Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Do babies 'participate' in the liturgy? (Getting 'Active Participation' Right)

Last week, I was present with most priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for a three-day convocation, which is held every five years. The idea is that we will discuss some topic that is pertinent to the life of the Church or to our ministry as priests. Some of these convocations have focused on parish management or on dealing with a shortage of priests; some have been of a more theological focus, as was the case last week: our topic was the seven sacraments. Our speaker was Father Paul Turner, who is a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. If you click on his name, you'll see his qualifications, as well as have access to his writings on his website.

After I returned to the parish, folks asked me how the session was. I have to be honest: while catching up my brother priests, and having Mass and prayer with them, with Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Bishop Joseph Binzer, were all very worthwhile, I was disappointed with the discussion of the sacraments.

Let me illustrate the problem by drilling into one of the issues that came up in several of the talks, as well as in the questions Father Turner fielded from those listening. It is the question of "active participation" in the liturgy. At one point, Father Turner was asked -- what about what Pope Benedict said, that "active participation" is essentially internal? In his response, Father Turner acknowledged the interior dimension, but said something along the lines of, he didn't see how you could have one without the other.

Not a terrible answer, but I think he was still missing the point.

This is a subject much discussed by experts in matters liturgical, and the term has certainly penetrated the awareness of many ordinary Catholics. The reason is because one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), said this on the subject:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work (Paragraph 14).

Indeed, if you click on the excerpted text above, you can go read the entirety of Sacrosanctum Concilium; and you will discover emphasis on "participation," frequently "active," in many places.

In the years immediately following the Council, there was a tremendous focus on this idea, to the point that it became a kind of "mantra" for a whole generation of clergy and laity whose understanding of the liturgy and the sacraments was formed in this period. Even 30 years later, when I entered the seminary, this was a point being pounded very strongly.

But there is an obvious question: what, exactly, is "fully conscious and active participation"? To state it differently, is it essentially external or internal?

In the years right after the Council, the great focus was on externals. Indeed, some of the language of the Council encouraged this:

To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence (Sacrosanctum Concilium 30).

That is, lots of people focused on "acclamations," "responses" and "gestures" -- but notice what else was highlighted: "reverent silence."

Others have delved deeply into this subject; you can do an Internet search and find lots to read if you wish. One notable contribution came from Pope Benedict XVI, who gave emphasis in Sacramentum Caritatis to "constant conversion," "inner disposition," and a "heart reconciled to God [that] makes genuine participation possible" (paragraph 55).

So why am I dissatisfied with Father Turner's answer? It's not that I disagree, exactly, so much as that I think he does not seem to get the problem with the emphasis on external participation. Let me illustrate with some real life examples:

- Several years ago, in another parish, I had a catechist propose some ideas for increasing the "active participation" of her students in Mass. Specifically, she wanted them write the words of the responsorial psalm on individual cards -- and then have students stand in front of church, and while the psalm was sung, they would hold up the placards for the assembly. I wasn't enamored of this idea, but I wanted to approach it diplomatically, so I approached the catechist with this question: "what is the concern or need you are trying to address with this idea?" Guess what she said? "So they participate more." My followup: "do you think the children in your class are praying during Mass?" She thought about it, and said, "yes." My response to her was, "that's the participation we most want."

- In my first parish assignment as a priest, the pastor gave me the task of arranging some training sessions with our volunteers who assist at Mass in various liturgical roles; we were going to be implementing some changes asked for by the Archbishop. One change in particular was as follows: instead of the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion coming to the altar and taking chalices with the Precious Blood off the altar themselves, they would, instead, have the chalices presented to them by a priest or deacon. At one of these sessions where I explained this change and its rationale, one volunteer huffed: "this takes away from my active participation!"

- Over the years, I've read any number of articles in the National Catholic Reporter, discussing matters liturgical. And whether the question was the priest facing the same way as the people when he offers the sacrifice at the altar, or whether it had to do with music choices, or even the church's sound system, I noticed the same refrain: if the priest isn't facing me -- or if it is the wrong sort of music -- or if someone cannot be heard in the church . . . then "I can't participate."

Surely you can see the problems here?

Is it really true that if I can't see what's happening at Mass, I can't participate? If that's true, then I guess that means visually impaired people do not participate in Mass.

Similarly, if not hearing means no participation, then no participation for those who are deaf.

If movement is necessary, that leaves out any number of people with mobility problems.

If you attend a Mass not in your own language, are you unable to participate? That has not been my experience -- why should it be anyones? Of course the language barrier created difficulties, but nothing I couldn't overcome. And that is obviously true for anyone.

Let me illustrate the flaw in this thinking with a hypothetical, which I posed to some other priests, and now pose to you: Does a babe in arms "participate" in Mass?

If you subscribe to the participation must be external theory, then the answer must be no. And guess what? Lots of people will say, about their children, that they see no reason to bring them to Mass "because they don't get anything out of it." But what about grace, I answer?

The answer is "yes." Even a newborn truly participates in the liturgy. Even a comatose person does. People participate as they are able.

Let's take it another step.

Who is the primary actor in the liturgy? Per Vatican II, the answer is Jesus Christ:

Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree (paragraph 7b).

But take note of the words I bolded: it is the action of Christ in his "Head and His members." That includes everyone, even a newly baptized infant, who is, after all, a member of the Body of Christ.

Now, I'm not against encouraging people to participate in external ways; nor am I encouraging a minimalism that sets the bar at where an infant is. Rather, what I am insisting is that given the true nature of the liturgy -- as described by the Council above -- what we are talking about is first and foremost a spiritual reality; we respond to this reality, above all with our interior disposition, which is assisted by, and often manifested by, exterior dispositions.

In short, we're talking about grace. I have no idea what sort of experience the Mass is for a newborn, or for a very young child, or for that matter, for those with varying degrees of physical and mental disabilities. But I insist that there is a true and real experience of the Mass -- of the sacraments -- for them. When a baby is baptized, does anything "happen" to the baby? When a priest anoints or absolves -- or baptizes -- a comatose person, what happens? Does the recipient of these sacraments "participate"?

The answer has to be yes.

P.S. I found an article I liked, but I never found a way to work it into this article, so I'll just link it here. It drills into what the Latin text behind "active participation" actually says. The whole article is good, but I am thinking particularly of what appears at the end from Monsignor Richard Shuler.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How to be faithful, not fearful (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, Jeremiah knows people around him 
are plotting his destruction.

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Fear no one” – only be faithful to God.

So, thinking about fear…the question that comes to mind isn’t, 
what are we afraid of? – because the answer is, of course, 
lots of things, and often for good reason – 
but instead, what do our fears keep us from?

The fear I’m talking about is not those rational judgments we make, 
such as how fast we drive, especially in bad weather, 
or those dumb things a friend tries to dare us into doing. 
That is the virtue of prudence, one of the four cardinal virtues. 

No, I’m talking about that fear that holds us back from better things. 
We might call it timidity or faint-heartedness or cowardice. 
These are vices that are opposed to another of the cardinal virtues, 
which is fortitude, or courage – 
and that virtue of fortitude is what we want and need.

If we are in a conversation, 
and we are faint-hearted about bringing up an important subject; 
or, if we simply avoid the whole conversation altogether, why is that? 
Isn’t it because we don’t want to be thought less of? 
We don’t want an uncomfortable situation? 
And when we stop and think about it, 
what holds us back is hardly anything at all. 

Jeremiah shared God’s message at the risk of his life. 
What do we risk? Being laughed at, or whispered about?

So what do our fears – our timidity – hold us back from? 
They hold us back from being saints, 
being fully faithful to Jesus Christ.

This past week, we remembered the martyrdom 
of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, 
who both died because they were faithful 
to Christ’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, 
when the King of England demanded they go along with his desire 
to divorce his wife and marry another. 

These are especially relevant saints for our time. 
Out of all the bishops of England, John Fisher was the only one – 
the only one – who refused to submit to the king. 
All the rest caved in.

In our time, so many around us are readily, eagerly going along 
with a redefinition of marriage, 
which has been declared the law of the land. 
Two men, two women, who cares? 
It can be so hard to stand up to this, 
especially if you are called a bigot, 
as members of my family have called me, 
because I will not bend to this redefinition of marriage. 

And now the latest idea is that our identity as male or female 
is not something given by God, but something we give ourselves, 
and is changeable. 

And I tell you now: the day will come when every single person here 
will feel as lonely as Bishop Fisher and Thomas More, 
when we stand up for these truths. 
But stand up we must, because truth isn’t decided by majority vote, 
and reality is not ours to remold, as if we are God!

Pope Francis has called these theories 
about marriage and sexual identity “demonic.” 
Strong language, but he is exactly right; 
because what is under attack is not just some old rule. 
What’s under attack is the truth about what it means to be human. 

When God had finished his Creation, with the man and woman his crowning work, 
he called it all “very good.” 
When Satan saw it, he vowed to ruin it all, 
with humanity – us – his primary target. 

So notice what’s happening in our time: 
the killing of unborn children; the elimination of the handicapped; 
so-called “assisted suicide” for everyone else, 
especially the elderly and those who are discouraged; 
the poisoning of marital life with contraception; divorce – 
which I don’t want to be flippant about, but it is a problem…

And now, a denial of the realities of what it means 
to be a man and a woman. 
Do you see the whole picture? Satan is attacking humanity, 
to destroy us. 
The end goal is that we won’t even know who and what we are: 
the image of God, who he calls to union with him. 

Now, that is a hellish vision, and it’s frightening 
to see it spreading in our world. 
Nevertheless, we must obey Jesus’ words, when he says, 
Do not be afraid! 
Fear paralyzes us, and keeps us from speaking what is true, 
and living the truth boldly.

When Saint John Fisher refused to buckle, 
he was imprisoned for over a year. 
During that time, he wasn’t allowed to offer Mass, 
receive Holy Communion or go to confession. 
He grew so ill that the king sent his doctors, 
just to get him well enough so he could be executed. 

When the day came, the guard woke him, and told him: 
today you will die. 
Do you know what Bishop Fisher said? 
He asked if he could sleep another two hours! 
Does that sound like he was afraid?

You see this time and again: 
when people have lost everything, when they have nothing left to lose, 
there is a peace beyond all understanding. 

This is the reason why acts of penance, self-denial, mortification, 
not just for a few weeks in Lent, but every day, are important, 
and can help us. 

So we become detached from caring too much about stuff, or comfort, or anything else, 
but the one thing that matters, 
which is being faithful to Jesus Christ.

The world may go crazy all around us, but do not be afraid!
Jesus reigns! And he calls us to reign with him.
By his grace, may we remain faithful witnesses to him!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

At the beach...

...So, no homily this weekend.

Instead, I arranged for one of the newly ordained priests to cover for me. So, he gets to explain the Holy Trinity this weekend!

As Bugs Bunny says, "ain't I a stinker?"

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Renewing our part of the face of the earth (Pentecost homily)

This feast of Pentecost is the end of Easter – 
and the beginning of everything else.

Fifty days ago, we celebrated Jesus rising from the grave, 
after giving his life on the Cross for us. 
Fifty days to realize: Jesus has made me brand new!

In the sacrament of confirmation, the bishop says, 
“Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 
A “seal” is placed on a document, certifying that it is authentic.  

You and I are sealed with the Holy Spirit – 
meaning we are authentic ambassadors of Jesus Christ. 

The seal of the Holy Spirit means you and I are ready. For what? 
To do what the psalm describes: “renew the face of the earth.” 

(Last night at the Vigil Mass, the readings were different; 
we heard the story of the City and Tower of Babel.)

The City of Babel fell apart because 
their task had nothing to do with God. 
They were impressed with their mighty tower; 
yet God had to “come down” in order to see it! 
Not so impressive after all. 

So much of our world is exactly like this. 
We are building things we think are impressive, but leaving God out. 
It will all come tumbling down. 

Today, a terrible confusion is spreading in our society 
about the most basic things, such as what it means to be a human being. 

We hear about lawsuits because a boy wants to be a girl 
and the legal system and schools and everything else 
gets twisted up like a pretzel over all this. 
Just another Tower of Babel. It will all come tumbling down.

More broadly, there’s so much anger being built up. 
You see it everywhere. People bite each other’s heads off on Facebook.
If you turn on the TV, fury pours out hour upon hour. 

It will all come tumbling down.

And then what? My task, your task, 
is to be instruments of the Holy Spirit, 
“to renew the face of the earth.”

What can you and I do? 

Well, let’s start with what not to do. 
It’s easy to laugh or shake our heads. 
It’s also easy just to turn away. 

But take the “transgender” phenomenon. 
There is a lot of hurt and pain. This is real. 
So many of us are at a loss as to how to respond. 
But we can’t lie to people; we can’t pretend to call a lie the truth. 
That’s the easy way out, not the loving way.

Here’s something no one wants to talk about, 
but if you do some further reading, 
you’ll discover that when individuals 
go through this process of “transitioning” – even having operations – 
so much of the hurt remains. Many end up in a much worse place.
It’s like when people have troubles and they drink. 
At best, all that does is kick the can down the road.

So, when someone you know is in trouble, you may not know what to say. 
And if you are faithful to the truth, 
your words may not be very welcome. 

But may I suggest that the very first thing is to pray
That you will act always with love – 
meaning, putting that person’s interests first. 
One of the most important things we can do 
is to let people know that they are infinitely more important 
than any struggle or sin or weakness. 
Love sees and reaches past the differences, 
to the person God created and died on the Cross for.

This takes courage. But first it takes a realization: 
I can’t just let someone else do this. 
Look around: there clearly aren’t enough “someone elses” 
doing the things needed to renew the face of this earth. 

So it’s on me. I have to get up, and get to work, 
bringing the Holy Spirit into the situations around me. 

Let me mention another opportunity. 
Later this month, on Friday, June 23, 
we will have our second annual Men’s Prayer Walk. 
As with last year, we did this as a way for the men of the parish 
to step up and take some spiritual leadership. 

The essential tasks of men are to guard, to give and to guide. 
So with our Prayer Walk, we will, over several years, 
walk the parish boundaries, praying for the protection of our parish, 
for the needs of our parish. 

There are a lot of places in the world that need our help – 
but God didn’t send us there. He did put us right here.

So here’s how it’ll work. We’ll meet at 5:30 pm, 
in the parking lot behind my house. Men and boys of all ages welcome. 

You don’t have to be Catholic. If you can’t walk well, we’ll have rides. 
Last year, some men met us at the starting point in their electric carts. 

We’ll ride some hay wagons over to Russia-Houston Road and S.R. 48, 
and walk along Russia-Houston to Dawson Road. 
Yes, that’s over to Houston – because Houston is part of our parish, 
and therefore, part of our spiritual responsibility.

Then we’ll get a ride back to the parish for a cookout and fellowship.

The Holy Spirit is poured out to renew the face of the earth. 
God put us here, to renew this little portion of it. That’s our job.