What is Meekness?

My last homily at St. Edward parish in Bowie was for the monthly Filipino Mass.   I first spoke of my history with the Filipino community building at the parish, but then I gave a homily on meekness.   The homily part is about 12 minutes.   It is a video included here.  I thank Steve Duhig for taping it for me and making it available.

“Rebuilt” (model) church needs much re-consideration

7403_1I went to a “Rebuilt” Mass. I came as an observer of it, just another person in the crowd.  (No clerics on.)  It is a Mass within a new movement in Maryland to make the celebration of Mass more relevant to younger Mass-goers (though the Rebuilt founders may dress their approach up in other terms).   Here’s how it came across to me– it was like pulling in to a Cineplex today.

The church seemed more like an auditorium, and it was very dark inside, with commercials for the parish flashing on large screens up front.  On the way in through the main doors, I was passed by kids going out carrying paper plates of fresh pizza slices, adult men and women leaving with foam cups of hot coffee to their mouths, and a grandma in jeans and a t-shirt exiting while eating a banana.   That’s just for starters, folks.   (These people were leaving the café area of the parish, which I took a peak at before walking into the church part. These people were leaving from the prior Sunday liturgy.  But how often do you run into people leaving Mass with slices of pizza?!   But I knew I wasn’t at the Cineplex, but at a Catholic church for Mass!   I joked to myself:  “Maybe their dismissal to close Mass is:  The Mass is ended, go and eat pizza.”)

There was a greeting team and a parking team to hold open the door to church and to tell me exactly where to park beforehand.  As I pulled up the church driveway, I saw a couple walking in from the neighborhood street, and it occurred to me that they did so because they wanted to choose their parking situation.   After Mass, in the scramble of people coming and going, I understood why they chose the far-away spot.  ‘Twas quite a parking mess.  Obviously, the parish will need to schedule Masses at least 2 hours apart in the future (and not 90 minutes), lest someone and their banana gets run over in the confusion out on the lot between liturgies.

In watching people coming out from the earlier Mass, I did notice smiles on faces, and a good number of families in the crowd. Ah, a big positive!  People liked this parish!  Well, that was a very good sight to see!   People walking in to Mass also looking pretty happy to be coming.  That was refreshing.

As I saw the arriving congregants, I also saw a more younger crowd, with numbers of new families.  There were not many older persons over 65.  Maybe 5%, which in Catholic America is quite odd.  Well, it’s a positive and a negative here on that accord.

Well, a second negative was noticeable.  Most of the people all looked the same race and/or middle or middle/upper class background.   This sameness among the people was a little off-putting to me, because I knew the Maryland area of the parish church was more of a blended area, even though in a partly-affluent corridor out of the city. The congregants were almost all dressed in casual cool or just in plain jeans and shorts.   (Even more dressed-down that one going out to dinner somewhere.  There was an abundance of Orioles t-shirts in the attendees of Mass, suggesting maybe that they were including the struggling team in their intercessory prayers.  It worked, as the O’s won today–even with Chris Tillman pitching! 🙂    A man who did walk in to Mass wearing a suit did stand out among the incoming Mass-comers.   There was just a casualness in this parish that spoke of some lack of reverence here.  Of course, I have seen this casualness in other places– just not so dominantly (except at Beach parishes in the Summer).

As some of my first impressions were not so good here, I reminded myself that I was going to try to be positive, and not to come in with a critical attitude.  After all, this was my Sunday Mass obligation, as well.   I came incognito, and sat in with the congregation today.

As I walked in to a darkened church, I could make out an altar, a presider’s chair, an ambo, a crucifix, and some lit candles on stands up front and center.  Check: I was in a Catholic church.   One problem: No visible tabernacle, no sanctuary lamp.

What got one’s attention instead were the large screens flashing announcements and commercials above me, and everybody in the church was talking to one another, or checking their phones for messages (but not looking at Catholic Apps, such as one to prepare for liturgy!).  I saw only a minimal of people remaining quiet or looking like they were praying.   A young lady was taping something live on a tv camera just three pews away from me, evidently for their broadcast of this show, er, Mass, later on to the parish web site.  She was a distraction.

Relevance all too often sacrifices reverence in a church.   I immediately saw that here.

The band members were not a distraction, as they stood discreetly off to the side.   They were my lone witnesses to some respectful attitude before Mass.   Their drums and guitars were up on a platform, which rivaled the altar space for attention.   As Mass started, the band walked on.  From then on, people would be looking off to the side at them, or up at the big screens, about half as much as they would be looking at the lector or priest or altar.  These side distractions would hold a lot of the attention in Mass.   Still, the members of the band before and during Mass seemed to be the most reverent people in the house.   More on them later.   Mass has not started yet.

There was no kneeler to position oneself humbly for pre-Mass prayers.   There were no missalettes to check out the readings for Mass (although I always do that at home before I come in to Mass, so it was no loss for me, as I knew of the Jeremiah reading, the Psalm, the epistle, and the “what you hear in the dark, you must speak and proclaim in the Light” Gospel of this Sunday).   Thankfully, there were no parish bulletins to be found, so no one was eyeing them as pre-Mass reading material.  🙂

It was past the time for Mass to start, but we hadn’t begun yet.  There was no sign of a procession to be coming in of servers, cantors, deacon and priest.  However, there was a video welcome given to us from the big screens by two spokespersons for the parish, and many explanations to be made of what to do.  Next, another video came up about when the children would be leaving for their “Time Travel” session.   Now, finally, came the opening song.

The words to the opening song were up on the screens, and the music group was lively and contemporary.   I liked the way the group sang and played, but I did not know the song, nor did the people around me, so we mostly watched and listened to them sing and play.   I am not sure how the priest and one server got up to the sanctuary, but suddenly they were there. (Did they rise up from below the stage?!)   The Sign of the Cross opened us up, and a Penitential Rite by the presider.  The Gloria was a rousing 2017-sounding one, perhaps written by this parish group.   I sang along, as I could.  A member near me sang along pretty loudly and enthusiastically.  That was nice to notice.  As the Collect was prayed, I noticed something a little odd.  The presider wasn’t facing us, but he was facing diagonally away from us, angled toward the altar from his presider’s chair, positioned beside the altar ten feet away.  A lone teen or young adult altar server held the Missal for the priest, and I noted that the young man had an earpiece, receiving instructions from someone controlling the Mass from some side place.  Odd again.   Oh, now I got it, the priest was looking into a camera.  We, the live congregation, he had his back to.   Just great!   Check: negative.

In the back of church was a lighting ministry and a sound ministry.  From the appearance of it, they were paid helpers for Mass, vital to the liturgy, and helping with all the slides.  Ushers were going up and down the aisles spying for free seats about.

When the Liturgy of the Word began, the only slides to go up were the responsorial words of the Psalm song (which was not the Lectionary Psalm) and some text of the Gospel.  The church remained dark throughout the Mass so we could see the slides.  (If you had brought a St. Joseph’s Missal for assistance, then it would not have helped unless one used a cell phone light to see it.)   This lack of text is not much of a problem for me, since I think The Scriptures should be heard as proclaimed, rather than read along in the pew by persons looking down towards their missalettes.  I get that concept.  However, I have a comment about it.  This way that the Rebuilt Mass does the Word requires a very good lector to do it, and one who does not have an accent.   In most parishes, that would disclude many Africans, Asians, South and Central Americans from being lectors.  Heaven forbid a Jamaican or Australian or even Green Bay Wisconsin-ite be chosen to proclaim the Word, due to the need that all could understand each Scripture verse proclaimed (since a text can’t be followed).   Just saying.   It’s an exclusionary way this church does the Liturgy of the Word– for good communications’ sake.   The human factor was orchestrated here.   Not so good.

I was ready for a good homily.  The pastor-priest was proclaiming the Gospel and preaching today in Holy Mass.   Yet I was disappointed by what came next.   After proclaiming the Gospel, he merely summed up the readings and showed their ties to not being afraid to be the Lord’s voice or witness to the world.   Then he advertised that a series on Moses was coming at the tail end of Mass (though Moses isn’t in any Summer readings of Year A cycle, as far as I know).   Yet I like theme preaching a lot, so I looked forward to this post-Communion homily to come, since we were quickly standing up now and praying the Apostles’ Creed.

I checked the time, and it was only 25 minutes into Mass.   We were going in fast speed.   No break for any silence either.  The Offertory Song to follow the Universal Prayer was a familiar praise song of charismatic prayer meetings, so I knew it and joined along in the song.  No procession of gifts was done.  Soon, we were moving into the Eucharistic Prayer(EP).  Surprisingly, the Holy Holy song was the sung Latin Sanctus, of which the Praise Band took a break and it was almost an acapella  prayer.   We were signaled to sit for the EP.  (No kneelers.)   A few tried kneeling, but there was no room for that.

I watched the presider through the Mass, and he was pretty expressionless throughout, during a Mass with lots of high tech and praise band excitement.   A little odd.   He seemed to be doing things in a hurry, too.   He prayed a normal Eucharistic Prayer and did the elevations properly of Body and Blood, though.  As the Peace Rite exchange began, he was breaking the bread and the Lamb of God was sung and done quite soon.   Just one Lay Minister joined Father in the sanctuary space at the Lamb of God (to serve a church of 300).   I wondered about that in the moment, comparing the number of parking lot ministers I saw while pulling in.

As Communion started, the Praise Band didn’t receive, but went into singing right away, and I didn’t see them receive during the Mass.   I also noticed that other lay ministers appeared with ciboria, but not with Eucharist from the altar or a tabernacle in the altar area.  Odd.   They just appeared in numerous places with the Eucharist from somewhere, and the Communion Rite was finished up pretty quickly.   It was only 42 minutes in when the Prayer after Communion was done, without a call for people to stand up for it, nor for the blessing.   The priest prayed in the diagonal direction away from the people again, and then abruptly announced: “The Mass is ended.”    But the church experience was not over, just simply paused.   A dismissal of children from the church to their programs was announced, and a layman came up and then gave an 18 minute Moses talk, complete with slides, as the presider sat in his chair, again looking a bit detached and unemotional about everything, even as the pastor of this whole operation.   The lay teacher taught us how Moses had an attitude of gratitude.

This lay teacher did a very good job on the Moses teaching, and then we all stood, with the children come marching back in on a cue, and we sang a short closing song.   There was no procession out.   When the song ended, the priest shook some hands up front.  Most of the congregants went out into a café area to have donuts and coffee, and fruit, and bagels, and best of all, slices of fresh pizza.

I wondered about the value of the Eucharist inside of us as we lined up for pizza.  I decided to skip the pizza.   I took a walk around and I saw the babysitting ministry room, the little kids room for ministry, and the Time Travelers room, and some other rooms for during Mass/Moses talk occupation of the young.    (I stood in the Time Travelers room and wished to be at the 1983 World Series in Baltimore again, but nothing happened.)

I had managed to get inside and out of this “friendly parish” without anyone walking up and saying hi to me, except for a quick sign of peace in Mass, and I tried to go up and talk to a musician after Mass, but they turned away to talk amongst themselves.   I realized later that they were paid to play all the Masses of the morn, as well was likely the lector a paid person.   That ‘professionalism’ did not lend to those folks acting like regular members.  Not, at least, to my observation.  Paid help can act differently at or in a Mass or afterwards.  No surprise in that.   But not ideal!

Outside there were many people talking on the plaza, or hanging awhile in the café.   The mood was pretty good, except for the parking lot, as people for the next Mass were arriving, but not finding available parking spaces.   The parking ministers had a job on their hand keeping people calm out there.   If only Moses could have parted and opened up some new spaces somewhere, for a safe but late exodus of the 1030 Mass Folk and a safe arrival of the Noon Mass new folk.

I realized as I drove away that I hadn’t genuflected or blessed myself with holy water before my departure, until I realized that no one did at this parish.   It’s different.

My favorite part of the experience was the contemporary music, though it had its flaws.  I also liked that the children’s and youth ministry were bringing and leaving happy faces on the young (along with chocolate donut frosting).

The “Rebuilt” (model) church needs much re-consideration.

I noticed they are building a bigger church on the grounds.  Perhaps the old space can be used as a parking garage (but I got a feeling they’ll use it as a mega-café).  Or perhaps the new space and the present space is planned as one big space for worship, since they have the megachurch in mind with this place.

I am happy that many ‘Timoniniums’ and O’s fans are coming to Mass at this parish.  We need people coming to Sunday Mass.   I just wondered:  Is THIS how we are to go about it?

I liked the contemporary music– well, at least to a point.   The music ministers were the best part of the liturgy.   Since I have a liking to contemporary praise music, I did enjoy it.   However, the Mass needs to have its Liturgical Music, as well, which they really did not offer at the ReBuilt parish here. (I am a member of the National Pastoral Musicians Association for the reason of promoting liturgical works in the Mass, even contemporary ones, but not just Praise Band music.  That music has its place.   I really like it– but in its proper place.)

More comments…..  I did like the Moses presentation, but it was odd that the preaching of the day was by a layman, and not the clergyman   Yet I did like that people in the pews were staying for a Bible teaching of 18 minutes, as all Catholics very much need more Bible study and faith education.   I have tried many ways in my own parishes to present as such.   Sometimes it has led to longer Sunday homilies by me to get the message across, all with a 60-minute Mass limit in mind.    I know Catholics need so much more knowledge of the Bible and Catechism and Apologetics and The Saints– they do need so much more than the little many settle for.   ReBuilt, at least, is trying a creative way to keep Catholics in the pews for some teaching time.   Yet the sacrifice of the priest’s homily time is too much.    So, there’s a positive and negative comment in one there.

Other positives:  I liked that the babe’s and children’s and pre-teens had a ministry for them on Sundays, and that a whole lot of people were involved in their parish (even if for selling $1 pizza after Mass).   I figured that a high number of paid persons were needed for this whole operation to work, so I wondered all that worked out financially, or how much another parish (like ours) could copy it on a smaller budget.   I guess if you have the higher collection, then you can pull more ministry off.  Bravo to them that they pulled it off.   Our parish cannot afford a band, nor light and sound and screen/computer teams, nor paid staff on Sundays for all the ministries, nor the Security Guard (off duty Baltimore policeman) they had present.  Phew!

A major negative:  I think Jesus was lost in all of this.   Yes, He was glorified in the songs, and honored in the prayers, and mentioned centrally in His House, but all the trappings (music band, lights, cameras, screens, noise) took much away from His being honored and revered in His own Mass.   The priest, His sign, also seemed secondary to the liturgy, even while it all depended on his being there.   A general feeling of it being a religious drama show, with music, almost overwhelmed the Mass, and there was precious little reverence felt there for the one Centrality there that deserved the most respect:  Christ as Eucharist and the Sacred Offering at Mass.

Yes, we got Communion at this Sunday Mass, and we did acclaim Jesus— but it was such an unfamiliar way of doing it.   The boxes were checked of Catholic things to do in a proper Mass, but the Mystery seemed to be missing in the middle.

I think the Catholic Sunday Liturgy does need some of the elements and modern adaptations present at the Rebuilt Mass.   I get where they are coming from, but I am not sure where they are going, and I am unsure about how they are going about this reform.   I came as a person very interested in what they were trying to do here, but I am unsold on it at this time.   I am a fan for their trying, and in doing so as Catholics, rather than departing independents trying to re-invent the Christian Church.

But I think the “Rebuilt” program had better re-group! 

I have read all their materials in the past few years in attempting this project.   I like some ideas a lot, but I am flummoxed and offended by some other ideas of theirs.

But I just had to take a Sunday and go see a ReBuilt Mass for myself.    I did this today, leaving my retreat house to drive to this liturgy.  I wrote this review back at the retreat house.

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Consider Who the Host is at any Catholic Church.   He is Jesus.   The Attention needs to be on Him in any Mass, whether a Cathedral Mass with choir or a daily Mass in a simple country chapel.   His Presence in the Church, via the reserved Blessed Sacrament, is the first consideration of ‘noticing Him’ when one enters the Catholic parish church.   His Presence in the Priest, via Holy Orders, is an important focus as the prayers of Mass take place.  The priest presider/celebrant should reflect this and he should be aware of it.  Then the Word in Scripture announces Him.   The Eucharistic Prayer really ought to be prayed along (participated) by the faithful on their knees.  The Lord is Come to us in Mass.   The Eucharist and its thanksgiving is such the vital experience of the Mass.   It must not be lost amidst all else going on around it.  When I leave the Sacred Liturgy, the Peace of The Presence needs to be central.  The communal experience of prayer needs its key link to the action at the Altar (The Miracle of the Lord’s Supping with us) and our being commonly fed by the One Loaf Who is Christ, Bread of Life. IMAG1245

‘Twere True? ‘Tis True

Long Teaching      There is a Part One, Part Two, and a Part Two all in here

Part 1

I heard a phrase this week: “If ’twere true, then it’d be most obvious.”  That twere word is from an old-fashioned English usage as in meaning if it were true (’twere), then it would be ( it’d be or ‘tidbe) thus and such.  I haven’t heard those phrases used in a while… but some folksy speakers favor them still today.  Listening to S.C. nominee Gorsuch speak this week shows that the homespun terminology is still much in circulation.

But how I heard the ’twere phrase was not in a good light.   It was used by some Christian anti-Catholic person, one who unfortunately, was speaking publicly in dead-set opposition to a Living Jesus with us in the Blessed Sacrament.  They said that the Eucharist couldn’t be real because the amazement and convincing factor wasn’t there, in their view.  So, in the folksy, olde-fashioned sentence, they said “if ’twere true, then it’d be most obvious,” meaning that they were trying to debunk the Eucharist*, saying “it,*” was not really Christ Jesus, in their demanding that, if “it*” were true, some special effects would be seen and felt to support the claim of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in our Catholic belief and practice.  

Cut to chase, the Eucharistic Jesus isn’t exciting enough for them to be real.  “It” seems too ordinary to them.  

What a short-sighted point of view this seems to be.   The “it” actually is a Person: Jesus.  There view does slight the Lord in some certain way.  

I am reminded of the account in Mark 6 when people also dismissed Jesus by saying that “they knew” how he was only (merely) a carpenter, just an ordinary relative from Nazareth, son of Joseph.  They “knew” it.  They made noise that Jesus could NOT be anything more (and surely not Messiah).   We know now how very wrong they were in belittling Jesus.  

Same thing with belittling Him as Sacrament and Bread of Life among us today. That’s a big mistake to make. It leaves out a major, personal experience of Christ from their lives.  Yet we Catholics will need to be the witness to His Real Presence, so that all Christians can be led to Him, the Bread of Life, for their full nourishment.

To those statements above of expecting a sign, or refusing to believe, I thought: ‘Like what special effects are they looking for to have prove to themselves the Eucharist is really Jesus?! A tingling sensation? A taste of true blood? A stupendous, instantaneous, miraculous healing to the communicant?’ What ‘special effects’ were they seeking of Christ or of the Church’s relationship to Jesus as Eucharistic Lord for our pilgrimage Home?   In their current faith practice, is it all a big feelings kind-of-experience they demand to have called their Christianity?  There is fault in that orientation, if so.

There are clear descriptions in the Bible (as proof) for the Real Presence, too, if they are searching.  I wondered:  How more clear in The Word can it be that John the Baptist or John the Apostle call Jesus the Lamb of God, or that Jesus calls Himself as “the Bread of Life” or the “Living Bread of Heaven,” as for us to “take and eat?!” of Him? ! (John 6, Luke 22)  Or, that He offered Himself purposefully on the exact Jewish Passover for sacrifice (John 13, Matt. 26), which was unnecessarily dramatic of Jesus if twere only a symbolic gesture He was making.  Yet, what if the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus, is Real Presence Blood to save us from death in sin?   Hebrews 9:11-28 has something to say about that, of this Church today in a living practice of Christ’ offering, as while we seek His Glory to come.  (Read it.)

Experientially, at each Mass, I get a sense of the blood on the doorpost of our hearts being applied onto us and into us, who want to be saved from death and our sins.  This, of course, is an update to the exodus story, as we live under the Exodus march now of Jesus.  As the author of Hebrews writes to the believers to experience in their present-time:  “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:14)

Oh my!   The anti-Catholic said “if ’twere true”– scoffing as he said it… but hallelujah, “TIS TRUE.   JESUS IS AMONG US IN HIS BODY AND BLOOD in the work of salvation, and He is building us up to serve Him for His kingdom!  The “I AM with you always” so promised Jesus at His Ascension (Mt. 28:16-20).  Jesus IS Sacrament and Paschal Mystery for us now, so that the great I AM has been and is now and will be ministering to us of His feast of salvation.

As for a convincing proof of Himself as Bread, back in Jesus’ public ministry in Israel, do your remember the big deal Jesus made of it about Himself.  In John 6, it says how even many disciples and the apostles did not get it, of what Jesus did after the Miracle of the Loaves.   Due to that, Our Lord said:  “You had your fill of the miracle loaves, but do you still not believe?”   The people had missed the sign (sacrament) unveiling of Jesus.  So, even with much of an amazing thing occur on the hill with the multitudes with all them getting fed from practically nothing at hand, they still didn’t believe.   Why not?  Because it was not to be any special effects or spectacle that would win hearts.  Jesus knew it was all about faith and its desire to catch on and believe.   In that John 6 dialogue text, Jesus asked His apostles, ‘as many have left, over this hard teaching, do you also want to leave?’  Peter spoke for the Twelve that they were staying; faith helped them see the Living God before them in Jesus–and in His signs.  ‘You offer Everlasting Life, Master!,’ says Peter, indicating that he and the band of apostles were remaining with The Lord.

So, it is true that some sincere disciples for Jesus today can get it wrong, at first, about Jesus as the Sign of God, the Sacrament for a living encounter in the Divine.   But we wish for them to “get it.” (Only by Grace did we, too.)

These denials of fundamentalists and charismatic Protestants and other non-Catholics about the truth of the Eucharistic Christ today are familiar.  Many do say something like the man did (If t’were true, tid’be most obvious); but they are exercising their prideful demands a bit too far.  Faith seeks understanding, and we hope they will arrive there to know Jesus as Sacrament.

There’s hope people will come to The Eucharist.  The Holy Spirit will be looking to draw them in to glorifying God by such an embrace of Jesus Real Presence.

In seeking such a demanding physical proof of God (sign, on their terms), maybe by faith they can really become surprised, because God IS offering a physical manifestation of His works in the 7 Sacraments.  It’s just not of the double-wow factor.   Jesus comes meek and humble among us.  That’s so vital a lesson to see in the Gospel story. Jesus says: “Come to Me… for I Am meek and gentle of heart… I will help your soul find its rest.”  That is the same Lord of the Gospels Who is Sacrament today.  We meet Him on those humble terms.  We kneel often in His Sign Presence to us, as in Mass or Reconciliation or in a Matrimonial union or Holy Orders consecration.   It’s a humble thing to experience God in Christ in Sacrament..

Part Two.   ‘TIS THE LAMB LEADING US!  IMAG0206

Our Lord And Savior Jesus presented Himself humbly before the Father.  See our Mediator kneeling in the Garden of Gethsename in our illustration on the page.

He kneels in a humble offering to God, doing so in the time directly which had followed the First Mass, the Last Supper.  Only in our own exercise of humility will we take note of God come to us in all humility.

Jesus Himself in His public ministry (as told in the gospels) was not touring around like a rock-star of today.  He did not have elaborate clothes, house musicians, magnetic appeal, and an oversized, look-at-Me personality.   As some Nazarenes commented of Him:  ‘You’re just a poor carpenter’s son, and a lone carpenter yourself now and widows son (with Joseph gone), and merely a relative of people we know, a man of no privilege (Mark 6).  How at all could you, Jesus, be God (?), the Messiah?’ they scoffed.

This denial of Jesus Christ as God in the flesh was a regular thing as Our Lord was in ministry, and that of some of the Jews rejecting Him when He came is clearly told in the New Testament.

Later, the rejection of Jesus as God in the flesh was the break of the first heretics of Christianity.   Interestingly, there is a tie-in to the same rejection of Jesus as Eucharist.  This has also been going on from early on in Christianity, though very much more in recent decades and centuries.   Many non-Catholic Christians insist on living apart from the Sacraments of the Church of the 2000-year-old Church begun by Jesus.  Why such resistance??

Refusal to acknowledge Jesus as Sacrifice and Sacrament in the Eucharist has been going around for centuries, even so in the time of Christ ministry itself (e.g. “How can He give us His flesh to eat?!” –John 6) ‘and many no longer followed Him (after His Bread of Life teaching).’

The connection of God coming as human and as flesh/sacrament are much related– The Word is Flesh; The Word is also Eucharist.  He is the same Word, expressed as flesh.   Think of the many times in bible stories when people would not acknowledge Jesus as God among them, because He was of the flesh.  They couldn’t imagine God as flesh, therefore, they would not believe.  The Lord in flesh was an automatic disqualifier for them.   Even the crucifixion of Jesus was about some Jewish leaders asking for the death sentence for a man claiming to be God among them as a man.   But, oh how wrong those Sanhedrin were!

Jesus said that He was giving His flesh for the life of the world, and that His Body offered was becoming Eucharist for the faithful:  God was extending His visit as flesh and His Presence to us via Sacrament.   The God Who became small as an embryo once was even becoming present as hosts and parts of bread transubstantiated.  Amazing this Lord of Heaven is!

It is important, then, to see how the objection of Jesus as God/man is tied together with the objection to Him as the Eucharistic Sacrifice today.  They are closely related.  As a person like this twere person goes so vehemently against Jesus as Bread of Life Sacrament, I suppose that they would have also missed Jesus as the Man of Galilee too.  Jesus just wasn’t spectacular or obvious enough for some people, I suppose. 

The recognition of the mystery of God among us is by faith, and that recognition is a Gift.  This is so true a point.   At some time in our lives we Christians all need to become like Thomas the apostle, who was missing from the assembly, and to come in and see what the others had said was true.   Thomas examines “the Body and Blood Jesus– even the nailmarks–and gets that it is all indeed true, so to exclaim “My Lord and My God.”  Believers outside of the Eucharist need to come in to those believers with the Eucharist and to recognize Jesus as the Eucharist, so to say “My Lord and My God” to the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus said something very important to Thomas upon the doubting apostles’ coming back into the fold:  “Blessed are those who have not seen (nailmarks like you have here), yet who will still believe.”  

Because it is all by faith that we see.   No tingling or sensations, no fireworks, no overwhelming feelings– just Jesus recognition. 

The Jesus received in Mass from the faithful is related to same Man of Galilee, the man so often spurned, because of denials by so many that He was God in the flesh with them.  Read the Bible accounts. They are many detailing the above rejection.   When the Lord Jesus was in public ministry, numbers of people also demanded certain signs or amazing proofs from Him, in that same special effects mode, but Jesus did not serve them in that flashy way.  In fact, Mark’s Gospel shows Jesus doing many works among them in humble ways, almost as in secret.  Faith not flash was the way into intimacy with Christ.  The Gospels all communicate how Jesus was indeed already their Sign of Signs right in their midst.  He was Sacrament; He was sign– but not to the demand of people for a spectacular sign.  He came as one of us, not to wow but to gently meet us and heal us and save us. He once concluded, “This is a people making demands but no more sign shall be given them but for the sign of Jonah ( referring to His Rising from the dead).”. That would be His major sign, but it would only be manifest to people who were in faith with Him.

Jesus comes to us, maybe more humbly in surprise to us than we could ever expect.

Yet He is here.   Humankind, in our folly, make our demands on God, rather than roll out the red carpet and ask however might receive Him in. It is all due to our want to deny our sin and our need for help and transformation, and of our resistance to let it happen on GOD’ S terms, not our own.   It’s a problem of pride.   Believers who say they belong to Christ have such problems sometimes in pride, though given by word of promise to Christ the Lord.  Yet they fully don’t know Him yet.  They also are prone to errors.  Just read the epistles of the New Testament from James through Jude, and you hear the apostles trying to keep the Church one and true and moving to deeper conversion and convictions, rather they might lose their faith.  (John’s letters are particularly strong.)

Yet Jesus IS a challenge to us.   Anyone who says He is peachy and easy and just a buddy Savior has much more to know of Him.   When Jesus came, He knew that He would experience rejection or refusal from people to Who His True Identity.  John’s Gospel leads off with the real challenge before us:  “The Word became flesh… and to as many as received Him, to them He gave right to be becoming as children of God.”

Even while getting rejected as the Son of God meekly ‘sneaking’ (past our prideful eyes) into our world and history, Jesus continued to affirm His identity as The I AM.  He was God in human existence with us, and the God of eternity.  He said basic things (as recorded further in John’s Gospel) such as “he(she) who believes in Me (as such) has eternal life.”. “I AM the Bread of Life… anyone who eats of Me, this bread, has life eternal, and anyone who does not, does not have eternal life.”   Jesus says this.   The gospel records it.

‘Tis True.

Ah, the Irish like this word, ‘Tis!      And with the Real Presence, we Catholics can say of its truth:  ‘Tis!!

It also says clearly in John than many people left Jesus, because of not accepting who He was or what He said, as in looking for a different Messiah.  In His teaching on the Eucharist, particularly, they left Him. (See John 6.) These were those ’twere true, then followers.  They stopped following the Real Jesus due to stipulations, one might say.  Could they have been saying;  “Jesus, you are too much of the ordinary and sublime to actually be the Divine One you claim to be.’

Oh how wrong they were then.  And now.

Part 3.   Our Catholic testimony.   People undeserving but who have been blessed to see.

What the non-Catholics (who kid us about wafer worship) just don’t know!  Jesus is Eucharist for His people on the journey home to Him.   This is so dear to us who are Catholics.  It also startles us about Jesus.  Our God Who becomes small, whether as baby and man, or as Eucharist host– He does risk being missed or unnoticed or even disrespected or rejected.

By grace, we in the Catholic Church (and other Real Presence believers) have recognized Him, like those who did when on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24).  Praise be Jesus for His revelation to His people, and for His Gift to the Church.  The hidden part of the Emmaus story is of persons who had walked along as if without Jesus, and even heard His words, still had not caught on Who He was until the breaking of the bread.  Then, they knew Him.

We Catholics claim and believe God is with us, and even in ordinary-style signs and sacraments.  The Lord is right here among us, yet He still can be missed, as by those who will not see.  He is Sacrament to continue a physical reality with His Church, yet people just will not abide with Him in this Way.   I think of many ex- Catholics who have voted so with their departure from Mass-going. They had been right near Jesus, even to receive Him in as gift, but have departed away from this intimacy with Jesus to prefer some other place or experience.  Sad.  

Some of the younger generations are going off preferring a more dynamic, entertaining style of Jesus.  Even some of the older folks, too.  Yet the Word says “He came meekly.”  Notice it in Him as the babe in Bethlehem (Mt. 2).  Or the man of Galilee walking up to John the Baptizer (Mt. 11).   Or the man preaching on the hillsides (blessed are the meek–Mt. 5).   Or the one describing Himself:  “I AM meek and humble of heart.  Come to me, and rest. (Mt. 11:29).”   This One Person also proclaims I AM Food in John 6, to “eat and drink of Me,” as does He say in the Last Supper Gospels.

‘Twere true?   It really is true that the Humble Jesus, as in Mystery among us as Eucharist, is missed, or even dis-missed by people today.  Yet He is Real-ly there. Those who seek, find– says Jesus.  May they find Him as Eucharist among us.

How I love the EWTN tv show that has all the testimonials of people of other religions or denominations who have come to recognize Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.   The show is called “Journey Home.”   Other live call-in radio shows on EWTN’s network feature many more such testimonies.   Catholic Answers Live is full of Eucharistic Jesus confessors.  ‘Tis True, they say.

Of my hurts as a priest is to know of former Catholics or former practicing Catholics who are not with us in Sacred Liturgy now.  I dearly pray for them to Come Home.

‘Twere is probably a poor relative of ’twas, as in “once before, He was my Eucharist, but not now.” As in someone saying: “I don’t want Him to be.  I want something more amazing or appealing.”   Would they demand it to not be so, of this Eucharist not to be Him?

As the destiny of the believer is to gather around the Throne in praise of the Lamb, in the Liturgy of Heaven, going to Mass is a getting ready and acquainted with the Lord as He is worshipped forever.   The Holy Mass is our connection even now to Heaven’s liturgy, as they go on simultaneously.   Scott Hahn’s book “The Lamb’s Supper” is a great read for someone to see the message of the Book of Revelation as of a communion of the Church triumphant in Heaven, united to believers of the Church Militant (fighting the good fight soulfully on earth’s pilgrimage) and the Church Suffering.   All are united into the Sacrifice of the Lamb, and we are made worthy only in the Lamb’s Offering.   Again, this is all about the meaning and mystery of Holy Mass.

As John’s Gospel proclaims, Jesus is God in the flesh… and then Jesus says “my flesh is real food, eat it in remembrance of Me… this is My Body…My Blood for you.”   In each Mass, we acknowledge this Truth.  ‘Tis True.   Blessed is the Lamb Who was slain, who reigns now.  This is the celebration of Heaven, of and in and by The Lamb Jesus.

And on earth we pray in every Mass:  “Lamb of God… have mercy on us… grant us peace.”

Mary, our model believer, embraces the Word made flesh among us. At the start to finish.IMAG0820_1IMAG0244

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Twere.  ‘Tis.   Two shall be one, Bride to BrideGroom.

Twain is another old English language word with a tw start.  It’s used in phrases like “never the twain shall meet” but also in wedded lines like “twain thee, one love now.”

Which shall it be of the Eucharistic Lord Jesus: Never the twain shall meet (me and Jesus as Bread of Life)–or– twain us, one Communion and bond, Lord?

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I think I will sign off on that.  (I’d tweet off, but this is a blog!  If it ’twere a tweet, then this message would have been over in the first sentence! )

Photo:  San Juan Cathedral in the week of Epiphany.  I con-celebrated some Masses here.   In Spanish.

More thoughts on Ad Orientam and ‘Liturgical East’ Mass prayer

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I really wasn’t planning to blog again on this topic, but it is my opinion that the priests and people still campaigning for the priest to pray in the direction AWAY from the people at Mass need to stop and better consider that idea. It just is being disruptive and not so pious as the might think. I just don’t think the usual majority of Catholics wants another change to Holy Mass right now, nor are our churches built and situated for the turn-around, nor the later suspected intended-all-along Mass back at the high altar again. Those two quick points could be all I’d say on the matter, but I just got to vent here a bit.

An Ad Orientam (AO) Mass is one in which the presider does not face the people from his altar prayers at Mass, but rather, has his back to them, so as to be praying in the same direction with them, that is, ‘to God together’ (as some have described it). Once at the Offertory part in an AO Mass, the presider does not look at the people, but he comes to the front side of the altar and faces away from the people–praying ‘forward.’ For this to work, and it is a confusing thing to witness, the presider now has to go around the low altar and get in front of it, face away from the people, with his back turned on them, and then he continues on praying the key part of Mass. Even while we have microphones now for aiding our hearing the priest– the non-verbal message there is bad in the AO proposal. What we see and feel in this AO posture of the priest is exclusion, not inclusion. It seems to go back to the priest having a me-and-Jesus relationship, with the people as being second hand in the church. We have moved away from that way of doing things, I thought. While the priest is set apart in his Holy Orders, and in his charge to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass, he need not do it as if the treasure of Eucharist is all his. That is what I seemed to notice as exhibited by the AO Eucharistic Prayers (EP)of the priest. If I noticed or felt it, then I am sure others did, and it’s not right for the feeling of exclusion to be in the EP prayers. We pray together as a people. We receive the Miracle by the Epiclesis prayer and Consecration as a people. Together. This is a priest saying this to you.

Consider the new spirit of the Missal, which has renewed the invocation into the Liturgy of Eucharist, with the priest saying: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty…” Consider that a turned-back presider counters that verbal prayer. If it is a shared offering, then show it is so. (Like we properly do now.)

Ad Orientam adherents say that the turned-away stance of the priest is of him praying with the people, as praying to God in the same direction as the people. While that sounds pious and wonderful, in reality it can instead smack of the priest as separate up there, and the people now, not as much, included behind him. I’m just saying that posture and position and body language mean a lot in communication, even in the Mass. In a communications point of view, the turned back of the presider (and assisting deacon) not only seems exclusionary, but visually it impairs the altar view for some. Many people now (in the AO Mass style) just can’t see the vessels or the priest hands and they may also miss the showing of the consecrated large host (since the elevation of the Body and Blood is not supposed to be high over the priest’s head, but a low subtle one). The face-away praying contradicts the whole point of bringing the priest and consecration closer to the people, as Vatican II liturgy documents said we needed now to do. I say–let the people see what the priest gets to see in the EP. Let the priest offer the give-and-take spirit of looking towards the people, and receiving their prayers in a visible, complimentary way. It’s just good manners and conduct, too.

A young clergyman said that ‘it doesn’t matter that we look at the people from after the Preface to the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) prayer.’ I asked him if he realized how his generation generally looks down too much at phones and computer devices and such, rather than to looking at other people’s faces in interpersonal manners. He didn’t agree on the assessment; I asked him to ask anyone over 50 on whether this poor communication habit is noticeable and true or not of his generation. I said that looking at people does matter. (And I’m not talking about skyping time!)

He said he did not need so much to look at people, and that ‘the priest could humbly look down more in his Mass, since it is not about him.’ I said, if it’s not about him, the priest, then have him not look not down towards himself! It’s kind of a false humility. Humility is esteeming others as much as yourself. A humble priest would esteem the others’ participation and experience of the Mass, besides himself. If there are people in his Mass, then it IS about engaging them in the Mass. We have had so many unemotional Masses and monotone presiders and self-absorbed clergy at Mass in the past, that it’s no wonder some people have not returned regularly to Mass. It didn’t feel like their Mass, maybe.

I commented that I try to look around the church during some prayers, and in the Gospel proclamation and homily, and in the intercessions, all in my part as presider. I do look less about in the EP, but I still give some facial time and expression at people in those prayers, and especially in the cues for the Mystery of Faith, Lord’s Prayer, Lamb of God and Prayer before Communion. When I pray lines in EP 3 like: “Listen graciously to the prayers of this family, whom You have summoned before You… O Merciful Father” I do look lovingly out upon the people God Has summoned to the Mass celebration. Or, when I pray the Roman Canon (EP 1), “Have mercy on us all, we pray, that (with Mary and the Saints) we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life,” I look out at the people at Mass, because I am speaking about them, and me, in those lines. It just makes courteous sense. The same goes for the another EPline: “Holy Father, we humbly beseech you to accept us also, together with your Son…graciously to endow us with His very Spirit, who takes away everything that estranges us from one another.” I look up at the people during words like “we” and “us.”

Of course, during prayers with the elevation of the paten (Eucharistic Bread of Life, Who is Jesus) and the chalice (His Precious Blood), it is right to direct all attention on the vessels holding Our Lord as Sacrament. Again, I think these are common sense communication exercises, and not only theological sensibilities being in practice here. You look to what you are speaking about.
I also look quite a bit upward, as I address many prayers to Father God in Heaven.

Ad Orientam adherents say that we Catholics used to do Mass this way, with the priest facing the other way, so: How could it be wrong now to return to it? The answer to that is because we had Mass at a high altar way back then, and it was to the front far wall of the church. All of this, too, was far away from the people. It was another distance problem of the clergy praying Mass less connected to the people in the pews. Sometimes presider and pew persons were even 30 yards away in those high Masses. We gladly moved the Mass to where people could see it, as at a low altar close to the people. In the former, it sometimes communicated that the clergy were first class way up front, and the people/laity were second-class. Again. Just saying.

Ad Orientam persons just seem not to get that point about unnecessary clergy/laity separation, as they wish the churches just would move back to high altars and clergy turned around again. I call it one-way thinking. I have seen the AO Masses done, and the spirit of how they come across to regular persons in the pews (where I have been for the perspective), and I am not liking them, personally, and it would be uncomfortable to pray Mass that way for me. But it’s just my opinion here.

Yet let me keep going on here. Those wanting this re-arrangement cutely say that the priest will be facing then with the people. But what about the administering of Baptism, Anointing of the Sick and Dying, Reconciliation, Confirmation, or Holy Orders or Matrimony? The priest prays towards the people there. They aren’t in another direction as facing God then, right? Come on, this is simple!

For those who almost demand on this Liturgical East practice to come ahead, well, I think to ask for a clergy turn-around and major change to Mass is officious of the Ad Orientam–Liturgical East promoters. I love them, but I disagree with them on their proposal.

I think the church people and priest COULD USE use a RE-POSITIONING, but it’s of the hearts place at Mass, and not the feet of a presider. We need a different renewal than re-posturing. More on that later… as I’d like to say more on the communication lines.
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The AO Mass just seems to me as doing liturgy in poor communication technique. I am a radio-tv-film-theatre major in communications, and I approach matters in that vantage point. In a year-long Voice for Stage theatre class at the university, a fundamental lesson in its very first week was that we were to address the audience and to not speak upstage or offstage. It’s poor communication to turn your back on the people who are watching and listening to you. You speak TO them, not away. You also don’t turn your head down and speak to the floor. These simple theatre lessons apply here to praying Mass in a church, so I think. (I know Mass is not a stage performance, by the way, yet some basic similarities to Mass do apply.)

Let’s tie that into liturgy and theology in prayer. When the development of modern Catholic liturgy asked for more participation of clergy WITH the laity, and vice versa, and in their BOTH praying and taking part in Mass in a significant and complimentary way, it made great communicative sense for the Mass to be prayed by the priest FACING the people. What a blessed change it was for Catholics. I grew up through the change. What I noticed was that it fostered the SHARED prayer attitude at Mass. Beforehand, in history, having the priest’s turned back away from the people didn’t help the mutuality factor in praying Mass. The turn-around opened the Mass for all to better join in. I know that it benefitted my own prayer experience.

Seniors remember when the Mass was prayed Ad Orientam by a presider at a high altar (pre-1960’s practice), and it resulted in people more with watching and listening to “father” praying The Mass, as if the Mass was mostly a priestly prayer, and not the people’s. I remember my grandma praying a rosary during the whole Eucharistic prayer in those Masses way back then. It was her way of keeping active in prayer, instead of being left out during the priest’s praying of the Roman Canon. That’s how I interpreted her rosary actions. In the New Mass (People’s Mass), she began more to pray the Mass, especially enjoying the English words. It had been in Latin. Yet equal in impact to the language turn was the priest’s turn to now be looking at her and the congregation in Mass, inviting her participation. That she did. It was less watching and more joining in.

We have been blessed since Vatican II with the liturgy becoming inclusive and inspired for the congregation’s part, and not seeming just to be chiefly for the clergy. We had a problem before: The Mass used to seem like it was a priest’s prayer first, and a lay person’s only second-handed. The tip- off of this was the frequent line then: Who is saying/praying the Mass? (This meant–What priest is doing it?) Yet we ALL were praying the Mass–not just “father!” Were we not?! The phrases tipped off our viewpoint of things, like that the priest was the one celebrating Mass (as if others were attending to watch him celebrate). In yester-time, people asked: Who is celebrating Mass? (Folks would answer: Monsignor is.) Yet are we not all celebrating Mass, each of us? Indeed we ALL are praying the Mass, while vitally needing the priest to lead the prayer, of course.

A lot has gone on in 50 years of Catholic liturgical renewal, but it was greatly overdue when Vatican II brought changes. The Protestant influence of more inclusion for all their members in their worship services did show up Catholicism for perhaps being too clerical and a bit imbalanced in our own Mass participation. While our Catholic Mass and priesthood has always been so faithful to their founding by Christ, and so unique and holy and blessed and grace-giving, it’s celebration did seem to center much on the priest’s part, with not much joined on in prayer by others. This was the case for centuries! Even in recent times, when the Gloria and Sanctus were prayed (as the people’s part), often it was taken over by a choir singing it all on their own, and not generally by the congregants. (At least this was the experience in urban/city parishes, that had choirs.) The alternative often was the quiet and quick Mass, with prayers done, but a bit abruptly–and Sunday Mass was over in 35 minutes.

What a contrast that is to today’s Mass. I am so glad to be living in this era of renewal. Would we want to reverse that trend now? I have mostly been in musical and inclusive parishes since my youth and in through high school and college, and through to today in my ordained parish experiences. I live reaping the fruit of the reform to the Holy Mass. It was so needed. I enjoy how Mass is more a shared prayer now. I joined NPM for this reason a few years ago, supporting the help of the national pastoral musicians in the Church. They have a society, and clergy can join in. They contribute to liturgical renewal.

At one NPM convention I was asked about where I learned to love the Mass. I said, after parochial school days, it definitely was the engaged participation at the college Masses at Ohio University and the University of Maryland. We had a high level of involvement with the Mass there with our chaplains. I enjoyed Mass. I went on weekdays as well as weekends. I was being drawn in closer in intimacy with the Eucharist. I didn’t know much about all the renewal efforts of Vatican II, as I just was a collegian in the public, state university.

Yet now I see the liturgical force and blessing of Vatican II to get people singing and praying in an active way. I am in NPM now because is a vital organization for stirring the “full and conscious participation of the faithful in liturgy” and keeping the spirit of the liturgy. I also read the conservative books and periodicals (e.g. Spirit of the Liturgy, Adoremus news), so I am well taught of all that Sacred Liturgy means. That directive from Vatican II for full and conscious partaking was a gem. I remember reading those documents while playing guitar for parish Masses and college ones.

Has the Renewal really succeeded? I don’t know, as there are people that still seem to ‘watch’ the Mass, like as an outsider, missing the fact that THEY are praying it as surely as the priest. We so much want to involve that guy with the folded arms and emotionless face! Yet with the presider turned away from him, I think he will feel in-obliged to change, saying instead I’ll Let father do the Mass. I am just checking in here for the Gospel and Communion.

I read liturgical documents and go to liturgy conferences and talk liturgy with people in the Church. This Ad Orientam way of praying Mass has been explained by those asking for it as connected to our praying to the east for Christ’ Return, much like the early churches were oriented for the priest and people to pray Mass in that way.

It is true how some churches were built to point eastward, from as far back as 18 centuries ago. There was a tradition, though not widespread, for churches to be built facing east, as for seeing the coming of The Lord, Who told us He’s to arrive in Glory One Fine Day from the eastern sky. It was a very nice expression, to pray to the east and/or the sunrise. That the priest and the people both were looking eastward in prayer was logical for a Parousia believing people. Yet according to a long time scholar at Notre Dame University, named Bradshaw, there were not really as many such eastward churches through the ages. It was not a norm to point a church eastward. So, for the most part, priests and people were not praying eastward together in their Masses of long ago. If praying eastward together is important in Ad Orientam Mass praying, then there are very few churches actually aimed that way anymore. Take, for instance, our own experience today. St. Edward’s faces to the south. In fact, none of the ten nearest area Catholic parish churches to us do face eastward. Nor is our cathedral church of the Archdiocese pointing eastward at St. Matthew’s in DC, for it points to the north. (I say that they should re-point St. Matthew’s to aim towards the White House, as they need lots of prayer 12 blocks away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.)

So the idea of eastward-looking priests and parishioners (for Jesus’ Return) really is not followed in practical terms.

(Ok. I’ll name some notable exceptions in Maryland. There are some east-pointing churches in places in Maryland, thanks to the Jesuits. Nearby in Charles County Md., St. Ignatius–Chapel Point was built purposely and precisely to the sunrise. In earlier Maryland times, it was a common practice to build east-facing churches. I can attest to that, as my parishes in St. Mary’s County of St. Aloysius and Holy Angels (Jesuit founded) are aiming eastward, as they always have been, although neither churches now have eastern windows to see out of. Thus, I suppose for the Jesuit parishes, they will be pointed aright for the Second Coming. They’ll see Jesus first in those churches, if they happen to be praying inside at the Second Coming. They’ll be pointed aright!)

But for the most part, we have not practiced the all-eastward anticipation at Mass. So, now, the AO Mass crowd have come up with a phrase, to answer the questions: Why can’t the priest and people still all point in one way? Can’t we all pray as like we were facing east? So this is how their phrase and idea of a “Liturgical East” idea came up. They say we should all pray as like we are aiming us, that is, in our hearts. Right?!! I don’t really get that! So here is a liturgical reform for a “*liturgical east” celebration, where and when all will be asked to face one way in church. Not east, but a “liturgical east.” What?! I don’t follow or figure what they seem to be making up.

Again, a “Liturgical East Mass” is one in which all members, including the priest, are facing the direction of the altar in a Christian church. It can be north or southwest or whatever, as long as all face one way “as to the Lord.” It is all about just what direction the altar is from the people and priest. Those who use this term in liturgy are focused on the altar, and a (supposed) one-directional focus on Christ, Who is present there in the Sacred Liturgy. It is done with the presider’s back to the people, whether west or northeast or such. He has to face the Altar, too. Away from the people.

“Liturgical East” just seems a made-up term, like the USA’s Three Day Weekend. We move a national holiday, like George Washington’s February 22nd birthday, over to a Monday, and give people a Monday holiday, and call it a three-day weekend. Yet really, only Saturday and Sunday comprise “a weekend.” Monday still is a Monday. Monday IS a weekday off, really, if given by the government. It’s a third-day off, but not really made into a three-day weekend. You see the point. You can’t make up an AO term like “liturgical east” without stretching reality, and doing a word play. Facing east is facing east. A liturgical east does not actually exist, so I think. One either IS facing true east or they are not in a Mass. You can’t make it up that you are eastward, if you are facing northwest. Sorry.

The term and movement behind it is an attempt to get the priest turned around from the people. It’s not a good communication form. I’ve made that point. If it’s a try to go back to pre-Vatican II styles Masses, then it is divisive and unwise to do that. Churches are not designed, either, to go back to the old ways, not for high altar Masses, certainly, nor for the low altar ones, practically.
What are they thinking, these Liturgical East advocates? Do they need a spiritual GPS?

Servant leadership from the clergy need to keep their wits about them. You don’t lead with your back to the people, unless you are George Washington crossing the Delaware, or John Wayne in a military hero movie, leading the charge of men up the hill.

Leading with a back turned? Funny, a music director wouldn’t do that in his leader role at a concert, as he mostly faces the orchestra or chorus. Nor would a teacher face away all day from their pupils in a traditional classroom. The facial contact is necessary. And as I watched the Summer Olympic rowing races, I noted the boat leaders facing towards their team of rowers, even while peaking ahead to their course. They don’t face away from the rowers they were leading. Yet they definitely were working as one team.

Why do the above examples of director, teacher, or front seat rowing persons lead as such? It’s because they all are guides and communicators. They have a distinct need to look at those to whom they are leading. Naturally. And, it’s a habit of good communication positioning.

As a priest, and when serving Mass, I see myself also as a communicator to the people, and not just communicating to God. Also, I see the role of priest as not only a participant at Mass, but also as Alter Christus in my Holy Orders. I present Christ through my being, ontically by ordination into Christ the Priest’ human sign of priesthood. I act “In Persona Christi.” Thus, it is a sensible liturgy enhancement that the people would be able to see me. It’s a good reason to face the people as a guide, communicator, and especially as a sign of Christ. It is appropriate, then, that I face the people in the Eucharistic Prayer. Even as a witness to Christ coming in Sacrament, for He is in Great Sign and Sacrament as the Body and Blood, I am looking towards Him. Therefore, we, as the people in church, one and all, are all looking to Jesus the Eucharist. The turning around the priest to face away from the people doesn’t add or improve to that. He still remains standing looking at the Consecration and the Body and Blood of Jesus, by either side of the altar. So why have the priest’s back to the people?

Just saying aloud here what comes sensibly to my mind. I may be missing some things on Ad Orientam and Liturgical East views…

As to the nice sounding “let’s all pray in the same direction” to the Lord’s Coming… I think Catholics already pray with vigilance for the Christ of Glory, with our lamps lit, as says the Word. The Second Coming’s Immanence is very evident in the Sacred Liturgy today of the New Mass. The Lord’s Coming is increased in awareness due to the peoples’ now praying The Mystery of Faith, along with praying now the Lord’s Prayer doxology, in her prayers of participation in the Novus Ordo (New Mass). Most of the people now pray/sing the Sanctus (instead of listen only to it sung by a choir) and they pray: “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of The Lord!” The Advent of the Lord’s Return is celebrated better today than a century ago. Thus, I don’t think we need a gimmick or new thing for looking to Christ’ Return, such as a necessary need to face eastward or in some liturgical eastward way.

However, here is a very good point I wanted to make in the final turn: The re-positioning NEEDED right now in the Church probably isn’t one way posturing of the clergy’s shoes, but IT IS OF ALL OF OUR HEARTS TO GET POSITIONED TOWARDS GOD. Pope Francis has given us all themes of joy, mercy and grace to ponder– for our better positioning, as we prepare the Way of the Lord. Here’s a pertinent question: Are people really having a jubilee of Mercy right now? THAT re-positioning to be fully in God’s Mercy is what’s important now to the Vicar of Christ. I don’t see enough of that kind of re-positioning in God’s people to the passionate appeal by Pope Francis to engage in fresh Mercy in our heart experience in this Catholic faith. His Holiness, Francis, has made the right call for the Church, and I think it was quite Spirit-led. We need Joy in the Gospel, fresh Mercy in our heart experience, and an appreciation of God’s Grace in our lives. That will get us ready for the Lord’s movement.

“Rend your hearts, not your garments” God said prophetically to His people. ‘O Pharisee, tear not your coat open, like in anger, and in resistance to God, but pour open your hearts to God, and be glad He has mercy on you, rather than give you what you might deserve for your sins.’ Are people really in jubilee of mercy in the Church? If so, then where are all the confessions? That’s a true sign of jubilee going on. Where are all the stories of mercy being celebrated?

Ok. Let’s finish up in the positive here.

God will come someday in His Gloriously arriving Son– in The Day of the Lord!! Could we hope even that He might return for us while we happen to be praying in a Mass? Wouldn’t that be nice?! Christmas Morning Mass would be an amazing choice for the timing of the Second Coming, now wouldn’t it?! Yet it could catch a whole lot of Christians by surprise, too. But maybe not catch by surprise at all in the Catholic who sincerely prays that Mystery of Faith for Christ’ Return, and the line of The Creed about “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Maybe the Catholic listening intently to the Advent Gospel will also be ready and glad. zz

As for our readiness for the Parousia, Paul tells us (via the Corinthians) that the Teachings and Breaking of the Bread is a celebration of God’s promise. In each Mass (celebration) do we plead hope for Christ’ Return. St. Paul said “As often as you may eat this Bread and may drink the Chalice, you proclaim the Death (Sacrifice) of The Lord, until He comes.”

So it is true that the Mass gathers us in Christ’ Sacrifice, so we can be led to the Glory to be revealed in us. (John’s epistle message, or Romans)

Let us be reminded how Jesus was in and at the First Mass. In it, He was communicating love, sacrifice, humility, obedient service, and intimacy and common identity with them in instituting the Blessed Sacrament. I see Him being with the apostles in a Face-to-face way at the Last Supper. I think it’s the Catholic priest’s role today to communicate that same Sacred Heart example. However and wherever we do Mass, we clergy do need to imitate Jesus.

One Ad Orientam supporter even suggested that ‘those clergy of rival opinion might be priests with ego problems.’ It’s more true, sadly, that THEY with this reform idea are the ones with that issue of an EGO, and setting THEMSELVES as contentious for a change, They mistake pious directions for being difficult, and they are insensitive to the fact that the change to the new Missal is still a major adjustment for many people. To add more changes to the Mass presently will divide, not unite.

Blue Cool School

imag0705_1. It was a great day at St. Pius the Tenth (SPX) school today. Bishop Knestout (a grad) came by with the ADW Superintendent to celebrate the school becoming a Blue Ribbon award winner. All four of us Bowie pastor-priests were on hand, as well as the whole school body of students, teachers and staff, to gather in the church. There the school got the hapoy news.

We prayed and sung out in song and applauded one another (especially the teachers) and gave thanks for the accomplishment. The school really caught on quickly of how special this award was for us, and the mood was one of joy and excitement! We are in the top 15% in the nation for preK/K-8 schools.

I have taught here over the past eight years and it has been a happy time of return to the school of my childhood. I usually teach six classes per week in religion classes. I do other things at SPX like pray Masses, hear confessions, go to socials and field trips or sports CYO games or scout events. It’s been great.

Today the bishop recognized me for own connections and service to this school, as a priest come home, and the school responded by giving me a real big cheer. That felt great.
His Excellency shared his own memories of seven years in the school as a former student, and of some recent happy returns home to St. Pius X.
(When he joined the school and 2nd grade in 1970, I was there as a 7th grader. We lived three streets away and our families knew each other and shared the same parish. Later, Bishop Knestout and I went to the same seminary and became ordained in 1988 and 1989, successively, with first Masses at St. Pius X parish.)

I have been a part of Catholic schools since 1987. I don’t have a lucky horseshoe in my pocket, but five of the seven schools I have served in the ADW have received Blue Ribbon awards. Imagine that. Thus, I have seen the cream of the crop around the Archdiocese of Washington.

I told a reporter today that these students of this school were the most special to me.

The whole school donned blue hard hats in the end of the assembly, celebrating the reward given for our hard work and high achievement here.

As the whole school posed for a photo, at the finish, it did not dawn on me to snap a photo of them all there at the time. (It would have looked good right here.) Yet professional photographers were on hand; photos will be in local newspapers and the diocesan paper soon. Bravo.

Ministry Weekend at St. Edward

Let’s talk about mutual service in The Lord. Since I had a wedding this past week, may I start the discussion with how a couple does it?

St. John the Paul the Great wrote and spoke many wise words on marriage as a godly covenant of service. It can be summed up by him that the secret of fruitful marriages is “mutual self-giving.”. That’s frequently the advice I repeat in my wedding homilies

This recent wedding on Friday featured a Gospel Bible verse from John 15. It was chosen to be a verse that sums up service, in application to this mutual service and work of love that makes a marriage. Jesus said: “This is my new commandment: love one another as I love you… No greater love, than that when one lays down their life for a friend. And, you are My friends [and I lay down My life for you].”

I told the couple, that this new commandment of Jesus is about the changed and better possibilities of loving others with the love of the Lord paired with you. God in Christ has put His love in the hearts of His believers, so it enhances all things we may do, and it makes great love possible. Jesus says that this same love inspired Him to lay down His life for us, for saving us. He says He did it because He is our friend.

Therefore, in the vocation of marriage, a couple can love one another in the inspiration of Jesus in their lives. This love can help them into a deep, abiding friendship, and into one in which they will lay down their lives in love for thw needs if their spouse and family.

This kind of service in marriage in the homes goes on naturally (or should I say, supernaturally?) To bless the Church and out to the community.

(Note: On our parish web site, listen to our song “Lay It Down” by Chris Tomlin.)

Parish ministry, likewise, is about being a good spouse to God, and in being friends to Jesus and to the Father. It inspires us into the new realm of service, the new commandment or Way of the Lord. As Jesus loves us, then we can let it move our hearts to love others. We see the parish neighbor in a new light, as a covenant partner in the Bride role, mutually-giving with Christ Jesus the BrideGroom.

So, step one as the Bride/Church: We need to let Jesus’ love get through to our hearts. We need to then love Him back.

Next, we do need to look how we are of service in Jesus’ Name. Outside of the parish, the possibilities of service are many, but I want to remind you that (along with the loving of your own kin), you are called to be a loving member of this parish body in some way.

Now and then, like in this weekend, we present St. Edward’s members with opportunities to volunteer and serve into ministries here: such as lector, Eucharistic minister, usher, teacher in rel. ed. or RCIA, or to be a helper in parish socials, like for our Fun Day, whuch comes up soon at October’s first Sunday.

Hearing our Gospel of today, we note how Jesus’ service of love was always generously extended. His critics reveal that He not only reached out to rogues and ragamuffins, but even dropped by to these ‘sinners’ homes. Jesus comments that it is the role of The Shepherd to seek and find the lost sheep. He adds that the woman finding coins (hence, the Church, finding people for His kingdom) brings Heaven much delight, too.

Lay ministry helps with God’s collection of His treasures. Angels ARE glad to see us serving God, says the parable, since it is their eternal delight to be doing so. We have lay ministers in our parish doing all sorts of things here, serving God as lectors, singers, people caring for the parish vessels, linens and holy water and such, people hosting donut Sunday for some fellowship building. Plus we have volunteers gardening, counting, giving computer counsel, doing food delivery, making home and elderly care visitations, teaching the youth, leading children’s church on Sundays, distributing Communion, ushering, and doing justice projects, meeting the needy, and more … there are boys and girls in altar serving, youth helping in Religious Ed. programs and retreats… and there also are people in prayer ministry, weekday/night Mass prayer, helpers at our Catholic school, helpers to pregnancy aid clinics and related outreach, cooks and booth helpers at our Fun Day, K of C activities, Parish council officers and others… That is some of our lay ministry. We have some people involved on their own in service or philanthropic exercises, to happy report.

As we look to fill lay ministries, we note how we have service outreaches that have gone defunct, like our high school youth group ministry–which now is become an all-volunteer effort and reclamation project… OR we have Pro Life lay ministry efforts like organizing our participation in the March For Life, which needs a fresh start… OR there are need for a new persons to lead a Teen Scholarship program OR provide new assistance in marriage prep help to the parish and pastor.

Some lay ministries we have advertised about in the bulletin or from the pulpit. Others are promoted word of mouth or person-to-person.

How does today’s Psalm 51 give us advise on service? In many ways. First, it is a prayer of realization by King David that he had become far too selfish as king, but needed to return to be a king with a servant heart to God and others. After all, he was anointed to be God’s servant–he needed to again be what God had made him to be.

I will speak a bit about a contrite spirit now.

Secondly, David learned through brokenness that his off-desires needed to be reigned in. He writes about becoming anew in faith. “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” Psalm 51 testifies of his turn-around to love others again, as a priority of life. Does that lesson speak to us today?

Contrite is a word of acknowledgement that leads to the action of a humbled heart and mind. From “contrere” it means to have come to terms that I have rubbed and bruised someone the wrong way. I’ve hurt someone. Sometimes I think a good act of contrition would be to realize, for some, that their inaction in a parish may have hurt the parish. Parishes need involvement from people, as people are able. Parishes suffer when service is not in the center of her member’s life. Parish life is not first in being served, but in serving.

Contrarily, many hands make light work. It also makes for more dynamic life when people serve as a whole, as a community– rather than act independently.

Do you ever wish the parish could be better? Do you have this longing, paired with the wonder of what you will be willing to contribute? Do you have an idea of what God wants of you for parish service, for liturgical worship and participation? Numbers of people have already asked this question of themselves, and answered it. Yet, we put it out there again.

Listen to a happy man in church ministry. It is St. Paul, as he writes letters back to a church and to a service partner in Corinth. He writes in today’s 2nd reading in wonder that God used him in such a dynamic way in the Church. He says: “I am grateful to Him Who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus, for service.” That is from 1st Timothy.

How would we pray and learn from Paul? By saying: I AM THANKFUL THAT GOD WOULD WORK IN MY LIFE, TOO, TO DELIVER ME FROM SERVING ONLY/MOSTLY THE WORLD OR MYSELF—AND LOOKING RATHER TO SERVICE TO THE GLORY OF GOD. MY SERVICE FOR GOD IS ALL ABOUT AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE, FOR ALL GOD HAS DONE FOR ME.

It in Lay Ministry Sunday, and we have persons to come to the pulpit today to talk about the lay ministries they are in…. Thank you. IMAG0047

Waning church communities

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On Monday, I saw a couple of stories in the print newspapers about waning churches. The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun had a coincidence in how they ran very similar stories on the same day. Local church closing.

They were sad stories. The articles’ bottom line was that the long-time familiar church on the street was to be open no longer.

These two were Protestant churches that had closed up last Sunday. In the lead story in the WP Metro (June 5), “Farewell to a house of prayer” told of an 86-year-old Arlington Va. Presbyterian church on Columbia Pike and South Glebe Road which had closed up; its Sunday service was the last one there under Rev. Sharon Core.
On page 2 of the Sun, “Worshippers bid farewell to Darlington church” was about their 184-year-old community church holding their last Sunday service on June 4th, under Rev. Kimberly Secrist Ashby.

There are many reasons why these church closures happen, as the newspapers sought to find a few explanations. The main one for the Baltimore church was that there was hardly anybody coming anymore to it. A house of worship needs worshippers. I am reminded of a line of a song: “A house is not a home, when there’s no one there.” The Northern Virginia church’s closing was a little different, as they got an offer for the property and decided to sell it, I think since less members lived nearby it. The report said they are headed to a temporary space. (That frequently means that people will eventually go elsewhere to church, or not to church anymore–from what studies do say.) Is there a future with those church-less Presbyterians? Can they ever copy what they had for 86 years in the big red-brick church with its recognizable steeple?

It got me to thinking of the many reasons for a church closure and people emptying the pews. With a hundred reasons out there–here are ten explanations that are often given: (1)the neighborhood changed…the church people have moved (2) other things now occupy people’s Sunday (3) the church changed its practices/core beliefs/ views/orientation (4) community members got lazy or just tired of going; they now think they can still be “good persons” without church or organized religion (5)some members or leaders of the church were hard to deal with–as in un-Christ-like (and chased folks away) (6) the pastor or lead music minister left (7) running the church became too expensive (staff, projects, building-maintenance costs) and people didn’t want to pay for it (8) family break-ups and divorce and living together are emptying houses of God (9) the younger adult people don’t like the old ways of church–they aren’t coming (but new ‘fun’ mega ones might be considered). And (10) secular humanism and enough material prosperity has converted people into narcissists (ego-centric, ‘entitled’ people), which isn’t agreeable with Beatitude living.

Pick one or a combo of the above. Or, think of what might be the ninety other reasons.

As a pastor, my first response was sadness to these closed-church cases. They were traditional denominational churches, it seems, except maybe for the female pastors. Yet many small (and even not so small) churches are closing up in America these days.

Catholic pastors like myself are always keeping an eye on the attendance on Sundays and also pondering ways to reach people with the Gospel and its follow through with having them live in Christ’ Body. We also see how easily a parish congregation can drift into a spiritual malaise or a disinterest with Christ’ Great Commission to form disciples and to be “Church.” There are many pressures going against church-going today.
I grieve for fellow priests who may be in a community church in fast decline, with themselves and staff worrying how to keep the parish going. Someone yesterday gave me a bulletin (photo below) from a rural Catholic parish church (Arch. of Baltimore) where they guest-attended, and the situation there was a declining church community struggling to pay its bills. IMAG0495 In presenting their annual stewardship report, St. Joseph’s noted the major cuts going on, due to the poor attendance and the weak financial help from much of her members there in Buckeystown. Just reading that bulletin and insert myself told me the pastor and remaining staff there would be under lots of stress, with some long-time members in worry for St. Joseph’s future. The pastor wrote in his bulletin with alarm at the poor numbers of parishioners going to Mass–about only one-quarter of their members coming on any given Sunday…and he noted that half of their registered people were not on record of giving good support (save for a spare dollar thrown into the collection basket) and that only a dedicated 5% of the congregation was carrying the financial load for the many. He informed members how the parish had spent out all their cash reserves, and were now cutting out staff positions and regular liturgical expenses, so to save themselves from immediate debt. I felt sorry for the pastor there. One day the parish may need to merge into St. John’s in Frederick, and go attend there. Sad probability. (It is then, I guess, that the boo birds will come out and blame the Archbishop for so his so-called insensitivity for closing/merging the parish. It happens so often that way unfairly to a bishop.)

Local Church participation is important because it is in the mission to save souls and to fulfil the love-one-another commandment of Jesus and to be in unity (see John ch. 15-17. Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches… the Sheep hear My Voice and follow Me…. they shall all be one.). They are key messages for any disciple of Jesus who follows after Him to band together in His Name and Body.

As I head to a Parish Council meeting tonight, I am bringing along the Archdiocesan/Bishop’s Pastoral Council Policy Guidelines and its written main reason for the parish council: It’s to save souls.
A parish is here to bring people to Jesus. It would be nice to have an active growing church to bring them into. I will mention tonight to the council my concern to them about how so many children and teens (and their parents) were absent from Masses last weekend (even though school is still in session for two more weeks). Where were they and why? I will ask them to share my passion and pastoral concern. We’ll also briefly discuss the phenomena of people taking all Summer off from church going. I just don’t know what excuses people for this, as it doesn’t help a parish any.

Keeping the Lord’s Day as a Catholic is always a basic practice of a healthy, growing believer. It’s been a necessary practice from the start of the Church, while even in the letter to the Hebrews, an appeal had to be made for it. From Hebrews 10: Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the Truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment…”

Final word:
VVVVVVVVVV
(sorry cant get it out of italics)

If you often read and pray the New Testament, you know the witness from the First Church of what we can be in Christ Jesus. In the bulletin last Sunday, I gave some advice for spiritual attention in the Summer. One was to watch the whole series “A.D. The Church continues.” If one does that, then you see on film how dynamic the Acts of the Apostles and life behind the epistles and first churches was possibly like.

Cinco de Today

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It is a Cinco de Mayo Festival in the school, complete with the Mexican musicians. Aye! Yaye, Yaye, Yaye! At our St. Pius X Regional school of our parish.
It is also the first week of May, as some of our Rel. Ed. children made a little Marian shrine for their bedroom to pray a night rosary by before sleep.
Passing on our religious customs and traditions is evidently in importance here.IMAG0400

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Kinard Parish Wedding

Our newlywed couple is Karen (Lumbu) and Kurtis Kinard, and they pose in some photos on last Saturday. The Kinards exchanged vows which they wrote themselves; I was the clergy witness and in photos you can see some others in the wedding party who witnessed the vows. With lovely sacred vows at the altar, then the traditional Congo family intros and dowry, and then with outdoor Saturday celebrations under mostly sunny skies, the couple has started off well.
They will reside in Upper Marlboro and be in our parish.
(Vows at bottom)

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Both: I promise, before God, our family and friends
Him: to cherish and protect you
Her: to respect and honor you
Him: to take things seriously
Her: to see the lighter side of things
Him: to support you in whatever you choose to do
Her: to remind you of your talents and cheer for your success
Him: to be understanding
Her: to be patient
Him: to work on things
Her: to make things work
Him: to cry with you
Her: to laugh with you
Him: you are the moon of my life
Her: you are my sun and stars
Him: for you I will be the best possible version of myself
Her: for you I will be the best version of myself
Him: as your husband
Her: as your wife
Both: All the days of our lives.

Priest: You have exchanged your vows of Holy Matrimony and become one flesh; therefore what God has joined let noone tear asunder. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of The Holy Spirit.
All: Amen.