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Tag Archive: Liturgy

Some Concluding, Year-End Musings on 2012

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


Logos: Logos Bible Research scored huge in my estimation this year. I had struggled to be productive with earlier versions of their software, but version 4, released just about 3 years ago, represented a dramatic improvement in usability and performance, and I started drifting toward it then – especially since they were also beginning to release quality Catholic resources (e.g. works by Aquinas). Then, this Spring, they put together a series of terrific Catholic base packages, all of which included an outstanding edition of the CatechismCatechism of the Catholic Church. Logos version 5, released a couple months ago, adds some nice capabilities to an already terrific product, and has also been published in a separately-branded Catholic product line called Verbum.

Like the standard Logos 5 offerings, the base packages seem disproportionally weighted toward the upper end of the price range, but the entry-level Catholic package, The Catechism of the Catholic Church Collection (in the $50 range), is simply the best set of resources available at anywhere near that price for Catholics looking for a digital study platform. Check it out. It lacks an NAB, but that can be surmounted – and the versions it contains, the RSVCE and Douay, are better versions, anyway. Besides the CCC, it includes the Roman Catechism, the conciliar documents from both Vatican Councils as well as Trent, the essential dogmatic reference works of Denzinger and Ott, and the (daily) Catholic Lectionary. It is an outstanding value, and the resources work together brilliantly. I’m really impressed.

WORDsearch: Continuing the Bible Study Software theme… After rushing WS10 out the door last Christmas week, Lifeway finally got the product to the right spot with a series of version 10.5-enumerated updates released to WS10 owners beginning in June of this year. With a (Greek only) morphological search tool, user-created book types, a History window, and a sermon management tool, WS finally filled some long-standing functionality gaps. But for me, it’s too little, too late. I’ve been a loyal WS user since 1992 – my first (DOS) version of WS came with the NAB, NJB, NRSV, and a Strong’s-tagged KJV, plus TSK; it was Bible Study bliss. No application has served me better over the past 20 years, but it’s time to move on. This program simply cannot compete with the heavyweights. New owner Lifeway (i.e. the Southern Baptist Convention) has had a year and a half to demonstrate a commitment to improved professionalism with the product, and it has not materialized. The only changes I’ve sensed are an increased interest in chasing the latest cultural fads (you can now tweet your Bible Study results from within the program, if that’s your thing), and a decreased likelihood that the platform will be seeing anything like the excellent Catholic resources that are showing up steadily from Logos. On the increasingly rare occasions that I’ve opened the app to work with it recently, it has usually been crashing. Forget it. Thanks for everything; it was great while it lasted.

New English Translation of the Roman Missal: It’s been just over a year now since the introduction of the new translations of many of the prayers in the Liturgy of the Mass. Although they can be awkward and clumsy at times, and although I still haven’t memorized the new versions of the Gloria or the Creed, I think they are overall a big improvement, and are working quite well, with the exception of the Sanctus. I get the Isaiah basis for the change, and consider it an important corrective, but of the half-dozen or so churches where I worship with some regularity, there is not a single congregation that proclaims it smoothly. There’s even one where the priest himself still says “God of power and might” – probably because of the difficulty of getting his people to use a common cadence in proclaiming the new version. It needs attention.

On Obama’s Reelection: I have to admit, I was stunned by the election results. I was quite confident the country would reject Obama, after having four years to see for themselves what you get when you vote for someone based on the color of his skin – as so many people have openly (even gleefully) admitted to doing during the messianic frenzy of 2008. Mitt Romney was admittedly not the easiest guy to get behind, but he offered a genuine chance to correct some of mistakes that have been made, get the economy growing again, and bridge some of the rancor that has afflicted US politics since the Nixon years, but which has reached utterly dysfunctional levels now under this most divisive and partisan of chief executives.

Romney’s loss was disheartening. Partly, that’s because the “kill Romney” character assassination campaign strategy worked for the Democrats, despite the fact that Mitt Romney might just be the most decent guy to have ever run for that office – he’d certainly have to be a serious candidate in any such ranking. That is not a good omen for the future state of presidential politics in this country. But it’s disheartening also partly because of the sheer political force displayed in it by the progressive movement. The Democrats didn’t just convince too many potential Romney supporters to stay home, they wielded a large voting bloc that was willing to support the progressive agenda in plain daylight, not just as a kneejerk reaction to Bush burnout.

It could very well be that we’ve reached – or at least come close to – a tipping point as a culture, where a majority of citizens are willing to vote themselves “other people’s money” from the public till, and to delegate to the state the responsibilities of human freedom, from citizenship to family to personal health and well-being. If this is so, then we have reached the end of the usefulness of the great democratic experiment, and are descending into tyranny – one that will surely tout the infamous conceit of manifesting the will of “the people”. I wouldn’t expect it to end any better than its leftist forerunners have.

On perhaps a bright note, this debacle has produced in me a certain loss of faith in both the American people and in the political process – faith that was in reality misplaced to begin with. It has caused me to lose a good deal of interest in politics – or more accurately, in current events – which should serve both to free up time for less ephemeral concerns, and to orient my priorities more meaningfully.

On the Vapidity of the American “Opinion” Bureaucracies: Related to the collapsing opposition to leftist thinking in America is the success on the part of the progressive movement to establish a fifth column focused on the formation of opinion and the control of knowledge for political ends. I refer, of course, to the thorough progressive domination of the agenda-setting and opinion-defining institutions of education (both mandatory K-12and university-level) and mass media. As it is abundantly clear to me that the greatest threat to America as a place of “liberty and justice for all” comes from a combination of the “news” media and the educational institutions, I’m all in here with Pat Caddell, in his rant from this past autumn:

On Gun Control Hysteria: On this, the Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, it seems appropriate to complain that I was deeply distressed by the (media-driven) national meltdown of propriety and circumspection following the dreadful grade-school massacre in Newtown CT a few weeks ago. The notion that so many people were ready and willing to exploit the situation for dubious political purposes before the bodies of the dead children were even cold is chilling. Perhaps especially galling is the site of notoriously pro-abortion politicians crying crocodile tears over the carnage while intoning that “we must get serious” and “something must be done” to “protect the children”. Would it be impolitic to point out that during that very day, well in excess of 3,000 children were murdered in this country using devices – and furthermore, in the performance of acts! – that were not only perfectly legal, but which boast the unbending political protection of the very hypocrites who wailed the most loudly into the megaphones of self-righteous convenience on that sorry day? I hope those of us who retain some semblance of intelligence will be permitted a healthy degree of skepticism at the proposal that the repetition of such senseless bloodshed might be avoided by limiting the capacities of ammunition clips available to law-abiding citizens, causing mass murderers (of the gun-toting type, not the forceps wielding sort) to have to either buy their clips on the black market, or stop to reload a few times in the middle of mowing down a screaming group of defenseless women and children.

On Christmas: I’ve disliked the holiday we call Christmas at least since I was a young father without two spare nickels to rub together. As I’ve gotten older, my financial wherewithal has (predictably) improved significantly, and my Catholic faith has taken root and flourished into a principal self-understanding, but I don’t like the holiday any more. I refer to the holiday celebrated a few days ago that marked the close of the “Christmas Season”, a largely secular and irreligious period of consumer indulgence that began some time around Thanksgiving.

There is another day, a Christian Holy Day, also celebrated a few days ago, at the conclusion of the Advent season, and which marks the beginning of a Christian Christmas season, which has several permutations, being in the first place an Octave that concludes on January 1st, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God; in the second place a traditional period of gaiety extending twelve days, until the eve of the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th, though this can get moved to a Sunday), and thirdly as a liturgical season extending through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, on the Sunday following Epiphany. This Holy Day and season celebrates the most remarkable thing that ever happened: the Incarnation of God in human flesh – in the flesh of a baby borne of a woman.

I’ve never been able to figure out how to celebrate the Holy Day amidst all the silly hoopla of the holiday, and I need to figure it out before I find myself thrown in to deep depression some one of these years.

We have the duty and joy of sharing in this prayer whenever possible

Posted: Sunday, May 29, 2011 (5:02 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, May 29th, 2011:

Taken from the website of an Anglican priest in New Zealand, Bosco Peters, on the proper place of the Liturgy of the Hours in the prayer life of the life of the Christian believer:

Many who pray the Daily Office have a personal Rule of Life, or even an expectation or vows that require that regular discipline. These can often end up feeling guilty when a particular Hour has not been prayed by them. Some, in fact, will then try to "catch up" what they have missed – even gluing a number of Hours together and praying them one after the other. This comes out of an individualistic interpretation of Christianity whereby individuals join the church for mutual support of individual spiritual growth. The Liturgy of the Hours seen as the Prayer of the Church, and the spirituality that goes with this approach, flips this on its head.

The Church as Christ’s Body, in that perspective, exists prior to individuals joining it, and individuals become Christians precisely through their incorporation into this community (primarily through baptism). The Liturgy of the Hours, as the Prayer of the Church, and essentially the prayer of Christ (the whole Christ – head and members) is ongoing, and we have the duty and joy of sharing in this prayer whenever possible. When we miss the prayer we can be conscious that the prayer goes on – we do not catch up with it, rather we pick it up again when we can.

Peters makes a great point about how the Liturgy of the Hours should act as a kind of school for understanding the ecclesiology of the Church’s life of prayer. I must admit that I have sometimes done the exact thing he speaks of here, worrying about “catching up” Offices I may have missed. Such an attitude completely misses the point of liturgical prayer. It is the Church who prays – even Christ as Head of the Church – and we believers are invited into that perfect faithfulness as participants in something that totally transcends our own feeble acts, whether pious or impious. Our modernistic mindset resists that wisdom, but the entire enterprise of Christianity is rooted in a self-renouncing, participatory salvation through Christ’s perfect worship of the Father. That is a truth at once humbling and exhilarating.

The USCCB Swings & Whiffs on the NAB Revised Edition

Posted: Saturday, February 5, 2011 (11:28 pm), by John W Gillis


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has announced the release on this coming Ash Wednesday (March 9th) of what amounts to the completion of a Revised version of the New American Bible, which will be known as the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). I should be happy to see the publication of what is being touted as a more formal translation of the Old Testament for the NAB, but I can’t help but feel that the USCCB has bungled this.

NABRE_pb_sbpThis will be the fourth release of the NAB family of translations. The original translation was completed in 1970, and then a second edition containing a Revised New Testament was released in 1986. Five years later, the NAB was released in a third edition with a revised Psalter, and this fourth release now replaces both the 1991 Psalms, and the rest of the 1970 Old Testament – while retaining the 1986 Revised NT translation.

The problem I have with the NABRE stems from the relation of the New American Bible, as published, to the readings in the Lectionary, which is the primary locus of engagement with the Scriptures for most faithful Catholics. The bottom line is that the faithful in the pews, by and large, want to be able to read and study an edition of the Bible that corresponds to what is read from the Lectionary during Mass. This NABRE revision not only does not accomplish this humble and worthy goal, but it further exacerbates the alienation between the two sets of texts.

The Lectionary was revised in 1970 to comply with the significant changes in the liturgy instituted during the Second Vatican Council, and it utilized the original NAB edition for its text. A revision to that was produced following the two revisions to the NAB text, but liturgical Scripture translations are held to a different standard within the Church than are translations for personal use, and the revision work was determined to be not of sufficient quality, mostly owing to a perceived need among a dominant faction within both the hierarchy and American Catholic academia to appease the sensibilities of the victimhood-crazed political correctness speech police of the so-called progressive element in society. The reader knows of whom I speak.

The result was a squishy text (especially the Psalter – the NT was actually mostly an improvement over the 1970 text) that was eventually rejected by the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith. The work had to be modified and corrected under the auspices of the CDF, and then sent back to the US bishops, and only one volume has even been approved. See this excellent site by Felix Just, S.J. for everything you want to know about the Lectionary.

The end result today is that we have one volume of the Lectionary (i.e. the Weekday readings) which is based entirely on the 1970 NAB, which itself has been unavailable since the revision to the NAB NT 25 years ago; and another volume (i.e Sundays & Solemnities) based on the 1970 OT, a modified version of the 1986 NT, and a version of the Psalms that I don’t believe reflects any published version. And now, as of the beginning of Lent, the published version of the NAB will also have a newly revised OT, therein severing any remaining translation consistency between the Word proclaimed in the liturgy, and the Bibles available to the faithful for their personal use.

It might be suggested I’m being unfair to the USCCB by indicting them for simply wanting to release the Revised NAB as soon as it is ready, rather than waiting for what we now know can be an excruciatingly long process of getting a corresponding revised Lectionary approved to go along with it, but a couple of factors mitigate against that suggestion.

The sharpest argument is that the USCCB is publishing the NABRE without the modifications to the revised NT demanded by the CDF for use in the liturgy. I cannot fathom that. That is a clear indicator that neither the USCCB nor the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA: the  translation committee for the NAB) considers a unified text a serious priority, despite the desires (and legitimate needs) of the laity.

The other factor is that the history of the work of the Americans with these translations should not fill anyone with confidence that the OT work they’ve just completed will be completely satisfactory. Given the lack of new direction in American Catholic leadership over this period, even if a new Lectionary edition based on the NABRE was produced and submitted for confirmation in short order, how much confidence should we have that we wouldn’t be undertaking a repeat of the ridiculous 1998 process?

And really, without a unified text for both liturgical and personal use, of how much use is the NAB – or NABRE – for personal use? Aren’t there significantly better options, in both Catholic and ecumenical packagings, of the Sacred Word?

More Hope, Less Stress: Better Living

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009 (11:13 pm), by John W Gillis


Today was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I’ve been fittingly pensive and reflective lately, almost to the point of feeling haunted. This is a time of year that used to fill me with energy, but these days seems more likely to leave me thinking about lost opportunities. I became starkly aware last night, while driving downtown to teach my CCD class, of how short a fuse I was on, and how much stress I was feeling. That’s not a good thing for me, and I quickly had to coax myself back off the ledge.

Thinking about how to go about lowering my stress level, I considered how helpful it might be to tune out the political environment, and focus on matters of a less agitated character. As tempting as that may be, it hardly seems the responsible thing to do, and would be easier said than done anyhow. At the end of the day, I have to live in the middle of it all, as does everyone I care about. I may be powerless to effect any real change in the world, but within my tiny little circle of influence, I am not free of the obligation to shed whatever light I may be able to on the greater or lesser questions of the day.

And so I’m left to confront the daily anxiety of backwards-looking regrets and forward-looking resignations. It dawns on me that I’ve never quite come to peace with myself following the crisis of my second coronary stent procedure, almost two years ago to the day. The first one, in May, had almost killed me, but I walked away from it with a sense of relief, feeling I had dodged a bullet, and ready to work my way back to health. But the prospect of the second one, several months later, felt like the bullet I’d dodged had, like a heat-seeking missile, turned around to come back for me. It was a humbling experience: half-expecting to die, unwilling to let anyone know how pessimistic I was, and dumbstruck at the profound chasm between what my life had been, and what it should have been.

And yet the ensuing two years have found me, in many ways, digging the same grave I was working on before: burning the candle at both ends, and allowing busy-ness to trump my need for quiet reflection and reconciliation. But that is hardly the whole story.

I_Testify Five years ago, on Yom Kippur in 2004, I was spending some time in preparation for my first assignment, the following morning, as a reader in the Sunday Liturgy. As I sat in the basement, browsing my reading assignment for the nth time, and listening to some music, the seriousness of what I was about to embark upon hit me with full force. I realized, with full conviction, that justice demanded that, if I were going to proclaim the Word of God to His congregation in the sacred liturgy, my life needed to likewise proclaim the Word, outside of the liturgy. This was a sobering recognition that I needed to give up the shortcuts and compromises I had become accustomed to, and it was a little unnerving. The song that was playing at the time was a perky and heartfelt piece by Margaret Becker called “I Testify.”

Now, I am a quiet and reserved man, not much given to things like testimony, and I had to smile at the irony of the moment. True to my character, I started wondering what difference it would really make what I did with my life, and how it could possibly be important. At that point, the song changed, and as I looked down at my MP3 program to see what was next, I saw it was Joanne Hogg’s rendition of “My Song is Love Unknown.” I had to smile again at the irony, and said to myself something like: ‘Yes, indeed, and that is a glorious truth hidden from so many souls, so much in need of being told. I admit it.” Driven then by what felt like a silly curiosity, my eyes glanced down at the playlist to see what was next: a song called “One More Reason,” followed by “The Lord Reigns.” Sometimes, the Lord just won’t let us miss the point – either of His purpose, or of His lordship. After having a good laugh, I snapped a screenshot of the MP3 player, and said: “You win, Lord, but the ball’s in Your court.”

Despite my continuing foibles, I can hardly deny that the Lord has truly worked a gradual but profound personal transformation in me over these past five years. It’s not that I wasn’t serious about my vocation before that, and hadn’t in many ways been even more profoundly transformed a decade and a half prior, but I learned to let go just a bit more that night. I certainly can’t claim to have realized that imperative to give up all my shortcuts and compromises, but at least I am constantly aware of its imperativeness, and I can truly point to identifiable areas in my life where I have been able to be both more sensitive to Gospel demands, and more responsive, as well. My personality has both hardened and softened in different ways as my tolerance for moral and spiritual compromise has diminished. And while I’m grateful for the growth in wisdom and piety, I’m even more grateful for the grounding such spiritual life gives to the hope I must cling to so tightly on these autumn days, when I survey that terrible, battle-scarred landscape of my life, which won’t let me forget how very much I need the redemption of that Song of Unknown Love. More hope, less stress: better living.

Funerals and Community

Posted: Saturday, November 1, 2008 (11:45 pm), by John W Gillis


Today was the Feast of All Saints. I slept a little late this morning, and went to Mass across town at St Linus (as I not infrequently do on Saturdays). I was surprised to see a Hearse in front of the church when I pulled up. It’s not unusual for the Saturday morning Mass at St Linus to be a funeral Mass, but with today being a Solemnity, I thought it was peculiar.

But this funeral turned out to be quite different from the other Saturday morning funerals I’ve attended at St Linus. The difference? In this case, Msgr Giggi knew the deceased, who was an active parishioner. The homily was sprinkled with his remembrances of her, and his real love and care for her was very evident. The whole rite was carried out in a most dignified manner, with none of the typical involvements of laypersons who obviously haven’t darkened a church door in some time, and who too often don’t seem to have a clue what Catholic eschatology professes.

I often feel sorry for Msgr Giggi when I end up at these funerals, because he clearly struggles at times to find something appropriate to say in his homilies. I mean, he can certainly speak in general terms about death and dying and the Catholic faith – Lord knows he’s been doing this long enough – but he needs to try to connect with the grieving family on a personal level as well, and when he has no idea whom it is that he is preparing to bury, he’s reduced to repeating platitudes that friends or family memebers have shared with him during the funeral preparations – many of whom apparently do not share from out of a faith-based framework of understanding. I recall Frances, of whom all he could say was that she was a happy person. And I recall Rick the “ash” pile, who was friendly (on that morning, I though I’d walked into a funeral for a newborn, but that’s a story for another day).

Once upon a time, I thought that the local parish daily Mass was the best setting for funerals in general, as it facilitates the participation of the parish community in an important event that has become too remote from the community, too private and clannish. But I was wrong. Too many funerals are spiritual train wrecks that expose a poverty of community, one that needs to be nurtured and nourished long before the final trumpet sounds.

There’s Bozos and There’s Bozos

Posted: Friday, July 4, 2008 (3:07 pm), by John W Gillis


George Carlin

I have to begin this entry by confessing that, when I heard last week of George Carlin’s earthly demise, I reacted to the news with a feeling of subdued satisfaction and relief, one that was very similar to the feeling of watching the trash collectors drive away from the house after a weekend of cleaning. There was a mild sense of losing something familiar, but more a sense of being done with that which finally had to go.

Now, I realize that was not at all a charitable reaction, nor do I offer any justification for it. I didn’t know George Carlin, and I mostly paid very little attention to him while he was living. But there was a time when I thought he was funny, and there was also a time – an earlier time – when I thought he was more than that.

At one time, Carlin represented to me a kind of secret knowledge –  even a kind of blessed existence – that operated on the other side of a divide that I was being restrained from crossing by the sorry circumstances of my life (that is to say, by my youth). He was a kind of symbol of what was possible, if only I could be freed from the shackles that kept me bound to the boredom of my genteel, supervised, life. For genteel, he surely was not.

I remember in particular being fascinated by the existence of his famous routine on the seven words you could never say on television. I’m not sure I ever heard the routine – perhaps I did, but I can’t remember. What I remember is wanting to hear it.

When it was released in 1972, I was in 6th or 7th grade, and undoubtedly using all of Carlin’s favorite words in common speech with my peers (my own life actually being genteel in theory only), so there was no unknown pleasure waiting to be experienced in the knowledge of the routine’s content, I only wanted to experience the hearing of it. Knowing which words they were was not enough, I wanted to hear them said. Not by my friends, either – that might have had a certain charm, but it was not the real deal.

What I wanted to experience, I know now, was sheer mockery of civility. I wanted to experience the contempt for goodness that this piece trafficked in and pivoted on – in much the same spirit, I realize now, that other boys liked to watch frogs cruelly and contemptuously destroyed by firecrackers. I wanted to cheer on the defilement of purity.

I could be profane all by myself – I didn’t need Carlin. What made the vicarious insolence of indulging in a sophomoric rant like his seem more like “the real deal” than even my own private insolence was precisely the participation factor. In it, I could be a part of something much larger than myself, something of a social movement. It’s actually a perversion of liturgy – a way for me to belong; to be an insider in something that provided a kind of meaning to life.

And this is very ironic, because the mockery and insolence came off as a kind of liberation – a liberation from socially imposed expectations, which would purchase the freedom of independence. But I see now that it can only free one from the expectations of civility. Once across the chasm and into the promised land of irreverence, social expectations don’t disappear, they simply change, and mockery becomes the only acceptable currency, the only real proof of virility. It turns out to be not freedom from expectations at all, but merely an exchange of one master for another: exchanging the good, the true, and the beautiful for the cruel, the cynical, and the profane.

When something sacred is violated, we experience a kind of revulsion that is all too easily distorted into a titillating thrill. The perverse pleasure we take out of the debasement of the good is a masquerade that hides our inability to accept the cross of suffering with God for the sake of overcoming sin. First we feel sick to the stomach, and we get fearful and angry, but if we do not have the character to persevere and overcome, we will end up laughing. Such is the state of so much of what passes for contemporary comedy.

I’d intended to let Carlin’s passing pass without remark – in part because I felt no urge to expose the callousness of my own sense of good riddance – until I was confronted with my very contrasting response to the news of the death yesterday of Larry Harmon, a man I’d never even heard of, but who was largely responsible for the phenomenon called Bozo the Clown.

Frank Avruch as Boston\'s version of Bozo the Clown

I don’t recall much in particular about Bozo. I can picture the face, though it’s almost conflated a bit with Ronald McDonald in my memory. What’s important for my purposes is that the comedic entertainment that Bozo represented was of such a different character than Carlin’s. When I read of Harmon’s demise, I thought “there goes someone whose life work brought delight and wonder into the lives of so many children.” What a contrast to Carlin, whose life work peddled contempt and cynicism to the hearts of so many of those anxious to avoid being contaminated by the sweetness of childhood. Carlin is truly the one of these two contemporaries who deserves the title Bozo.

The NY Times obituary for Carlin says that he himself defended his particularly obnoxious recent “material” by claiming that “his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society.” Of that, I have no doubt. But if society is going to avoid disintegrating into a fratricidal jungle, we need turn back from this “new way” of unmitigated contempt advanced by bozos like Carlin. Communities, like families, survive, in no small part, on the willingness of their members to overlook each other’s shortcomings. What we should be intolerant of is not human foibles, but the willful and deliberate corruption of the human spirit.

The challenge, for me, is that my community is not only full of people like Larry Harmon, who find a way to put their talents to work in ways that contribute in somehow to the common good, but also of bozos who try their best to tear down the good: to degrade, to demean, to belittle, to mock, to despoil. It’s a challenge to me because such people are a temptation to me to stoop to their level. I realize that Carlin can win the battle for my spirit by either getting me to laugh at his depravity, or by getting me to treat him as he treated others. I fear that the incivility and vulgarity that has come to so permeate my society over my lifetime has become barely recognizable in its ubiquity.

And I fear I remain a long way from being freed from the servility of the caustic inhumanity that makes up the faux-liberated modernism promoted by Carlin, if news of his death can only provide me a sense of satisfaction and an opportunity to call him a bozo. Lord, have mercy on all of us.

Just Griping Over Liturgy…

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 (10:59 pm), by John W Gillis


St. Augustine's Rolling AltarSaint Augustine Church in Andover has gone onto a summer schedule. The weekday liturgies have all been moved out of the church and into a room in the new Ministry & Education Center they recently built across the parking lot from the church, one that might best be described as a cross between a foyer and a small seminar room. It features a rolling altar, which I’m guessing is usually stored behind a nearby collapsible, sliding false wall – like you see in hotel function rooms. At least there’s a small tabernacle built into the real wall behind the faux one.

The seating is contemporary plastic stackables, which leaves the tile floor to serve as kneeler. The front row of seats, however, consist of typical churchy chairs with kneelers on the back, so you can kneel on them if you sit in the second row. So that’s my new location – second row. The front row is consistently empty. No surprises there.

One of the interesting things about these new arrangements is the physical consolidation of the congregation. There just aren’t enough remote locations to go around! The seating distribution has always been a bit curious at St. Augustine – at least during the Noon Mass. It must look quite peculiar to the celebrants. I figure the nave of the main church probably holds about 350 people comfortably, and the typical daily Mass crowd is about 10% of that number. There’s usually a moderate dispersion of congregants in the back 10 to 15 rows, with a light sprinkling of folks closer to the front. Even a row of seats against the back wall usually has occupants (OK, sometimes including me), while the vast majority of seating in the pews is empty. No doubt we’re all just taking Jesus’ words to heart to sit in the cheap seats, and wait to be invited to sit in the seats of honor (c.f. Lk 14.7-11)!

So, we’re much more intimately co-located these days, which I suppose is nice, but there’s no place to kneel without moving to the handful of seats up front. The downside to that is that, while we might all be sitting closer together, we have some liturgical disunity now. Kneeling on the stone floor is not a practical option for most of the congregation, and very few people are doing it. Even fewer people are standing, as this is not a familiar position in this context – and no one has been instructed to stand, which would probably be the best solution. Most people are, by default, continuing to sit, which is certainly not the end of the world, but makes for a congregation that is doing a little bit of everything – which is pretty disorderly – and sitting is not a proper disposition during the sacrifice, anyway.

All this might seem rather trivial, but liturgy is intended to produce and express unity, and I think it is a shame that some simple steps weren’t taken to better facilitate that expression at the most profound moments in our liturgy.

So, being a little frustrated at St. Augustine, and open to at least a temporary change of pace, I meandered over to St. Robert Bellarmine Church in West Andover last Friday to attend their Noon Mass. The lector took her seat after completing the first reading, without leading the congregation (which I could have counted on my fingers!) in the Responsorial Psalm. The priest seemed to delay several moments, perhaps hoping the lector would return to the ambo and complete her assignment, but when he finally did rise, he went immediately to the reading of the Gospel, rather than lead the Responsorial himself. OK. So he reads the Gospel, delivers a brief homily, then approaches the altar and begins the Offertory prayers. No Prayers of the Faithful! Maybe it was just a general brain-lapse day, but I sure had the sense that I couldn’t win.

Things like this really help me appreciate the attention to the liturgy at St. Patrick’s.

One Foot Out the Door, the Other in the Mouth

Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2008 (9:41 pm), by John W Gillis


I was rather taken aback by the explanations put forth by recently retired Saint Paul & Minneapolis Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, as conveyed in this article in last week’s Boston Pilot, as to why he was putting an end to the practice in his diocese of lay preachers delivering homilies during Mass.

In the interest of full disclosure from the outset, I have no intention of agitating for permission for laity to preach during the Mass, and if I ever sink to suggesting that anyone somehow possess a “right” to such a role, please shoot me before I say something even sillier. I am well aware of the catastrophic consequences of similar practices in Europe 500 years ago or so, and do not want to see the Church go down that path again (though that situation was facilitated by the poor theological training of ordained clergy, a problem that has long since been rectified).

Aside from such practical concerns, I think there are also very good liturgical reasons for preferring to have the ordained perform the role of interpreting and applying the liturgical readings within the context of the Mass – and then there is the small matter of Redemptionis Sacramentum identifying the preaching by non-ordained following the Gospel reading as a liturgical abuse . But I am astounded at what apparently came out of the mouth of Archbishop Flynn, as he was preparing for his retirement.

My astonishment begins with the archbishop’s decision to set his retirement date (May 2nd) as the date when parishes were supposed to get on board with the ban. It seems a tad ironic that this date is the feast day of one of the Church’s most courageous archbishops, Athanasius of Alexandria, but I digress… He was archbishop of the diocese for 13 years, and the lay preaching was going on for 25 years… could he not have dealt with the anticipated fallout on his own watch? I can only assume that his immediate successor, Coadjutor Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, was completely on board with the timing…

Questions of timing aside, his reasoning, at least as presented in this article, is what I find most disturbing:

The education, formation and ordination of priests and deacons make them uniquely suited to preach during Mass, he said.

“There has to be that kind of training and theological background that even a person with a master’s degree in theology would not have,” he said. “The church does not want people just standing up there and giving opinions or even things they’ve read in books.”

Rather, he said, the homily addresses “what is the clear teaching about this mystery of our faith?”

To allow a nonordained person to preach would also interrupt the action of the Mass, he said. The Scriptures make it clear that it was the role of the presbyters to preach, he added.

“To preach the Gospel is an extremely important part of the mission of any priest — I cannot overemphasize its importance,” Archbishop Flynn said. “I would feel deprived, because this is my vocation to preach the Gospel.

Without getting into a lengthy criticism of each of these statements, let me just say that I think none of them worthy of a prince of the Church. They range from ad hominem accusations of the general theological incompetence of anyone lacking Holy Orders, to a pathetic plea to feeling personally “deprived” of an opportunity to preach when a lay person usurps that role. I concur completely that the archbishop has a vocation to preach the Gospel, one that is shared by his priests, but am I really supposed to care about His Excellency’s feelings? How does he survive concelebrated Masses? Should we institute round-robin homilies in such cases to avoid having any priestly feelings hurt?

But what of the ludicrousness of suggesting that only Holy Orders can equip a disciple of Christ to engage in “clear teaching about this mystery of our faith,”‘ or in any witness more substantial than “giving opinions”? The Church calls all the faithful to encounter and, through public witness, to help others encounter the eternal truths of the Catholic faith. The Church, from top to bottom, has been called to what the Holy Father called the New Evangelization – and if that doesn’t mean preaching the Gospel, then I don’t know what it means. I appreciate the distinction between witnessing to the world and guiding the Church, but I have to wonder if the archbishop was willing to allow these same ill-informed, book-reading, opinionated usurpers to function as catechists in his diocese?

Messages like this one from Archbishop Flynn are confusing, embarrassing, discouraging, and debilitating. The liturgical celebration of the Mass should demonstrate the integrity of the Liturgy of the Word with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, as the encounter of Christ with His gathered people. The ordained should be the ones breaking open the Word during the homily at Mass because of the priestly role they play within the community, not because of their putative superior theological training. Priests certainly should obtain, and benefit from, such training in order to competently discharge their office, but it is absurd to think either that the training qualifies them for the liturgical role, or, conversely, that their ordination effectuates in them the wisdom to articulate the mysteries of the faith in clear teaching. There are good preachers, and there certainly are not-so-good preachers – but that’s OK.

It seems to me that what’s really needed from the Church at this time, at least in the secularized West, is a new spirit of partnership between the clergy and the laity. Not like the tired, secularizing program launched over the past 40-some years that wants to make the Church over in the model of a modern consumerist democracy, but one that is strongly centered on the Eucharistic character of the Church, but is also committed to nurturing and using the gifts of the laity for the re-evangelization of the West – beginning with the rescue of marriage and the family from the trash bin of our cultural history.

This strikes me as a fundamental imperative of the Church in our cultural context, a task that cannot be accomplished with the laity on the sidelines, and a message that cannot be effectively conveyed by “giving opinions.” We need better leadership from our bishops than the insults recently offered by Archbishop Flynn. We need priests like him to rally the troops, not to leave dedicated people thinking they have no part to play in the struggle, comparable to their abilities.

Recovering from the Papal Mass

Posted: Monday, April 21, 2008 (9:44 pm), by John W Gillis


As evidenced by my last post, I tried very hard to get myself pumped up for yesterday’s occasion of attending the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. The Mass was very nicely done, and it was wonderful to hear a stadium full of people thunder “Amen” and the other responses, but it was still a massive crowd attending an orchestrated “event,” and both these factors, unsurprisingly, wore on me greatly.

I think it probably would have been an unmitigated pleasure for me had the organizers of the event chosen to focus solely on the pope’s coming to celebrate the Sunday liturgy with the assembled throng of faithful – including, of course, his application of the readings of the day in his homiletic address. As it worked out – and forgive me if this seems cynical – the papal appearance came across to me more as the headlining act in an afternoon of far-flung entertainment. Not that I think the Holy Father intended any such thing, but the three hours (or whatever it was) of nonstop entertainment preceding the Mass was simply not a fitting or effective way to prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries, as far as I’m concerned. I know many people really enjoyed it, but I felt like I was at a spectacle, not a Mass.

I got off on the wrong foot as soon as I got to the stadium, as I had to stand in a line (the word being used here quite loosely) outside of Gate 4, unwillingly listening to a bullhorn-type speaker, which sounded as if it must have had a frayed cone (or whatever the technology was), blaring out at an obnoxious volume the music that was beginning to be played inside. Through the cacophony, I surmised it must have been organ music (which seemed sensible enough). Later, having a program to help me interpret what was going on, I realized that there were several marching bands that were supposed to be part of the show, but which I never saw. I could barely believe it…

The cacophony that had been blaring incessantly out of that dilapidated speaker outside Gate 4 was not organ music at all, it was marching bands! It sounded so bad, I couldn’t tell the difference! My senses felt absolutely assaulted, and while the instrumentation was at least discernible once inside the bowl of the stadium, it was often still too loud to hear clearly. But the bigger question seems to be this: What do marching bands and the lounge-sound shtick of court jesters like Harry Connick Jr. have to do with preparing for the arrival of the Bishop of Rome to celebrate the liturgy of the 5th Sunday of Easter?

How does expression move from entertainment to liturgy, from performance to prayer? This strikes me as the central problem of yesterday’s experience. The worst of it is that there didn’t even seem to be an implied discontinuity: the spectacle segued into the sacrosanct as smoothly as any other made-for-TV production. The “opening acts” climaxed just before the pontiff’s arrival with one of those ridiculous, choreographed “presentations,” complete with men in white leotards running around the stadium carrying huge paper ducks on sticks (Joyce insists they were supposed to be doves – they looked like ducks to me). It was indistinguishable from the schmaltz that a “big event” organizer would use for something like the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games.

What does it mean to bring the Holy Father into that kind of context? What are we saying by that? -And no serious Catholic can deny that context always speaks volumes about meaning – the Incarnation and sacramental economy stand squarely in the path of any such attempted denial.

The music got a lot better once he arrived, and Benedict carries the insignia of his office with such humble dignity that it almost made it possible to forget the tribulations that waiting for him had entailed, but by the time he opened the Mass, I was worn out, frazzled, and thoroughly uncollected. I needed some quiet time, and I sure wasn’t going to get it in Yankee Stadium.

Good Friday Intercessions

Posted: Friday, March 21, 2008 (7:48 pm), by John W Gillis


While listening to the general intercessions today during the Good Friday liturgy, I couldn’t help but think about all the hubbub that was raised recently when Pope Benedict made the Latin-rite Mass more widely available.

I had some good, mentally stable, friends tell me that it was the beginning of the end of the Second Vatican Council reforms; that the priests would soon turn their backs – literally and figuratively – on the people (which I guess I’m supposed to think is self-evidently worse than priests turning their backs on the tabernacle, though I’m not sure why I’m not supposed to be just as offended by the backs of all the parishioners in front of me that are turned toward me – better stick to the front pew if I’m feeling sensitive…); that the Church was about to become a fortress of spiritual repression, where domineering, Latin-speaking clergy would rule ruthlessly over a servile laity… well, you can guess the rest.

I was approached by a particularly irate parishioner in Dunkin’ Donuts one morning, who explained to me (complete with a lesson on the finer points of Latin) how he was certain that the disgraceful reintroduction of the term “perfidious Jews” into the Good Friday liturgy would set Catholic/Jewish relations back decades (turns out he didn’t even know which liturgy is being used in the Latin, but accurate facts are such an encumbrance during an outrage anyway!).

I find it terribly difficult to understand the lack of trust so many Catholics have in the Church – which is what this smacks of, to me. I’m not unaware of the feet of clay that encumber us all, but how can anyone who feasts at the table of the altar not be amazed at the nature of the Divine gift that is the Church? If we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, then a meaningful faith in that same Christ would seem to me to demand a certain level of confidence in His desire – and ability – to lead the Bride into “all truth” (c.f. Jn 16.13).

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Then there is the curious situation of Jewish leaders who say that “something must be done” about the prayer for the Jews that actually is said as part of the current Tridentine Good Friday liturgy, because in it, the Church prays for the conversion of the Jews. OK, so . . . what am I missing here?

If the Christian Church believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – the very Incarnation of God – and that fellowship with Christ (communion) is the means to complete reconciliation with God – and eternal life in pure, wondrous bliss – then why exactly is it offensive to express to God a genuine, loving desire that someone else come to share in that? In the English of the Novus Ordo, we pray that the Jews may come “to the fullness of redemption,” and this appears not to offend anyone. Being at least modestly familiar with Catholic theology, this suggests to me that it’s OK to wink, but not to nod.

I understand that most Jews do not accept Jesus as the Christ. I’m not offended by that. And if anyone thinks I’m in error, and wants to pray sincerely to God that I come to a full understanding of the truth, I won’t be offended – I will be grateful, in fact, even if I think that by coming to understand the truth more fully, I will be even firmer in my conviction of the Lordship (and Godhood) of Jesus Christ.

One thing I will not do is tell people of other faiths how they should or should not pray.

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This may be a very politically incorrect thing for me to say ( imagine that), but I think the position of those Jewish leaders (I have no idea if it is many, or just a few that manage to get press) who have agitated to have the Catholic Church’s liturgy changed is nothing short of religious intolerance on their part. Judaism may not be evangelistic, but Christianity is – by its very nature.

Any meaningful understanding of religious tolerance would have to allow for Christians, as well as anyone else, to practice their religion faithfully, as they understand it. To be sure, it would not require leaving room for malfeasance, religiously motivated or not, but it certainly must allow for charity and goodwill. Modernity’s unwritten rule against proselytizing is nothing but a weak man’s religious intolerance – nobody is allowed to challenge the status quo with religious conviction. What a sham.

The prayers for the conversion of Jews to the knowledge of Christ are offered in charity, and good manners would seem to demand that they be acknowledged as such, in goodwill. If the Jews think we’re bonkers (or idolaters), they can at least take note that we wish for them – nay, pray for them – the most important and wonderful good we can conceive. If they want to roll their eyes at us, and say “silly goyim,” well, I’d get a good chuckle out of that, and God probably would, too. But I never find anything amusing in someone taking offense where none is offered.