I shudder to think about the misunderstandings rampant among the kids who don't even come to Mass; the kids who parents drop them off on Wednesday nights and that's it.

"Save the Liturgy, Save the World." No, I don't think everyone should revert to solely using the Extraordinary Form. Novus Ordo has a place, and I think Mass in the vernacular can be a good thing. But we need to ensure that a Novus Ordo liturgy is still sacred, reverent, and holy; after all, the Mass is Heaven on Earth!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Three-Pronged Attack: Part One

Last winter I read Matthew Kelly's excellent book, Rediscovering Catholicism. It's a great read and I highly recommend it. One of his main points is that people, especially Westerners, find authentic Catholicism too demanding. He finds this puzzling, since for centuries people may have misunderstood the Church or disagreed with her, but people didn't accuse the Faith of being "too difficult." He chalks this up to a three-pronged phenomenon of postmodern culture: the combination of minimalism, hedonism,and individualism that haunts our (particularly American) culture. Just to be clear, he defines his terms:

Minimalism: What's the least I can get away with?
Hedonism: Pursuit of pleasure is my chief end
Individualism: My own needs & wants are more important than the general good of society

Of course, these problems are hardly new; ancient societies (particularly Rome) wrestled with the same problems.

Right now in my own life & ministry, I'm struggling with the effects of minimalism.

I'm blessed to be working at a great parish; one that's supportive of youth ministry, has a dedicated young priest, an excellent religious education program, and parishioners who support the parish spiritually (prayer) and materially (resources).

However, despite a contingent of active, supportive parishioners, there are also a whole host of people on our parish mailing list who do little more than send their children to Religious Education each Wednesday for ninety minutes. That's the entire extent of their participation in faith: no Mass attendance, no prayer at home, no setting an example of a holy Christian life for their kids to observe. It's hardly a new problem in the Church, but one that drives me absolutely crazy.

I was nearly driven to screaming when, during February and March, we were preparing for the Living Stations of the Cross play performed by ninth and tenth graders right before Holy Week. The DRE and I decided that this would be a class endeavor: all ninth and tenth graders in religious education would be (ideally) involved in some capacity. Mindful that teenagers are insanely busy with school, sports, jobs, friends, families, etc., I devised four different levels of participation in the play: actors, singers, ushers, and babysitters. Between the sixty kids in the class, there's no reason why all four groups couldn't have adequate participation. After the first week of sign ups, I had two volunteers for actors (of a needed 18), three for choir, eight for ushers, and four babysitters.

After the initial week of apathy, I began a campaign of phone-tag and tracking kids down before they raced out the door on Wednesday night to personally invite them to take part in a beautiful opportunity. Three weeks later, I had thirteen actors, five choir members, eight ushers, and five babysitters. An improvement, to be sure, but given the amount of time and effort I've invested in announcements, bulletin blurbs, take-home handouts, phone calls, Facebook messages, and personal appeals it seems a paltry yield. This is minimalism at its zenith.By the end of the seven weeks of rehearsal, I had everyone I needed, but things barely came together at the last minute.

The attitude? "I have to come to CCD on Wednesday because you take attendance. But I certainly am not going to Mass, since 10:30 on a Sunday is far too early, and I won't give a rat's patoot about any other youth ministry events in our parish or Diocese, especially if it requires me to do more than show up and sit as a warm body in a chair."

How did we get here? How did this minimalism become so rampant? Even among "good kids" who do well in school and have it "together," I most often get blank stares when I pitch anything - even "fun" events like ski trips, lock-ins, movie nights, camping, and concerts. In a parish of 1100 families, half of which have children, we have an average participation of ten to fifteen kids at youth events. I know it's not a numbers game, but what about the other 95%? Why don't they care?

The phenomenon isn't limited to teenagers, either. Adults (particularly the "Lost Generation" raised in the 70s and 80s in a black hole of kumbaya, clown Masses, and poor catechesis) aren't any better. Most of the ushers, Eucharistic ministers, choir members, and prayer ladies in our parish are over 65. What happens to the Church when they're gone?

Minimalism drives me crazy. I used to have arguments about it with Evangelical friends before I was Catholic- friends who meant well but just couldn't understand my "fascination" with all the "extra stuff" in Catholicism. "It seems like you're just looking for a way to make more work for yourself," one told me. "Why can't you just be happy with the faith you have? You love Jesus- why do you need anything else!"

Why? Because we are not meant to be complacent. We're meant to push the envelope, and "being happy with the faith you have" in the context my friend was describing is a route to becoming lukewarm. And what does God think of that? "I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3: 15-16) Kimberly Hahn so eloquently writes, "I wasn't going forward in my faith, so I was going backward, since our relationship with Christ never stands still."

I don't know the cure for minimalism. I don't know how to inspire people to step out of their comfort zones. All I can do is pray.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The best of all Fridays

Jen isn't hosting 7 Quick Takes this week, given that it's Good Friday, but I think I'm going to anyway, since it seems to be the only time I ever write.


Yesterday marked the beginning of Triduum and my three-year "Catholic Birthday;" the third anniversary of the first Holy Thursday when I, a very contented Evangelical, "accidentally" went to Mass with three wonderful Catholic friends and was so entranced by the beautiful liturgy that I had to keep coming back.


It may seem like a silly thing, but my favorite part of Holy Thursday's Mass is hearing the Gloria again. After a six week hiatus, we again echo the angels proclaiming "gloria in in excelsis deo!" For whatever reason we don't often sing the Gloria at my parish, so singing it in my favorite Mass setting after a long drought was like heaven on earth. And in fact, it was! Mass is heaven on earth! If you don't believe me, read Scott Hahn's take on the subject.


Living Stations was a huge success. I'm so proud of my students. I was horridly worried about it, but they came through in ways I never could've guessed, and really took ownership. I think this demonstrates, once again, that teenagers are capable of great things, far more than adults often give them credit for. If we set the standard high, they will meet it and be better for it.


A year ago at this time I was six weeks away from graduation with no idea what I would be doing. Now I'm happy in a job I love, two hours away from most of my friends, but still very happy overall. Ironically, I've had a handful of emails from friends and colleagues in the past weeks about other job opportunities; jobs I would've leaped at a year ago... but I can confidently decline them, knowing that it's far more important for me to be here. At first those emails were a horrendous temptation, but now I can just be thankful and flattered for their offers and re-assert that I need to be here.


This video makes me smile. A lot. And not just because the priest is really, really good looking.


Spiritual warfare has been on my mind a lot lately. It seems to be coming up a lot, either with friends, co-workers, or students. A youth minister friend at a different parish was dealing with some very scary things happening in her building, so we figured out a plan to get the priest to do a blessing/sprinkle some holy water, and we brainstormed prayers to say, saints to invoke, etc.... and thank God it seems to have worked. On Wednesday night one of my eighth graders casually mentioned that she and her friends love playing Ouija boards and holding seances... and I tried very hard not to scare her as I explained that those things are *not* a good idea, since they open us up to very bad things like demonic influence. I really hope that I didn't scare her too much, but if it's a choice between her being too scared to do it again or too apathetic to realize that occult practice are NOT GOOD THINGS... I'd honestly prefer she be a little freaked out.


Our Holy Father is the man. This isn't really news; just the latest episode of papal awesomeness. Papa B has come under so much fire lately for speaking the truth (!), and he and all bishops need our prayers.

I suppose this is technically and "eighth take" but... The Novena of Divine Mercy starts today!