Confessor Got You Down?

Confessor Got You Down?

Lately I’ve been trying to take the advice of some really good mentors.  I’ve been aiming for more regular confession.  Throughout much of my adult life I’ve probably gone to the sacrament on average 6-8 times per year.  In the past few years I’ve gone at least once a month.  In the past few months I’ve stepped it up and have been trying to go once every week or two. Growing up I remember the prevailing notion that was taught to me (using Vatican II as the excuse) that Reconciliation was something to be approached when we were conscious of mortal sin.  The follow-up element in the description of confession that somehow always got dropped was that we can confess our venial sins too and that the there is always a particular grace bestowed in the sacrament to help us in fighting our particular sins.  Those mentors I mentioned?  They are none other than the great saints of our faith and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So in my recent quest to step it up I have been surprised to find myself hearing some unusual things in the confessional.  Hey, I’m not under any seal here… First there was this one: “Are you in the habit of going to confession every week or…?” Well, Father, I’m trying to get into that habit and habits require practice so thanks for lending a hand and playing along.  Should I leave? How about this one? “You know you don’t have to come here so often, right?” Pretty sure I knew that.  What’s your excuse, Father?  Wait, was that too blunt? Finally there was this...
Christmas Mass and the lost sheep

Christmas Mass and the lost sheep

It’s pretty easy to become a curmudgeon about the Christmas Mass. If your parish is anything like mine, you’ll find yourself squeezed in among a bunch of people you’ve never met before, in a pew that every other Sunday is capacious enough for all its usual occupants, several puffy coats, a crawling toddler or two, and a few shopping bags. Not so the Christmas Mass, with its motley theologically-uncurious crew who probably came to the Gospel of Luke by way of Charlie Brown, aren’t in a state to receive the Sacrament (if they even know what it is) and seem intent on getting in and out as quickly as possible to enjoy the main event of unwrapping presents and plopping in front of the TV for the “holiday” football game. Bah humbug! I’m going to propose something radical: it’s good that the lapsed, the half-hearted, and the skeptics go to church on Christmas. It means that on some level, even if it’s merely cultural, familial, or sentimental, they know that there’s more to Christmas than a festively decorated conifer in the living room and lots of baked goods. People who decide to spend part of their Christmas in church are people who can be reached. It’s easy to assume that this is the priest’s responsibility. Surely he’ll rise to the occasion with a five-star homily that is smart, witty, and relatable. Or maybe, if the music is good enough, and the lectors enunciate, and the ushers are sufficiently friendly, these things alone must surely attract some repeat customers. I don’t know about you, but I think that those of...
Children’s Liturgy of the What Now?

Children’s Liturgy of the What Now?

Folks, I don’t know about you but there is this thing my parish does that really gets under my skin. Before going any further, the following is just my opinion (all of it) and truly just a thought I had about children and mass today as we approach the celebration of Our Blessed Lord’s coming among us as a child. OK, how many things could potentially follow that line?  There’s the old “Let’s hold hands during Ebola season while we pray the Our Father”.  Don’t even get me started on the orans posture at mass.  I’ve come to accept it.  Just please, for the love of God, don’t try to force me into it.  I’m quite comfortable standing next to you with my hands clasped and pointing heaven-ward, head bowed so you cannot lock eyes with me when you creepily try to touch me.  Then there’s the old “Dan Fogleberg Dan Schutte is the greatest composer of all time and we need to sing his ‘music’ at every liturgical turn!” maneuver.  Look, I’m sure he’s a very nice man.  But his music could never compare to the sublime nature of plainsong and there’s only so much of Eagles Wings or Here I Am, Lord that I can take and I, just like my spinal surgery and its effect on my insurance this year, I hit my cap a long time ago.  I am just being informed that he did not write Eagles Wings.  My apologies to Mr. Schutte.  You’re off the hook for that one, pal. But the thing that really rattles my Roman Rota — no good? I’m trying — is something...
The heart of a traditionalist

The heart of a traditionalist

In the Catholic blogosphere, there are a number of labels: traditionalist, orthodox, charismatic, rad-trad, liberal, and conservative being among them. One of the newest and most vibrant of these groups in recent years is the traditionalist label, particularly due to Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, in 2007, which opened up the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. While the blessings born of this motu proprio have provided plentiful content, far fewer words have been devoted to explaining the progression of a love of the ancient traditions of the Church. I will try and explain the conversion process from my own experiences and those of other Catholics with whom I have crossed paths throughout the years. There’s a time in the life of some young Catholics when the faith life grows, prayer becomes more frequent, deeper, and an integral part of everyday life. These young Catholics feel a hunger to learn more about the Catholic Church, the saints in heaven, the richness of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a devoutness borne of a disillusionment with earthly life. There is something MORE. This is the story of how one young Catholic, we’ll call him John, fell in love with the ancient tradition of the Latin Mass. It all started one day when John begins following along at Mass and actively participating by offering every heartfelt prayer silently with the priest. John notices that Father doesn’t pray all the prayers listed in the Missal. Ok, maybe Father knows that some things in the missal are optional. We’ll trust his judgment. During the week, John reads The New Liturgical Movement...
Holy Smoke! Why Liturgical Symbol Matters

Holy Smoke! Why Liturgical Symbol Matters

A few years ago I found myself holding young Benedict, my then-fifteen month-old pride and joy, amazed that he was being so good for me at Sunday mass.  I asked myself if God wasn’t giving me a little break so that for the first time in a long time I might actually hear the readings and not simply hear the first words and switch to some kind of auto-pilot wherein years of hearing the same three year cycle didn’t supply the context and meaning in my mind.  You know what that’s like?  Priest: “Jesus said I am the…”   Voice in my head: “Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Yes, I’ve heard this one before.”  In fact, as I looked down at my boy I noticed how particularly cherubic he looked that morning, almost seraphic!  Then came a moment when our celebrant prepared to incense the Book of the Gospels, for this was the high mass, when I noticed something that has always bothered me. I find myself frequently explaining things to my children at mass, hoping that in time they will come to understand.  That day I whispered: “The priest is using incense, Benny.  It represents our prayers rising to God.”  However, and I’ll never forget this, there was no smoke emanating from the thurible and I felt like a liar.  How on earth could there be no smoke, I wondered to myself.  Surely Father was familiar with Psalm 141.  What is the point of a clanging censer when it clangs with emptiness?  When I was a seminarian years ago I remember that the rector of our cathedral took...
Ask Not What You Can Get Out of Mass, But Whether Due Worship is Given to God

Ask Not What You Can Get Out of Mass, But Whether Due Worship is Given to God

One of the problems with contemporary Christianity is that too often Christians focus on what they “get out of Church.” I am thinking specifically of the plight parents find themselves in when their sweet newborn grows out of sleeping at Mass and becomes the loud and active baby. Their experience of Mass changes from one of focused prayer with very involved participation to distracted prayer and focus on keeping a child quiet in church. And while negative comments to parents about their children are rare, those are the comments that stick in parents’ minds, much more so than positive comments and encouraging smiles. One cranky fellow parishioner can take away a parent’s comfort with bringing their little baptized Christian to Sunday Mass. So the parents start going to separate Masses or take the baby to the back, fearing that their child is disrupting the personal prayer of those around them. It seems to the parent that as long as they bring little ones to church they will not be able to pray. This is not the case. They just need to learn to pray differently and realize that Mass is not about personal prayer but it is a place of public prayer. Here is the thing: the liturgy is about the Body of Christ as a whole giving due worship to God. It is about the Sacrifice of the Mass being made, which requires only that the priest make the actions of the liturgy in a fitting manner and that the baptized members of the parish be present. It does not matter for the due worship of God whether...