A Sensible Entry in the Liturgy Wars

It alternately cheers me and sets me despairing when I discover in the Catholic Blogosphere that the liturgy wars of my home parish are but one minor skirmish in a conflict plaguing the entire US Church. I’m glad to know that my parish is not horribly worse than others, but extremely depressed to see how passionate people are about tearing down their fellow Catholics.

I found myself nodding in agreement to much of what Jeff Mirus wrote at Catholic Culture. For example:

The mindsets of traditionalism and modernism are characterized by a lack of spiritual detachment. Strong, undisciplined attachments prevent spiritual growth and generally lead straight out of the Church. For the traditionalist, the attachment is to “the way things were”, all the external aspects of Catholic piety and discipline which he finds attractive and from which he derives spiritual consolation. For the modernist, the attachment is to the fashionable ideas of the age, all those perceptions and conceptions which, because they are dominant, appear to be the keys to every kind of success.

Both traditionalists and modernists have a point when they argue that when we discard healthy traditions or ignore the key themes of modern thought, we do so at our peril. It is neither their respect for tradition nor their willingness to engage modernity which gets them into trouble. Rather, it is their profound attachment to these things, an attachment so strong that both groups feel their world is shattered if the objects of their attachment are removed.

Personally, I would go so far as to use a few words that I had all but dropped from my vocabulary: Idolatry, and Evil.

The worship of particular Mass elements is idolatrous — I can’t help it if that word sends some folks into paroxysms of Evangeliphobia. I’ve witnessed it, listened to it, and even tried to compromise with it, and “idolatrous” is the most accurate word I can find to describe it. And it is evil:

sinful or wicked: check
causing discomfort or repulsion: check
causing harm: check
arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct: check

The bad behavior, the harm, and the repulsion from the Catholic Church caused by these battles over liturgy—smells evil to me.

Even this:

a cosmic evil force

seems right on the money. The hostility, malice, and general absence of Christian kindness generated by the liturgy wars is no longer (if it ever was) limited to the category of personal, private sin. The numbers of people banding together within parishes or across the Internet has created a monster greater than its individual members. We’re no longer dealing with some individuals acting in an evil way—we are confronting An Evil.

This sentence bears repeating:

Strong, undisciplined attachments prevent spiritual growth and generally lead straight out of the Church.

Evil indeed: when we put anything before our unity as the Body of Christ and the sacrament of His love on earth, we’ve set the trap for our own destruction.

We are sent to be Good News—and the Good News is not that Mass is in Latin or that Sr. Sara’s folk guitar trio is leading the hymns.

Published in: on March 31, 2007 at 3:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hell is Still Other People

Because I can’t say it any better than this guy

Published in: on March 28, 2007 at 4:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconcilation — Part Two

A bit of history, wherein we are reminded of the crucial role of tradition in our faith.

The scriptural basis of the sacrament seems clear enough — for a pithy explanation and clear explication of the theology of the sacrament see Jeff Vehige at The Catholic Witness, whose discussion starts with this passage:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20.19-23).

In addition, the sacrament is rooted in Jesus’ ministry as he walked the Earth: he healed and he forgave sins. This is what Jesus does, and it is what the Church must do in order to be the Body of Christ.

If you joined the early church, you joined as an adult. When you were baptized, your sins were washed away and you were expected to stop sinning. “Go and sin no more,” as Jesus tells us, and Paul makes clear that Christians were expected to do exactly that. And in such small communities, it was not easy to sin in private.

The persecution of Christians made for a special problem however. The martyred saints are saints for a reason–they overcame the very human and understandable temptation to apostacy (“Christian? Who me? Thank Baal, I’m no Christian!”). Many early Christians did not–they sinned in the most serious way, yet they wanted to continue to be disciples. These early Christians needed to have their sin washed away again, with the baptism of repentance.

Early Christians who committed one of the Big Three Sins (murder, adultery, apostacy) could of course be forgiven–this is central to Christ’s message–but their absolution and reconciliation to the community was a long and arduous process. Something like being a catechumen but a lot less pleasant. After a private confession to a bishop, the penitent had some work to do:

Start wearing the sackcloth and ashes
Get a sponsor to vouch for your repentance and your progress
Avoid communion (as the penitent had effectively excommunicated himself)
Instead of participating in worship with community, stand in the vestibule as others go in and ask that they pray for you and your conversion.

After a period of some years , when the community was ready to take you back and vouch for your genuine reconversion, you would complete the baptism of repentance, after which you were again expected to go and sin no more. If you slipped up again, boo hoo for you. The scandal you created by your ongoing sinfulness was a clear and present danger to the fledgling Christian community and a barrier to the Church living its mission in the world.

Thus certain savvy would-be Christians (**cough** Constantine **cough**) saved their baptism for late in life. The baptism of initiation was much, much easier than the baptism of repentance: better to wait until you could be relatively sure your sinning days were behind you– though not so long that death was upon you — before taking the plunge (literally!).

Christian legalism — plus ça change, eh?

End of Part II

Go to Part I

Part III coming soon.

Published in: on March 28, 2007 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconcilation — Part One

This past weekend I attended a totally fabulous talk on this sacrament by Fr. Joseph Weiss, S.J., formerly of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and department of theology. I make no claims for originality as I transcribe my notes, which are a mixture of my own thoughts and his.

It always helps to call to mind what a sacrament really is before delving into a particular sacrament. As one who “came home to Rome” as an adult, I have a long history of thinking of sacrament as ritual–a specific event or thing. I learned in RCIA that I was barely scratching the surface. Some better definitions:

A sacrament is an expression of the relationship between the Church and Christ.


The sacraments are encounters with the person of the risen Christ.


A sacrament is a peak moment to grab onto and to help us assimilate what God is offering (although God is always offering, and our imperfect participation in the sacraments does not affect that in the least)

My best example is this: I always thought the sacrament of marriage was a wedding ceremony. You “do” the sacrament, and then you’re done with it. Au contraire, mon frere! The sacrament is the marriage itself. The marriage is the physical, concrete expression of the relationship between Christ and His Church. Thus the prayer during the ceremony:

Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace.

And now we approach the reason why the Church reserves her sacraments for her members. Because Christ is the sacrament of God —

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)

And the church is the sacrament of Christ:

[S]he is the sacrament of Christ’s action at work in her through the mission of the Holy Spirit (CCC, 1118)

The seven sacraments, including the sacrament that I really am going to get to eventually, exist for the members of the church so that they can be sacrament for the world. We receive the sacraments not only for our own benefit but so that by being transformed by our encounter with the risen Christ we can become transformers in the world.

When we receive the sacrament of Reconcilation (understood to mean confession, penance, and absolution) we then must live the sacrament in order to be reconcilers in the world.

This is why going to confession is so much more than getting a fine from God the traffic cop or even a theraputic chat with an understanding priest. No wonder so few Catholics are going to confession these days — if that’s all I got from confession, I could surely find that on my own or stumble on without it.

Instead, the sacrament of Reconciliation is an essential requirement for assimilating oneself into the Body of Christ more and more perfectly. To riff on Paul, it’s no use for me to be the best and most pious, self-aware foot I can be if at any time I am not functioning as part of the One Body.

End of Part I

Coming soon:
Penance and the Early Church

Published in: on March 27, 2007 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Another ‘Why We Homeschool’ Moment

Perhaps it’s preaching to the choir, but I enjoyed this article on the benefits of homeschooling, published by a Catholic mom in the journal First Things.

Choice quote:

To my mind, however, homeschooling’s greatest efficiency lies in its capacity for a rightly ordered life. A child in school almost inevitably has a separate existence, a “school life,” that too easily weakens parental authority and values and that also encourages an artificial boundary between learning and everything else. Children come home exhausted from a day at school—and for a child with working parents, that day can be twelve hours long—and the last thing they want is to pick up a book or have a conversation. . . . At home we can do what’s nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between “learning” and “everything else” have largely ceased to exist.

Published in: on March 24, 2007 at 3:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Father said what?!

Good thing I brought a pen — the reconciliation talk was sooooooooo good. I’m looking forward to writing it all down.

Father was discussing prayer and reminding us that

“God is talking to us all the time.”
. . . pause . . .
“That’s how I know God is a woman.”

After the hoots and howls died down he had to make peace by adding,

“And I know God is a man because the world is in such disarray.”

Well, OK then.

Published in: on March 24, 2007 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Speaking of Confession . . .

Browsing the ‘net tonight, I happened across this article in the National Catholic Register [that’s NCR to you].

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been trying to bring back the sacrament of penance, and several US churches have tried to come up with creative ways to encourage this.

I appreciated what Benedict had to say:

Someone asked Pope Benedict XVI why we should go to confession regularly if we always seem to be confessing the same sins anyway. He answered, “It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen, but it builds up.

“Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul that Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons. Therefore, two things: Confession is only necessary in the case of a serious sin, but it is very helpful to confess regularly in order to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul and to mature day by day in life.”

Bishop John Nienstedt from New Ulm, MN, on the overuse of general absolution:

The misuse of the rite has led to confusion about the sacramental nature of grace, a general denial of the seriousness of sin, a lessening of the importance of the priesthood and a loss of countless opportunities for spiritual growth.

And Father Christopher Walsh:

The sacrament has been marginalized. We have to uncork this untapped power that Christ put in the Church.

OK, Lord, I’m hearing you!

Published in: on March 23, 2007 at 8:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

It’s off to confession I go . . .

Not really. I’m going to a talk on confession tomorrow morning. To tell the truth — that is, I suppose, to confess — I’ve never been to confession. I joined the church as an adult, and it wasn’t necessary for baptism, since baptism wipes the slate clean. But now it’s been nearly four years. I need to go. I want to go. I can’t bring myself to go.

I’m going to the talk tomorrow because I’ve never really understood the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Why can’t I be forgiven in the privacy of my home? Every night I ask forgiveness (if not also during the day), so what does this add?

Here’s what the folks at Loyola Press/Finding God say:

Here’s what the Sacrament of Penance actually offers:

restoration to honesty—no more need to rationalize

restoration to integrity—no more need to have secret or unacknowledged parts of your life

relief from unproductive guilt—transformation of remorse into living a new life. The purpose of this sacrament is not punishment but true reconciliation with God and the community.

an encounter with God—meeting God in humility (not humiliation!) and weakness

spiritual guidance—no need to struggle with your moral issues alone

inner peace—no longer having to live a life at war with yourself

strength in meeting future challenges and temptations

grace—rediscovering, as did the prodigal son, your Father’s unconditional love.

So. What can’t you get from private confession? First, reconciliation with your community. Believing in a personal God does not absolve one from accountability to one’s community — particularly when that community is the Body of Christ. We need to be reconciled with that Body if we want to say we are truly reconciled with God.

Second, a genuine confrontation and acknowledgement of your human weakness. It’s hard to simultaneously be aware of your utter dependence on God, who comes to us so often through the people around us, and live a completely interior spiritual life.

Third, a fully human experience of forgiveness. If the Good Lord had wanted us to be merely walking thought processors He could have saved Himself a lot of time on the other systems of the body. Being human, and being Catholic, is a full body experience. We recieve not only in our minds, but with our sight, our hearing, our sense of touch. In this way we can really be fully present where God is also fully present–I can really re-conciliate, or be re-unified with all of myself and as a member of the Body of Christ.

So. Why am I still afraid?

Published in: on March 23, 2007 at 4:35 pm  Comments (2)  

Patron Saint of SBY

Thanks for visiting SBY — where I get the thoughts that have been buzzing around my brain into the computer and out of my mind.

The Patron Saint of SBY is St . John of the Cross, and from him I take this prayer:

My God, you will not take away what you have given me
in your only son, Jesus Christ.
In him, you have given me all that I desire.
You will, therefore, no longer delay —
and this is my joy —
provided that I wait for you.
So, my heart, why do you delay?
Why do you procrastinate?
From this moment on you can love your God!
Mine are the heavens,
mine is the earth and mine the peoples;
mine are the just and mine are the sinners;
mine are the angels;
mine is the mother of God —
God himself is mine, for me —
for mine is Christ
and everything is for me.
What do you ask, what do you see, my soul?
Everything is for you and everything is yours!
Do not think of yourself as little
nor pay attention to the scraps that fall
from the table of your Father.
Rise on the great day
and take your glory in his!
Hide yourself in it
and be joyful;
everything which your heart desires
shall be yours.

Published in: on March 19, 2007 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment