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December 05, 2003


T. Marzen

Will anyone deny that this is a paradigm for a future American Catholic Church eagerly sought by many of (especially feminist)liturgists and liberals? It will so suit us when we too live comfortably in a society that has legalized and even embraced as normative assisted suicide, euthanasia of the mentally ill and children with disabilities, gay marriage, most drug use, and open prostitution.

Rod Dreher

I have a number of Dutch friends, and have visited there a lot. I was last there in June 2002, with my family. We went to mass in a little chapel on the Zuiderzee. There were maybe 20 people there that morning, and with the exception of one family, we were the only ones there without gray hair. We introduced ourselves to the family, a cheerful and devout husband and wife who were there with their three teenage boys. They invited us over to spend the afternoon.

It was marvelous. What fine people they were. On the other hand, it was awful what they reported. In their account, the faith has collapsed in Holland. Just collapsed. Before WW2, the Dutch sent out the most missionary priests in the world. Now, the Dutch church is barely even there. The mother and father gave truly heartbreaking stories about how quickly it all happened, and how they've seen their country change over the course of their lifetime (the dad is one of seven children, all raised firmly in the faith, all save him later abandoning it). The mom told about how she had gone in for diocesan CCD teacher training, and their instructor denied the Real Presence, and so forth. The mom said she objected persistently, and the teacher called for a break. Outside the classroom, several other teachers-in-training came to the mom and said that they felt as she did, but were scared to say anything. The Dutch are an extremely conformist people.

Anyway, please pray for the Van Dam family. They are a brave little platoon, living among the ruins of what used to be a vibrant Catholic and Calvinist culture. As they are today, so may our grandchildren be one day.

Rod Dreher

An addendum: Having now read the entire Commonweal article, I am astonished that its author speculates that the Holy Spirit is showing us the way to a new church, via the experience of Holland. What he doesn't tell you is that almost nobody goes to mass in Holland anymore. The United States is incomparably, incomparably better off than the Netherlands in terms of mass attendance. There are almost no priests to serve the congregations remaining, true; but it's also true that there are very, very few people in those congregations. It is truly a post-Christian country.


The church without a priest--with a woman pastor--suits very well the gnostic model of Christianity where gender is unimportant, where original andrygony is the desired state, where enlightenment comes not from sacraments but rather from the god within.

During a parish-wide session at my parish, of the Diocesan Vibrant Parish Life program, with its inevitable "small group discussion," my own group, in listing the dreams for the future of the Church, did not even mention the priest shortage which has left us with one priest where there were three 15 years ago. When I forced a discussion of the shortage, the reaction seemed to be that we can get along without a priest--that the laity will be able to take over. When the moderator of my group gave his report to the entire assembly, he left my concern about the priest shortage out of his presentation.

When the floor was opened for discussion, I reiterated my concern about a sacramental faith sans priests, and was quickly informed by others in attendance that it would not be a problem to handle this. The implication was that we had much more important problems to address.

Needless to say I left the meeting in a state of shock.

A possible source for this new thinking might be the Charismatic movement. I've been looking into the history of this movement, and gnosticism is clearly a part of its history.

When we reach the priestless parish condition described in Amy's blog, I'm not sure I will still attend church. It will amount to a Bible study session rather than a sacramental rite. While Hosts that have theoretically been consecrated by a priest will be available, there will be no assurance that they are in fact consecrated. Given the abberations and abuses of the Mass at present, receiving a Host supposedly consecrated at some time other than the present service would render me unassured that it was in fact the Body of Christ I was receiving. I can read the Bible and eat a piece of bread in the comfort of my livingroom just as easily as getting gussied up to go to church.

Rod Dreher

But Carrie, if Christ is, as they say, "fully present" in the gathering of the faithful, you would be partaking of the sacrament by being there to sing "On Eagle's Wings" with a priestless kaffeeklatsch.

Seriously, it's an interesting question: would I go to church on Sunday if there were no priest to offer mass? I've only ever gone to receive the Sacrament. One rarely hears anything remotely challenging or surprising in the way of instruction. Catholics don't seem to like to hang around to talk to each other (I'm guilty of this too, but then again, I'm following the example I've seen in almost every parish I've been in since coming into the church in 1993). I'm not sure what we'd talk about, anyway, because most Catholics haven't the foggiest idea what the Church teaches, or -- more to the point -- why they are under any obligation to accept it as true. According to a NYTimes poll, 70 percent of American Catholics don't even believe in the Real Presence.

So what would be the point? I'd show up in hopes that I was receiving a truly consecrated Host, and sit in the back reading until it was time to receive Communion. Come to think of it, that's not all that different from what I do nowadays.

Neil Dhingra

Why should one go to church if there is no priest to offer mass? Sacrosanctum Concilium (no. 7) reads:

"To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, 'the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross' (20), but especially under the eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes (21). He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised:
'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matt. 18:20)."

Even if there is no possibility of a Eucharist or baptism, Christ is still present in the Liturgy of the Word and even in communal prayer and song. Thus, our bishops have said, "When a priest cannot be present for the celebration of the Mass on the Lord’s Day, it is of paramount importance that the parish still come together to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord."

Obviously, 'On Eagle's Wings' cannot replace the Holy Eucharist. Aesthetically, it does leave a great deal to be desired. But we are still called to try to see Christ in its communal performance.


Rod Dreher

Why would going to one's local priestless, massless parish be better, Neil, than getting together with Catholic friends in one's living room on Sunday morning for Bible reading, hymn singing and communal prayer? At least one could be sure that the Catholics with whom one gathered were faithful to Catholic teaching, right? And thus that they would have something substantive to fellowship around n a meaningful way?

Charlotte Allen

Wonder why Jarbusch didn't say the Mass. He's a priest, after all, and he was there. But that would have spoiled the political point he was trying to make: that the church should go ahead and ordain Pastor Eveline. Jarbusch sounds like the kind of guy who'd deny people the Mass to make a statement. Meanwhile, God bless the Van Dams!


I would not attend such a thing, especially since I happen to know that the Tridentine Mass or the Novus Ordo are available in most parts of Holland if you are willing to drive for an hour or so. Holland, you see, is really very tiny.

If this comes to pass in the United States, we will drive to a REAL MASS or we will find the SSPX. It's just that simple.


If you venture outside of the major cities in the U.S., these non-priest pastors are not unusual. Two books, "They Call Her Pastor" and the recently published "They Call Him Pastor" [about married pastoral administrators] by sociologist Ruth Wallace document the phenomenon in America.

These practices do not bother me so much as the bishops' lack of an alternative for the future. There is a priest shortage that is getting progressively worse. Any solution will take at least 10 years to reverse the trend. Even if we solve the problem today, it will put another generation at risk. Lack of proper catechesis, formation and sacramental preparation will continue to hurt the Church. Lack of access to the sacraments will do worse.

Where is the leadership...especially from Rome? They keep pretending that the problem isn't so bad or can be dealt with by shuffling priests. The Netherlands didn't get this way overnight.


I don't do kaffeeklatsch with priestettes, Rod. Not even when they're serving wine instead of coffee. ;)

The idea that a priest would be present to consecrate every fifth Sunday (Did I read that in this blog or somewhere else?) would mean that the hosts would need food preservatives or they would get moldy. Food preservatives will invalidate the sacrament because they would alter correct matter. Alternatively, perhaps the consecrated Hosts would be frozen. Then the question becomes, "Did they get the consecrated or the unconsecrated hosts out of the freezer this morning. They all look alike."

Neil, what else would you expect bishops to say? If the parishioners aren't present every Sunday, the collections fall off. I think I can already hear the bishops rendering the newfound seventh commandment of the Church that Catholics must attend prayer services on Sunday whether or not a priest is present. I think I'm going to be able to write such a new commandment off to expediency and ignore it.

I can sing and read the Bible at home with my family, making Christ just as present as He would be at church if His presence in the assembly is all that church has to offer. In fact, I often sing hymns when I'm doing dishes so it would be nothing out of the ordinary. And there is always the option of putting really good Catholic music (think Gregorian chant) on the CD and having an uplifting prayer service at my kitchen table with no banners, catchy tunes, reinterpreted Scripture exegesis or women playing priest.

Sunday liturgy is about a sacrament. When none takes place, Sunday liturgy looses its meaning. And just in case someone wants to argue that Christ is present in the tabernacle, which I believe He is, provided the Host is validly consecrated, I pray lots better before the Blessed Sacrament when the church is quiet. But it's unlikely to be quiet during this Sunday morning lovefest that is being cooked up.

Michigancatolic makes a good point. We are obliged to attend Mass on Sunday. The SSPX have valid sacraments and we are permitted to turn to them in an emergency. Hence...?

Neil Dhingra

Rod Dreher now asks, "Why would going to one's local priestless, massless parish be better, Neil, than getting together with Catholic friends in one's living room on Sunday morning for Bible reading, hymn singing and communal prayer?"

The question can be rephrased, I think: "Does a local church (parish or diocese) simply dissolve if it is unable to provide regular Masses?"

In certain situations, it would probably be prudent to combine parishes or take similar courses of action. Nevertheless, I suspect that in many situations the answer is no.

As Cyprian said, 'ecclesia per totum mundum in multa membra divisa' (the church is in the whole world through many members). This means that we can speak of simply one Church, but will likely then find ourselves forced to use rather bloodless abstractions. To speak of the Church in the concrete, we will have to refer to specific communities. As Fr Joseph Komonchak has written, "It is not the word of God in general that gathers the Church in faith, but the Word as preached in specific interpretive contexts and as a response to concrete threats to authentic human and Christian meaning. The Church does not celebrate the Eucharist in general; it celebrates it in quite concrete human groups, and the communion effected in and through such a Eucharist overcomes quite concrete experiences of alienation."

So we can say that the Church exists in "quite concrete human groups" that have overcome through Word and Sacrament the otherwise "quite concrete experiences of alienation" that would separate them into different clans, political parties, or factions. But what if there is no Eucharist? The shared history of hearing the Word of God preached and celebrating the Eucharist should be able to hold a community together even if the Eucharist is temporarily unavailable. Lumen Gentium listed some powerful manifestations of this sort of shared history (n. 23): "By divine Providence it has come about that various churches, established in various places by the apostles and their successors, have in the course of time coalesced into several groups, organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and the unique divine constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline, their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage."

This specific and concrete discipline, liturgical usage, and theological and spiritual heritage may very well keep a community together in prayer as they faithfully wait for God to provide them with another priest.

Why should someone prefer this sort of community over a gathering of one's friends
on Sunday morning? The principle of unity of even a priestless parish is the memory of hearing the Word and consuming the Eucharist, which is then embodied in a common language and common practices that transcend our differences. The principle of unity between one's friends may very well be something comparable - perhaps you are all lay Dominicans - but is more commonly something less theological - perhaps you all have the same taste in music or art. The simple answer to Rod Dreher's question is: Your parish is more real than your friendships. Even if it is imperfect, the priest lisps, and the people like 'On Eagle's Wings.'

Thus, to repeat what our bishops have told us: "When a priest cannot be present for the celebration of the Mass on the Lord’s Day, it is of paramount importance that the parish still come together to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord."

Thank you.



I don't like it at all. I don't like a woman in place of a priest, it isn't right, and she shouldn't be preaching. It isn't the same. She may be able to administrate the parish, but she shouldn't be on the altar. Where are all the men? WHy is it that even in the US, you go to daily mass and its all women?What's gone wrong here? This is much deeper than just a lack of Catholic priests.

Tom Modl

I agree with Neil. Some of the commenters seem to be saying that if one can't attend Mass then there is no real difference between gathering for formal worship or getting together with friends and family. I certainly believe (as Neil does too, I think) that it is best to come together for Mass on Sunday, even if that means traveling great distances to do so. However, if that isn't possible, then a gathering of the parish faithful for a Liturgy of the Word done using an approved form and the same readings as are read throughout the universal Church is a real means of grace, and not equivalent to, much less inferior to, a gathering of like-minded friends.

Jeanne Schmelzer

Carrie said she thought the Charismatic Renewal is Gnostic. Not in my area. Not in my training. It really helped me realize that Jesus should be the center of my life rather than the other innocent gods that I had put there. I also realized God's love for me and vowed that if he is this wonderful, I will pray every day of my life to him. And I have. It was a life-changing experience which gave me the light of scripture I didn't have. It opened all that up. Also it helped me see the truth in the Church. I love the Church even more now than before. I know some people took it to excess, but that's the way with any endeavor. The prayer meetings sounded like the priestless liturgies described above and so I decided I'd rather go to Mass than a prayer meeting.

I would drive a considerable way to go to a Sacramental Mass instead of a Communion Service on Sunday. That's not too hard to do in these post-horse and buggy days. We're spoiled with convenience. However, the pioneers around here had no priest in the wilderness until one came along eventually because of their request and a willing padre on a horse (later to be a bishop).

We're meant to be in community and coming together, even if it's a prayer meeting on Sunday, in the absence of an available priest, is better than being at home. We need each other for support to tough it out.

Regardless of the bad news, the good news is that there are young men realizing vocations. These men are good orthodox men scattered throughout the hinterlands of this country. The lack of present priests (and getting worse) may bring people to a new realization of not taking things (Mass) for granted anymore. I'm not at all discouraged. Saint Thomas More said that "there is no time so bad that good people can't" operate. He ought to know.

Europe, is a different country. They tend to be socialistic where the government is expected to take care of their needs. Their government is God. We have a whole different set-up here and even though we'll have some pretty raunchy attitudes, I see that it is a clearer difference between the good and bad. Before this we just kind of bought into our culture as being all good without realizing where it was taking us. The young people are open because they're looking for answers. They don't want to be like their baby boomer parents. This is an excellent time for evangelizing and it will happen. The people who hold onto the faith are the ones who will be serious. That in itself can be a powerful force. I'm not discouraged. The Bishops may do what they do but the faith has always come from the grassroots anyway. First there was Jesus then Peter then...

Tom Modl

Rod makes a good point about how the Dutch church, with its supposedly enlightened ways, seems to provide little in the way of a powerful witness to the Faith. If for some reason the number of priests miraculously doubled in the Netherlands, would anyone show up in the pews to attend the additional Masses available?

John B

I do not know the situation in the Netherlands, but in France, a society that has even before WWI that has been pushing a radical form of secularism, there are quite a few parish' that are vibrant, have large young familes, and are not afriad to prclaim the faith. The problem, they are in a illergaular relationship with Rome being part of the SSPX(France also has a large number of Indult masses as well). The instutional church in France, with the exception of some Charismatic movments, has been in decline for decades.

I know the SSPX has a fairly big footprint in the German speaking countries, and they have a presence in Holland, but how vibrant it is, I do not know.


Talking just about the U.S. for the moment: In the situations in which the priest can come to the parish only every fourth week or whatever, how far do people have to drive to get to an actual mass? The English recusants and others risked their lives for the sake of going to mass; surely we can drive 30 minutes, or even an hour or two?

I guess what I'm saying is: having a lay minister for a communion service doesn't seem to make sense if mass is still only, say, one hour away. What am I missing?


Neil believes that we must meet as a parish even when priestless.

I have never gone to church because other Catholics are there. I have only gone to church because God is there. And now we are faced with the real possibility that God may not be there. If God is not there, going there is pointless. The Body of Christ, the whole Body of Christ, does not fit into a single church, no matter how large. Hence there is no way that I can unite with the rest of the Body of Chrst on a Sunday morning. We are a fragmented body at best even though we believe that Eucharist makes us whole. Without Mass we are individual Catholics loosely associated, who can very well find greater communion outside of our parish than within it.

We have an obligation to attend Mass. If priestless parishes are the future, we will be violating the Third Commandment if we don't avail ourselves of whatever Mass remains available. That will mean that we will have to travel outside of our parishes to attend Mass. The parish structure as we know it will diminish as people search for a Mass in other locations. Services at the parish will be meaningless, as the evidence from Holland shows us.

Also, Jeanne says that I think the Charismatic Renewal is Gnostic. What I said is that the roots are Gnostic. Remember, the roots are in Pentecostalism descended from John Wesley's Holines Movement.


And what makes you think you could trust the "priestess/hippie nun" when she tells you a "proper priest" confected the Eucharist?

I accidentally walked into one of these scenarios a few years ago. And not because a proper Mass wasn't available down the street, but because I was on "retreat" with the Catholic school group where I worked and they SET US UP. I don't work there anymore.

Never. I won't do it. I'll drive wherever I have to go, period.


Rod is correct. Holland is a very strange place religiously. Many of the churches, and most of the large historical ones, are government buildings or concert halls now. Many are closed nearly all the time.
There are churches where you can find a priest, but you must look on the internet to find them and then there is no guarantee what you will get unless you go to an indult or SSPX church. There is an indult group in Delft which says the Tridentine and there are churches in Amsterdam which use latin and have priests.
The number of people who show up to Mass is very small, a handful, even in bigger cities. Many Dutch are very scornful and dismissive of the church. They consider it their *distasteful* past.

BTW, when I was there I thought it very interesting how different the Dutch are in public conceptions of order in Church. They do not feel the need for the unison we are always bandying about. Most of Europe does not. The progressives are always adoring the fall-down Dutch church, but maybe they wouldn't like this. They couldn't *control* us by being posture police then. =)

Rod Dreher

Neil writes: The principle of unity of even a priestless parish is the memory of hearing the Word and consuming the Eucharist, which is then embodied in a common language and common practices that transcend our differences. ... The simple answer to Rod Dreher's question is: Your parish is more real than your friendships.

I'm sorry, Neil, I wish I could believe that but there's nothing in my experience of the Church that resonates with what you say. That's the most basic difference between my experience of Catholic parishes, and of the Evangelical churches of my youth: the Evangelicals, for the most part, are at that particular church because they want to be, and because of that, are fairly united in what they believe. Catholics, in my experience, are at a particular parish pretty much because that's their parish. The music is going to be lousy, probably, the homily is going to be doctrineless filled with empty platitudes, and possibly heretical, but they either don't notice or don't care, because Jesus is there in the Eucharist. Honestly, if I wanted to get solid preaching on Sunday morning, there are many, many Protestant parishes I could attend here in my city; I wouldn't get the Catholic truth, but I'd get more meaty Catholic truth by accident there than is on offer at most Catholic parishes I've attended here. I got into a sharp discussion this week with a colleague who goes to mass (not at my parish), who is strongly pro-choice, and who strongly resents the idea that he's any less of a good Catholic because of that. He would never hear anything at our parish that would challenge him on that, or any other point of doctrine. I have no way of knowing, but I bet if you polled the members of our parish, you'd find that we have not a whole lot in common theologically. And I'd bet a majority of folks don't much care about that sort of thing.

So if Jesus weren't present in the Eucharist at my parish, I'd find it hard to bother going. I'd either do like Michigancatholic, and drive however far I needed to to have a valid Eucharist, or I'd stay home and read the Bible and pray.


Whoa. Carrrie, on what basis are you saying Wesley was Gnostic? I am a United Methodist, which is the denomination founded by John Wesley (who never wanted to start a new denomination anyway.) Wesley was an Anglican, and as we know, the Anglicans came from the Catholics. Doctrinally, Methodists, Anglicans and Catholics are closer to each other than Methodists and Presbyterians or Lutherans.

Since Wesley's roots are Catholic, how can they be Gnostic? Yes, he had other influences such as the Moravians, but Gnosticism???

Neil Dhingra

Obviously, the situation of a parish without a priest is a very painful one, and there very well may not be clear and easy answers. I do want to suggest that, while a community without a Eucharist is truly lamentable, there is also something undesirable about a Eucharist without a community. This presumably would be the case if we expected people to travel great distances for the Eucharist at what would then not be coherent parishes but rather distribution centers.

The Holy Father writes in his recent encyclical, "The gift of Christ and his Spirit which we receive in Eucharistic communion superabundantly fulfils the yearning for fraternal unity deeply rooted in the human heart; at the same time it elevates the experience of fraternity already present in our common sharing at the same Eucharistic table to a degree which far surpasses that of the simple human experience of sharing a meal. Through her communion with the body of Christ the Church comes to be ever more profoundly 'in Christ in the nature of a sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of intimate unity with God and of the unity of the whole human race.'

"The seeds of disunity, which daily experience shows to be so deeply rooted in humanity as a result of sin, are countered by the unifying power of the body of Christ. The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, creates human community."

A Eucharist celebrated for people who do not intend to form any communal life together has no "unifying power" and cannot then completely be the "source and summit of Christian life," which must always be lived in visible unity with those with whom one has received (see Lumen Gentium 26). Of course, the Eucharist would still be valid, but we could wonder if, in the Pope's words, "the dignity of the Eucharistic celebration" was not compromised, as part of its mystery, the bringing together of a "community of the altar," would inevitably be frustrated. It might be more respectful if a priestless community were to painfully "keep alive in the community a genuine 'hunger' for the Eucharist" (Ecc de Euch. 33).

One could argue that the Body of Christ received at a distribution center would still have various positive effects on private individuals who could then write to one another on a blogsite or meet later. But one is then left with an invisible church which only becomes present when individuals who separately had a certain private experience eventually gather together. Surely if anything is Gnosticism - the effective devaluation of the theological importance of communal and material life - it is that.

Again, this is a difficult matter and should probably be handled pastorally by the relevant bishop. I do not want to hurt anyone's feeling and am grateful for the discussion.


Neil Dhingra

Dear Rod,

I am very sorry that your experience in the Catholic Church has been so negative. I really don't know what to say other than to promise my prayers. Perhaps it is rather petty to point out that other bloggers do seem to have at least some good things to say about parish life, from Mark Shea to Gerard Serafin to Peter Nixon. Your comments did remind me of a recent sermon by Archbishop Rowan Williams, perhaps because the Anglicans seem to be in even worse shape than us:

" ... what is striking is that Paul appeals for unity not as a way of denying conflict or smoothing over the surface but because the conflicts and failures of the churches are the opportunity for wresting a gift out of what seems a curse. Each member of the Body is gifted for the sake of all others; break the unity of the community and you will never receive what God has for you in the life of the other. Paul’s fierce challenges to his churches leave us with no illusions about this being easy. To abide in unity through the sort of savage quarrels he describes is absolutely not the soft option. The Apollos party and the Cephas party in Corinth, or the rigorists about food laws in Romans would all have a much nicer time if they retreated into their separate enclaves. But, as Paul puts it in both Romans and I Corinthians, to do this is would be to forget that they are there in the first place because Christ died for them all.

"The challenge of Paul’s gospel appears most radically at this point. The irreducible facts about the brother or sister are that Christ died for them and that the Spirit wants to give something through them. To cling to unity is to cling to those convictions, especially when everything in us cries out for separation. Or, in plain words, unity is a gospel imperative to just the extent that we find it hard. Unity is a gospel imperative when we recognise that it opens us to change, to conversion; when we realise how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful and those we think are stupid. A community where people don’t care about the effects of their actions or where people are preoccupied constantly with the conditions under which they will stay in touch with each other is one in which what I earlier called the pain and the work and the real difference that we can see in the churches to which Paul wrote are being forgotten. A New Testament Church is one in which unity is seen as vital precisely because it invites us to struggle for blessing as we wrestle with a stranger. If someone else stands with me claiming the promises of Christ, then, for St Paul, my first assumption must always be that in unity – in conversation and struggle, agreement, argument, shared praise – I shall receive from them something of Christ."



My aunt is a Dominican sister who has been administrator of a small rural parish for the past 3 years. I think she still gets fairly good Mass coverage, and a Sunday communion service rather than a Mass is the exception - when it happens, I would expect she leads a very dignified liturgy. I think it is a great slander to suggest that she or another Catholic religious would pass off an unconsecrated host as the Eucharist.

I think the challenges of a priestless parish go way beyond Sunday Mass. For example, having a priest available for Reconciliation
or the last rites seems far more important than Sunday Mass.

Charlotte Allen

Doesn't attendance at a priestless Sunday service have a lot to do with the nature of the service? Pastor Eveline sounds as though she's trying to play priest, going about as far as she can go--or maybe a teense further--without crossing the line. The vestments, the procession, the sermon, and so forth. (And God only knows what she was preaching about--it's clear that Jabusch didn't understand a word she was saying.) It's not the sort of thing that I'd want to be around for, and I'm certain that Pastor Eveline's congregation is entirely composed of liberals agitating for female ordination and similar stuff, and they're in Pastor Eveline's church to make a statement. The faithful Catholics in Breda undoubtedly drive elsewhere. (The truly sad thing is that in the post-Reformation Netherlands, Catholics were merely tolerated until recently--why the Catholic Church in Breda dates only to the 1930s--but they kept a vibrant faith, which now they're mostly ashamed of.) But if priests became genuinely scarce here in America, it might be quite lovely and meaningful for the layfolks to gather in the church on Sunday morning, say some prayers and sing a hymn, and receive communion (no off-the-wall lay sermon, please!). Or not receive communion and simply pray for the coming of a priest.


Peace, all.

I weigh in with Neil in his tete-a-tete with Rod. A few other items:

- If a person goes to Church for God, that person can go anytime. The ideal time for private or quiet prayer is not during Mass -- or immediately before or after either.
- The act of liturgy -- with or without a priest -- is a spiritual discipline. The oldest NT tradition described is that of the faithful gathering to pray in common at certain hours of the day. There is a mystery in a parish praying in common: certainly the presence of Christ as assured in the Word and community, but something else as well.
- Rod's coffeeklatches sound to me like base communities, though ordered on the principle of friendship or personal like-mindedness. I might not mind barging into such a gathering. But I think the gathering of the larger parish community is still essential.

PS: Jennifer, I think Carrie has gone off on some anti-Gnostic kick. "Gnosticism has become another conservative PC term for "heretic."



All Christian roots are Catholic, even the Gnostics. There is only one Christ. If you want to learn about the Gnostic roots of Pentecostalism, you can do no better than to read Msgr. Ronald Knox's _Enthusiasm_. For a shorter version of the history check out What Spirit Is This?



The church you describe--the church the Holy Father describes--is the ideal church. But we have to deal with the reality, and the reality is that the Body of Christ in the Catholic Church is severely splintered. I could even argue that it has been atomized. So the likelihood of finding like-minded Catholics in a given church is slim. And I'm old enough to remember when it was not only possible, it was a given.

I've been down the liberal parish road once and promised myself I would never go down that road again. I nearly lost my faith, got caught up in New Age teaching, believed enough in reincarnation to think that suicide made sense. And I was active enough in that liberal church to discover what was going on behind the scenes. When I changed parishes, I promised myself I'd never get involved in parish life again. Recently I broke that promise to check out Vibrant Parish Life. In the group meeting I discovered again how splintered the Body of Christ has become. It was not an efficacious discovery. The Church is first and foremost about the sacraments, and Eucharist is the primary sacrament. If that becomes unavailable--and I consider it unavailable in a priestless parish no matter what is passed out on a Sunday morning--church will have lost any meaning. We need priests. We desperately need priests. And I pray that God will grant us some.


Time for my 2 cents worth: It is Church teaching that: 1) We are obligated to participate in the Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. 2) A communion service, however reverent, however well-intentioned, is not a substitute for the Mass and does not meet our obligation. 3) If we are truly unable to attend Mass for some serious reason, we are dispensed from our obligation.

If circumstances were such that we were truly unable to attend Mass, it would not be a bad thing to go to a communion service. (I am not going to go into the various arguments over the potential of advancing any sorts of agendas, etc.) However, if it was possible for us to get to Mass, that is what we are obligated to do, even if it means driving to another parish than our usual one. If the circumstances are such that a parish routinely is unable to offer a Mass and there are other parishes reasonably nearby that do, then the obligation to attend Mass outweighs the desire to hold a parish together through the routine use of a communion service.

Neil Dhingra

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for your response. Perhaps you are right when you say, "The church you describe--the church the Holy Father describes--is the ideal church." After all, some would say that the Holy Father also describes "ideal sex". But I thought that we weren't those people.

I hope that you don't mind if I ask you a very blunt question: What would be wrong, in your opinion, with arranging to receive the Eucharist in the mail to avoid the dangers of our "severely splintered" Body of Christ? It could be sent by an eminently trustworthy priest (if you concede that such a creature hypothetically exists) who would be careful to ship it in a monstrance. One could then take communion in her living room after studying the right sort of Bible commentary and reading a patristic hymn, with Gregorian chant in the stereo.

This wouldn't be terribly hard to arrange. And perhaps it would be the perfect Catholicism - sacraments, which are unquestionable, without people, who always tend to muddy things up.

Would anything, theologically speaking, be wrong with communion by mail?

Thank you again - I hope you don't mind me being somewhat playful. But I am serious.



I don't think that anyone intended slander of your aunt or of the many truly devoted laymen and religious who are doing the best that they can in a difficult situation.

That said, there are in fact, a surprising number of radical feminist nuns out there who "celebrate" their own liturgies, including "consecrating" their own "eucharist." They do have an agenda that they are promoting and that would be the destruction of the priesthood and the Church as we know them. I think that it was concerns over being involved in something of that nature that motivated the comments that disturbed you. If you'd like to do a bit of reading on the subject, I'd suggest starting out with Donna Steichen's Ungodly Rage. It's a real eye-opener.


Communion in the mail... Excuse me a moment while I get over the laughter.

The problems with it:

1. We are not permitted to self-communicate.

2. We do not put the Body of Christ into profane objects (envelopes, cheap monstrances)

3. Profane hands would touch the vessel (envelope) (think of the priest holding the monstrance with that special scarf I can't remember the name of at the moment)

4. It could be lost in the mail

5. It could be damaged in the mail

6. There is still no guarantee it has been properly consecrated. We know it has been properly consecrated when we are present for the consecration. Anything else must be taken on faith, and faith in our bishops particularly and in many cases in our priests has been severely compromised by the sexual abuse scandal. Communion in the mail would have an origin that is as questionable as Hosts consecrated at a Mass we haven't attended.

Neil Dhingra

Dear Carrie,

Surely with a little bit of imagination, these difficulties can be surmounted. After all, the other options might be travelling a great distance or subjecting oneself to Pastor Eveline, who (according to the above) is probably a secret gnostic, hippie, and liberal agitator who actually likes 'On Eagle's Wings.'

1. Yes, unless you are the priest. But surely you could find one good Catholic to give you communion, after he successfully completed the relevant questionnaire and passed the polygraph (do you live near Rod?). And, if not, I suspect that one can self-communicate in times of persecution (e.g., lousy music and bad homilies). After all, St Basil (Ep 93):

"It is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take the communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offence, as long custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves. All the solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, take the communion themselves, keeping communion at home. And at Alexandria and in Egypt, each one of the laity, for the most part, keeps the communion, at his own house, and participates in it when he likes. For when once the priest has completed the offering, and given it, the recipient, participating in it each time as entire, is bound to believe that he properly takes and receives it from the giver."

2-3. You could use a suitably expensive monstrance and place layers of cloth between the host and envelope. I think that most concerns about profanation have to do with misusing the Eucharist, and as long as your envelope does not manifest disrespect, the Church would understand. Canon 935 says, "It is not lawful for anyone to keep the blessed Eucharist in personal custody or to carry it around, unless there is an urgent pastoral need and the prescriptions of the diocesan Bishop are observed." We've already defined this as a time of "urgent pastoral need," and the Canon does not give specific norms on how one is to "carry it around." Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

4-5. Special courier services?

6. You could arrange to be mailed the Eucharist from a priest who has impeccable credentials and proper references. One can argue that your knowledge of this priest's identity gives more assurance of consecration than hearing an anonymous person say Mass. I refer you to:


So, what if these difficulties are surmountable with effort? Is there any INTRINSIC theological reason against distributing communion by mail?

Thank you.


Rod Dreher

I'm really grateful for this discussion. It has spurred some challenging discussion between my wife Julie and me. Last night after I posted to Neil, I talked to Julie about this thread. She said, "That Neil is right, you know." Tell me more, I said -- and off we went.

Julie, I should say, is fairly active in a homeschooling group in our parish, and is doing fine. She was citing that experience last night, and saying that there is grace, fellowship and support in that (it helps that these moms are all pretty much on the same page theologically). Julie was so thankful to move to Dallas and find a parish where there were like-minded young mothers to know and to do things with. She found that loss of fellowship (which she had before she knew me, when she was a Protestant) to be her greatest hardship as a Catholic. She feels today that she has the basics taken care of; it would be nice if the priest were the second coming of the Cure of Ars, but he's not the main deal for her at the parish.

I told Julie last night that with the exception of the three years we spent as part of a Maronite parish in Brooklyn, I've only ever gone to mass because that's where I can receive the Host, and because I'm supposed to on Sunday. The Novus Ordo liturgy leaves me cold (except when Fr. Paul Weinberger celebrates it -- man, what that holy priest does with the Novus Ordo in Latin puts away forever the idea that that rite cannot be anything but flat and dull). The homilies are almost always going to be content-free and boring. And I don't feel that I have much in common with my fellow parishioners. If not for the Host and the Sunday obligation, it would be very hard for me to find a reason to be part of a parish, I told her.

"You're thinking like a Protestant," she said, then went on about how there is grace present whenever two or three are gathered in His name. She said that there is also value in going to the same place to pray. "Remember how you told me when I became Catholic that just going through the body motions -- genuflecting, kneeling at the right times, and all that -- would be a wordless catechism? You were right, and I think the same thing is true about going to a particular church to pray, even if, God forbid, the Eucharist wasn't there. There would still be people there gathered to worship Christ, and that's not nothing."

She went on to explain how her approach to the parish is practical. She's not waiting for it to become perfect before she gets in and gets her hands dirty and tries to make it a little bit better. "If the people who really believe this stuff sit back and do nothing, how's it ever going to change?" she said, and it's hard for me to deny her point. Then she said, "You don't really know for sure what's available at the parish because you've never made a real effort to find out. Your Catholicism is all in your head at this point. There needs to be some boots on the ground action somewhere." Again, it's hard for me to deny her point.

Rod Dreher

I was mulling over all this this morning while we were at some function for our little boy. After it was over, Julie and I started talking to another mom who was there with her small son. Turns out this woman is Catholic too, and had lived in NYC for a while. We laughed talking about how nice it is to live in a place now where you can be a lot more open about your Christian faith without feeling as if you had to apologize for it. Then she and Julie started talking about how they're both active in mother's groups at their respective parishes. This mom was saying how much sustenance she gets from the parish group, and Julie was agreeing. "[The priest] is pretty aloof from everybody," she said -- then went on to talk about him as if he were almost peripheral to the point of the parish. A light went on in my head: maybe these women look for something significantly different in parish life, and that's why they're so satisfied.

On the way home, I brought this up with Julie, and told her that Lee Podles' book about the feminization of the Church had really struck a chord with me. If I'm recalling it correctly, Lee observed that in the West, men are not drawn to parish life, and have not been for a very, very long time. It's not a recent phenomenon. I need to revisit the book, but I seem to recall him saying that men need to see that church is not feminizing; men like and expect doctrine, and a challenge (Frederica Mathewes-Green says this is one reason why men, as potential converts, respond more readily to Eastern Orthodoxy than do women). If this is true -- and I think it is, at least for me -- then all this talk about "community," and this fear of teaching and proclaiming doctrine, all smacks of emasculation. I told Julie that with the exception of our time with the Maronites, I've never been part of a parish in which I've had much faith in the pastor as a leader. They're usually feminized men (that's not to say they're homosexuals, please be clear), and while I'm certainly not Iron John, they do strike me as fellows who are, shall we say, in touch with the softer side of Sears. I'm not judging their souls, please understand; I'm just explaining why I've had a tough time relating to parish life. I hadn't quite thought until this thread started how much the style of pastoral leadership in a parish affects my feelings about it. At the Maronite parish in Brooklyn, I knew it was a strong and safe harbor because Monsignor Sadek and Fr. Marini are solid men. It's like in "Master & Commander," when Capt. Aubrey is trying to impart a lesson in leadership to the weak lieutenant: he says that men crave leadership, but they will not be led by a man they do not respect; that is, one whose leadership they have little or no faith in.

But I've gone on too long. What do the rest of you think? I'm really grateful for this thread.


You know, distributing communion by mail is a whole lot more similar to receiving from "Pastor" Eveline than it is to receiving communion at Mass. When there is doubt as to the validity of the Eucharist, one should refrain from receiving it. I know that I (and I suspect Carrie, as well) would rather drive for hours to attend a reverently celebrated Mass than go to the communion service just down the street, particularly since the Mass meets my Sunday obligation and the communion service does not.

The real point is that no one here is denying that the communal celebration of the Mass is important and that the communal aspect of it is real. What they are asserting, however, is that the fact that it is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass far outweighs the gathering of the community. Nothing can possibly compare to the Mass. That is the whole issue. I wonder if someone who doesn't see much difference between the two doesn't really understand what the Mass is.

Neil said, "there is also something undesirable about a Eucharist without a community. This presumably would be the case if we expected people to travel great distances for the Eucharist at what would then not be coherent parishes but rather distribution centers."

I have been to Mass at a parish where many if not most of the parishioners are not locals and who drive considerable distances (sometimes 2-3 hours one way) to get to Mass on Sunday. The sense of community there was GREATER than at my local parish (and most parishes I've been to), I believe partly because those people knew why they were there. They didn't just come, line up for communion, and leave, and the parents don't drop their kids off for CCD during sacramental prep years while never going to Mass themselves. They did the same sorts of things together that any ordinary parish does. It is a thriving parish in every sense of the word, even though it does not have the sorts of physical boundaries many people associate with a parish. (If Franklin Jennings is out there, perhaps he will comment, since it is his parish.)


I think that you're on to something there with the different approaches that men and women take to parish life. Women are by nature much more community-oriented than men.

And quite frankly, I tend to see your wife as "thinking like a Protestant" by the emphasis that she's placing on the "where two or three are gathered." Not to negate that, but that's what I tend to hear from Protestants who don't understand the Eucharist and can't see that it's any different from the Presence of Christ in the community. But the fact is, that it is just not the same.

Rod Dreher

To be fair to my wife, Stacey, she wasn't saying that the community is a substitute for the Eucharist; she was only trying to show me why I err in saying that without the Eucharist, there's no point in getting together. As meager as a mass-less gathering of the Catholic faithful would be, it's still something -- that was her point, and I concede it. I don't know if that "something" is enough to get me to go to it, though, unless I was under pain of mortal sin.

Neil's characterization of a certain way of seeing one's parish -- as a Eucharistic "distribution center" -- is a good one, and a painful one for me, because that's exactly how I see my relationship to my parish, and to most parishes I've ever belonged to. I don't feel right about that.

Steve Cavanaugh

I disagree that Rod's wife Julie is thinking like a Protestant by noting that Christ says "where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them". Is that presence as great as the Real Presence in the Eucharist? No, of course not. But must we always make the best the enemy of the good?

Do the monks who gather for the divine office not experience the presence of Christ? Would any monastic think that since communion isn't given out, choir could be abandoned at Matins or Lauds or Vespers, and the office read in his cell since the Real Presence isn't being given out? For that matter, should a person who cannot communicate because of some unconfessed sin not go to Mass since they won't be receiving communion? Of course not.

Certainly we shouldn't be so wedded to our parish church that we can't drive to the next church for Mass if Mass isn't available at our church. I've often done this because of work schedules, etc. But even though my parish isn't the ideal parish in terms of music, preaching, etc., I still stay as involved as possible in the parish because I love these people. My question to those who would drop their own parish so quickly is: don't you love your fellow parishioners? Can you really claim to love your fellowman if you don't care enough for your neighbor to help restore reverence in the celebration of Mass, or if Mass is unavailable, to organize a reverent liturgy of the hours or introduce an orthodox bible study to help maintain the faith? Will you give up so quickly?

The kernel of the liturgical movement for the past couple of hundred years was that we needed to see that the public prayer of the Church is not just about "Jesus and me". From the many comments I read here and elsewhere, people don't get it yet, liberal or conservative. I am not the Bride of Christ...the Church is, and I need to not neglect the assembly if I am to live as part of that Bride and take part in the nuptial banquet.

Rod Dreher

I wonder to what extent the mobility of people these days keeps lots of us from establishing a connection to our parishes. In my hometown, a small town in Louisiana, there's only one Catholic parish, and most people have been there forever. You know your fellow parishioners. Since I became a Catholic in 1993, I've lived within five parishes, all of them in urban settings. It's so hard to get to know people, especially when parishes are as unwelcoming as most Catholic parishes tend to be.

Something else just occurred to me, re: the psychology of masculinity and the parish. It seems to me that men are driven by the need to do something more than the need to be something. One gets the feeling in most parishes these days that there's no sense of purpose or mission there. We come together on Sunday because ... we come together on Sunday. There is no real teaching, or leadership, or direction in the Church because the pastor, and perhaps many in the congregation, don't know where we're going, or if we're supposed to be going anywhere. We don't know what we stand for, and the priest isn't going to tell us because maybe he doesn't believe it himself, and/or maybe he doesn't want to upset anybody and divide the parish. So we sit around listening to homilies that at best are pep talks, often filled with self-flattering references to "community," as if community were an end, not a means to an end (holiness through submission to Christ). And we sing crap hymns that sentimentalize ourselves and Our Lord, and stir no souls. We leave mass feeling ... what, exactly? Evangelistic? Refreshed, renewed, restored? On fire for Christ? Penitent, and resolved to amend our lives? Or just vaguely more spiritual than we did when we walked in the door, and perhaps relieved to get that over with?

In my case, I'm so overwhelmed by the scandal that I feel as if I can hardly get on my feet. Despite the fine example of several dear priest friends, I feel that the Church is led by feminized men, many of whom are homosexual, who, were it not for the law of my faith, I wouldn't follow down the block to pick up a gallon of milk, much less to martyrdom, if that's what God requires of me. I believe many, and perhaps most, of our bishops and priests don't much care for Jesus. I really do. I wish I had reason to feel otherwise. I simply have no confidence in the institutional Church anymore. Only in Christ, and His promise that this Church, this decadent, faithless Church, would not fail, not everywhere.

How's that for a happy sentiment during Advent? Damn, I need a drink. ;-)


"To be fair to my wife, Stacey, she wasn't saying that the community is a substitute for the Eucharist; she was only trying to show me why I err in saying that without the Eucharist, there's no point in getting together. As meager as a mass-less gathering of the Catholic faithful would be, it's still something -- that was her point, and I concede it."

That's fair. Neil's point to me had seemed that it was more important to keep the community together than to get to Mass, and that seems wrong-headed. But perhaps I've misunderstood.

I wasn't trying to make the best the enemy of the good. I was just trying to point out that some people don't see the difference between the two. As to "dropping ones parish," well, I have some sort of experience in this area. I will start off by saying that I have not "dropped my parish." And I do sincerely love my fellow parishioners. In fact, I love them enough to have fought very hard to have heretical materials removed from the literature table at the back of the church and replaced with orthodox ones. I fought to have the faithless CCD program replaced. I taught RCIA, which also served as an adult ed course as well. And more.

And then we got a new pastor. Since his arrival, most of the changes that I (along with some of my fellow parishioners) worked for have been reversed, including all the ones mentioned above. He replaced me as the RCIA director/instructor because I refused to use materials that undermine the Faith (I wanted to use the CCC and the Bible). He has gradually marginalized everyone in the parish whom he knows to be orthodox in their faith. I continue to pray for him and for the parish. I do what I can, knowing that if anyone were to mention that they got advice from me or that they agreed with me, he would probably fire them, too. (It's already happened.) Some people tried to have an orthodox Bible study (funded by them and not by the parish, held at someone's home) and he refused to allow it to be announced in the bulletin (and definitely not at Mass) because he felt that those who were doing it had "hostile intent" and "an agenda" by the mere fact that Scott Hahn was the author of the study.

I used to attend Mass daily with my children (we homeschool) but now do not attend as frequently because I feel that it is harmful to my children to hear him teach lies during his homiles and to see and hear countless liturgical abuses, and that it is harmful for all of us for me to have to explain to them later all the ways in which Father was wrong today (since two of them are certainly old enough to understand).

I have talked directly with the pastor about all of it, as have other priests, to no avail. Beyond prayers and sacrifices and writing to the bishop, there is not much more that I or anyone else can do at this point. So I have not abandoned my parish, but it often feels as if it has abandoned me.

Dale Price


You're hitting a subject near and dear to my heart. I think you're on to something very significant here. My wife is far less wound up about problems with worship, etc, as a general rule (churches in the fading Diocese of Saginaw excepted--she's nearly as infuriated by them as I am). She's in the Mom's Club, on the Christian Service commission, and was an EME until we had to start policing a toddler and an infant. I think the easy/breezy approach appeals to her in the same way it works as spiritual tryptophan for me. There are limits to what she will take, though--her BS threshold is much lower these days, as her opinion of the one example of liturgical dance we suffered through demonstrates. It is...laced with colorful adjectives.

And it's not that I'm uninvolved--I started and lead the parish bible study and am on the much put-upon Education Commission.

But the thing I've noticed is that I'm a conspicuous exception--at 34, I'm by far the youngest man on a parish commission. Overall, the parish ratio on Sundays is about 60%-40% female-male. I see literally a half-dozen men under forty, and all of them either (1) married or (2) divorced and shepherding their kids.

I think the core of it is liturgical: the way Mass ("Eucharistic Celebration") is offered at your typical American Catholic parish has nothing to say to men. Canadian traditionalist Mark Cameron has a good link to a comment by Cardinal Heenan predicting that the Mass of 1970 would send the guys stampeding for the exits.


I'm not saying a wholesale return to Tridentine Masses will solve the problem, but retrieving those elements that speak to men (likely the same that appeal to Eastern Orthodox men) would be a nice start. Better, serious and challenging preaching is critical. That clearly works for men, too. That explains why you see a lot of committed evangelical men in the 20-45 age range, but a much tinier number of Catholics. I suspect there are other reasons, but if men find Mass pointless, tedious and geared to women, they'll end up elsewhere. Even if it's just the living room for the Patriots-Dolphins game.

Charlotte Allen

Gee, I feel so lucky to live in Washington, D.C. My parish church, very beautiful 19th C. Gothic, was wrecked after Vatican II, but not too much. The music is awful, but too awful (a spectacular organ that isn't played enough). The sermons--well, just mediocre, not unorthodox, and sometimes, actually good (we're staffed by local Dominicans, so we have rotating preachers). The new pastor likes to be called by his first name (not bad per se, but carrying a lot of bad baggage), and at first he tended to say Mass as though it was a pep rally ("I can't heeeer you!" if we didn't say the "Amens" loud enough), but he cut it out after (I imagine) some parishioners complained, and he's made some small decorative changes at the altar that actually look nice (we're a deficit parish, and we can't afford much). So I can't complain. The priests wear their vestments the way they should, and the layfolk kneel when they should. I'm not very involved in parish life (too busy right now), but someday I hope to be. I don't expect a lot, and here and there, I see some young families (not many--we're in the heart of the city, with perfectly awful public schools)that give me hope. The eucharist, confessions, gorgeous stained-glass windows, a haven that's open on weekdays where the sanctuary light burns, if only at a side altar--that's fine. And since I'm in Washington, if I want beautiful music, or an Eastern rite, or the Tridentine Mass in Latin, all those things are just a short drive away. But I know that so many of you aren't as lucky as I. I'd just go crazy if the pastor dumped the kneelers or watered down the CCD classes (which we don't have, because there are so few kids in the parish). But I think that things will ultimately change for the better; the new crop of priests are really fervent.

Neil Dhingra

Look, if we are going to be able to seriously discuss these matters, we can't separate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist from the presence of Christ in the Church, much less see them as opposing forces that need to be precariously balanced. Because the Real Presence of Christ is beyond the capacity of any normal human community to represent, it creates a new sort of community altogether. "As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed, is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and, in the sacrament of the eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ is both expressed and brought about" (Lumen Gentium 3). Because the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a Real Presence, this new sort of community, the "one body in Christ" that is expressed and brought about through the consumption of the body and blood, is a very real union between the Head and Members. Because the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a Real Presence, we can say with the Orthodox bishop John Zizoulas, "Christ Himself becomes revealed as truth not in a community, but as a community." Talking about the Eucharist doesn't devalue community. And vice versa.

A Eucharist that doesn't have a "unifying power" - that doesn't result in some sort of communal life - will be completely valid, but will be somewhat frustrated, incomplete in a different sense. The expression of this "unifying power" can take many forms and parishes can certainly include many people who drive from considerable distances, but Catholic communities simply must be more than a collection of moments or the fortuitous convergences of disparate individuals. What may hold a priestless parish together are the traces of previous Eucharists, embodied in a distinct and irreplaceable communal life that exists even in painful 'hunger.'

Rod is probably right that often our expressions of communal life seem effeminate. But the answer isn't an abandonment of communal life for a comparatively abstract church. If we look at, say, the Promise Keepers, we see an emphasis on masculine virtues and a masculine Christ that structures a deep relational life: both small groups where men share their spiritual vulnerabilities and faith partnerships. Can we make space within our parishes for small groups and faith partnerships based on masculine piety and doctrinal challenge? Cardinal Murphy O'Connor of Westminster has tried to do something like this:


Thank you very much.


Henry Dieterich

This is a fascinating discussion. I would like to respond to many posts on diverse topics, but I will spare you much of it.

1. I plan to post to my own blog some comments on Mrs. Tomko's opinions on the charismatic renewal, which I think I know a little about, having been involved for 33 years.

2. A few months ago, I went to the Saturday evening vigil Mass in our parish, and the priest didn't show up. The pastor was out of town, and we were supposed to have a visitor. We proceeded with a Communion service (Liturgy of the Word + Communion) led by a layman (none of the deacons was there either). We were informed that we had satisfied our obligation. I went to Mass Sunday morning anyway.

3. There are certainly mission areas where Mass cannot be celebrated every week, which is unfortunate, but it has always been the case. The Mass is more than either a gathering for prayer or receiving Communion. It is a participation in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and therefore has a value even if you don't understand it, or they have lousy music, or you don't receive Communion. (I have been to parishes where I was so disedified by the antics of the priest that I did not receive, not because I thought it invalid, but because I was out of charity; but the benefit of the Mass was still there.)

4. "Thinking like a Protestant"--in some ways, there is something to be said for an approach which sees a local parish as a group of people that have deliberately come together rather than what one writer called a "sacramental service station." I discussed this several months ago on my own site; if you want, you can read it here: The Church as a Membership Organization. Maybe when persecution starts in earnest, we will see the Church recover its fervor by losing those who are Catholics in name only.

5. Eastern Orthodoxy. That's where I'd go if things got as bad as some of the commenters here are speculating. The Orthodox have valid sacraments and orders, and I believe that it is licit for Catholics and Orthodox to receive in one another's churches if there is no possibility of receiving in their own (like because there isn't one anywhere nearby).

Rod Dreher

Stacey wrote earlier that she's not going to mass nearly as often because it's becoming too hard to deal with explaining to the children why Father taught heresy today, or was wrong in this or that. Man, does that ring true for me. We don't have that problem at our current parish, but the reason we worshiped with the Maronite Rite Catholics in Brooklyn was because of that same problem in the Roman rite churches within walking distance of our house. Julie and I were really worried about what we were going to do when our son got older. We knew that the Maronite Rite could not be a permanent solution for us, inasmuch as we're Roman Rite, and because the CCD program at the parish was heavily weighted toward Lebanese culture (which was great to learn about, but we're not Lebanese, and though everyone could hardly have been friendlier to us, it was just not our thing). We were very, very worried about having to find a Roman parish to be part of in which we didn't have to tear down the authority of the priest by, week in and week out, having to teach our son that Father is not to be believed. We could have done it in New York by going into a couple of Manhattan parishes that come to mind, but what if we lived in a more rural place? Catholics who don't have much choice because of their geography are in a real bind.

It shouldn't be this way. The Catholic Church teaches what it teaches. I became a Catholic because I came to believe that what the Catholic Church teaches is true. Why do the bishops and so many priests have to make following Jesus in His Church so difficult? Why do they make raising authentically Catholic children so hard? Why do so damn few of these bishops seem to care? They didn't care that children were being raped by some of their priests, and they don't care that children in so many parishes are being deprived of a chance to flourish in the faith in their local parishes. I really fear that we're close to "every family for themselves" time in Catholicism.

Rod Dreher

Oh, and I don't understand Neil's claim that one's parish is "more real" than one's friendships. No it's not, not in any way that makes sense to me. Please explain.


Neil, there is a much better way of getting Communion into the hands of the faithful when priests become unavailable. On every fifth Sunday a Mass will be said in a large auditorium...perhaps the local high school would cooperate. All of the parishioners would then be able to attend the Mass. At that Mass a very large quantity of Hosts will be consecrated. When Mass is over they will be distributed to each person present. They can then be taken home and consumed at whatever time the communicant wishes to receive. All that would be necessary is a doggy...ummm...body ba....ahhh specially designed pix which will hold several Hosts at one time or perhaps a large Host that can be broken and consumed as prayer dictates. Pixes would be reusable. Sunday services in the parish church will be optional for those who wish to participate, just like the Protestants do it. Those who prefer to pray in the silence of their own home may then do so as well. (Matt. 6:6) Think of the postage this would save!

Of course this will not solve the problem any better than parcel post solves it, that Consecrated Hosts can be used for blasphemous purposes. Someone might even be able to find a black market for them considering the growth in occult practices in the U.S.

Regarding an anonymous priest saying Mass, now that nearly all of the prayers are said into a microphone, it would be obvious if the words of Consecration were fudged. At the very least, we would know that the Hosts we took home would be the ones on the altar during Consecration and not the ones that came in the mail from the convent on Saturday and got frozen until needed.

As for intrinsic theological reasons, I'm sure you plan to cite material from Vatican II, which I'm sure is in the documents. But at the time of Vatican II most parishes of any size in the U.S. had at least 2 priests and possibly 3 or 4. So the times have changed. Had they not changed, this entire discussion would be moot. We are not dealing with an ideal situation here. We are dealing with a situation of necessity. If four Sundays out of five are non-Mass Sundays, the significance of Mass will be diminished. And as someone has already pointed out, if preaching is all we get, we will probably drift over to the Protestant churches where the preaching is frequently much more polished than that in the Catholic Church.



"[The priest] is pretty aloof from everybody," she said -- then went on to talk about him as if he were almost peripheral to the point of the parish. A light went on in my head: maybe these women look for something significantly different in parish life, and that's why they're so satisfied.

You have just described what I discovered, much to my shock, at the Vibrant Parish Life meeting in my parish. There was a lot of talk about social programs...about helping the poor, about getting a youth group off the ground, etc. The whole focus was centered in this thinking. The potential absence of a priest was insignificant to everyone in my small group except me. I think I was the oldest person at the table or close to it. Several were too young to have known Roman Catholicism prior to the Council. It seemed that they belonged to a different faith from the faith that I hold dear. Which means that I have nothing in common with most of these people. Faith for me is not about my fellow man. Faith for me is about God. Mass and church are about the First Commandment. I find St. Blogs Parish a much more congenial environment for friendships than I have ever found my parish church since Vatican II.

For a number of years in my former parish I was quite involved--was even a member of a mother's group. Yes, there were friendships as a result of that. But those friendships had nothing to do with Mass because Mass is about God and about Sacrament while those friendships were about everyday earthly concerns. Maybe the fact that we all shared a religion helped them to form. But the experience of being that involved in that parish was almost enough to make me turn Jewish (yes, I really did consider it seriously). Once again it was the disconnect between my pre-Vatican II Catholicism and what most of the people I met there were about. I was too young to get to know the seniors very well. The one or two I did get to know were people with whom I was much more comfortable. Again, possibly a reflection of the disconnect between pre and post Vatican II Catholicism.

As for the feminization of the Church, I heartily agree with Leon Podles and liked his article about it. My husband has given up on Church. He attends Mass when our daughter is home for a visit, and maybe once every month or two he goes, but for the most part he is a non-practicing Catholic. Once there is no priest and no Mass, I doubt he will ever step foot inside the door again. He does take time to read every day from a little book called "Our Daily Bread" mailed out by some Evangelical church. Religion is not a welcome topic of conversation in my home.


You know, I have the nagging sense that our parishes will be revitalized if or when we find ourselves persecuted. Imagine what just one serious credible bomb threat during Sunday Mass would do to your own parish. It's really not all that unrealistic considering what is happening in Middle Eastern countries.

If there was a serious threat, and the women refused to keep the kids at home on Sunday morning, I think we could count on the men being there with them. And if there were such a threat, I think the women would demand their men be there to help protect the kids.

Having read of persecution in other parts of the world over many months, I frequently think about it while I'm at Mass and try to imagine how I would feel if it were not safe to be there. Try it some time. It can make you really appreciate what you've got!



I've been where you are in a parish where the pastor is heterodox. I tried to change it just as you recount trying to change it, and I ran into the blank wall or the "Superforce" perhaps, as Malachi Martin would call it. It is terribly destructive to personal faith. If you can find an orthodox parish somewhere within reasonable driving distance, get out while you still believe! I drive right past my former parish on my way to Mass every Sunday and don't regret it one bit.

Neil Dhingra

Dear Rod,

Very quickly, my statement that "one's parish is 'more real' than one's friendships" goes something like this. How do we conceive of friendship? Here's CS Lewis: "Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'"

How do we conceive of a parish? We can turn to 1 Cor 10: "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." The reality of a parish comes from a shared participation in the reality of Christ. If we do not think that this participation has a magnetism that even our deepest interests lack, we perhaps are already sliding to an implicit Zwinglianism in which the Eucharist simply confirms our subjective desires.

I suspect that even if someone doesn't like his parish very much, this isn't all that improbable. I mean, it would be a strange coterie that demands tithes.



Rod's and Carrie's comments -- to the effect that "Faith for me is not about my fellow man" -- surprise and depress me. Maybe I'm still suffering from a Protestant hangover, but no one ever told me when I joined the Catholic Church that Catholicism had tossed out St. Paul's teaching that "we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Romans 12:4-5.)

Of course the Eucharist is the center of our Catholic faith, and I'd be the first to tell you that parish life today is far from what it should be. But I can't understand how one can just throw parish life aside so dismissively and still call oneself a faithful Catholic. Even if we find our parish entirely unenriching, don't we have an obligation to work to make it enriching and to evangelize and guide our fellow Catholics back to truer faith? The comments I see here are, I fear, perilously close to the "noisy gong" and "clanging symbol" that St. Paul describes in 1st Corinthians. Where is the love we must have for our fellow Catholics? "[I]f I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

Rod Dreher

No, Neil. My Catholic friends and I all affirm the Catholic faith in its fullness. We are united by more than the fact that we might show up at church on Sunday morning and participate in the liturgy together. We are united in belief as well. I cannot say that I'm united in belief with my fellow parishioners. What kind of unity is present when a fellow parishioner denies the Real Presence? It is a false unity, I believe.


It is certainly true that the Eucharist is what draws us together as a community. No argument there. But if someone does not discern that that is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord that they receive, and/or if they are living in a state of mortal sin (see 1 Cor 11:27-30), receiving the Eucharist is not going to bring them into a stronger relationship with the Body of Christ that is the Church, whether we consider that relationship at a local or universal level. I think that has got to be at the root of the problems with parish life.

And yes, Cornelius, we have to love them enough to share the truth with them. We have to do what we can to make our parishes better. But what do we do when we are not permitted to do that?



Do you limit your responsibility to love others to only those who attend your church?

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to apply Christ's second commandment exclusively to parishioners. Christ didn't establish the diocesan structure. Man did. If your faith is bound up in parish life, what will happen to it when the parish no longer exists? It is our faith in God, and yes, our experience of expressing that faith on Sunday morning in God's presence, that makes it possible to fulfill the requirements of the second commandment of love.

But I can fulfill that second commandment just as well here on the web, out in the backyard talking to a neighbor who is not Catholic, at the checkout in the grocery store, etc. It is the grace from the Sacraments that makes it possible to love others in a Christlike way. It is supposed to make us different. I get no grace by interacting with other parishioners, especially when those parishioners do not seem to hold the same faith I hold while at the same time we are pretending to worship in communion. God is the ONLY souce of sanctifying and actual grace. The way I treat my fellow man is not my faith, it's the result of my faith. Faith--belief--is in Someone transcendent.

When it comes to the Sacraments, there is no giving, there is only getting. And Christ, Himself, is the gift we are getting. If we aren't careful, we can begin to believe that the Sacraments are our gifts to each other. We shouldn't cheapen them by constantly bringing our fellow parishioners into the picture. There is a place for God alone during a 7-day week. I should think that no one would have a problem with devoting an hour a week exclusively to God, but whenever I suggest that people disagree.

But then I seem to have a different notion of faith than those who are grounded solely in the post Vatican II Church. And that really is my point. We are a Church divided, and the division is in our very midst.

Neil Dhingra

Just a quick note: To the best of my knowledge, most of our fellow parishioners do believe in the Real Presence. A 1994 New York Times/CBS poll did report that roughly two-thirds of Catholics believed in a "symbolic" Eucharist, but the poll was quite possibly flawed.

The Purdue sociologist James Davidson wrote, "The 1994 New York Times/CBS News poll may have been misleading. While it offered a choice between two views of Eucharist (one, that the bread and wine are actually changed into the body and blood of Christ; the other, that the bread and wine are symbolic reminders of Christ), the descriptions may have confused some respondents. Thus in a letter to the Times (June 18, 1994), (Catholic University of America) theologian Peter Casarella expressed concerns about the survey's wording. In his view, some respondents might have shied away from the first response category, thinking it meant 'the form of the material elements is transformed into the physical body of Christ' (which the church does not claim). Instead, they might have taken the second option, believing that 'real symbolic presence and the memorial meal are standard features of traditional Catholic theology.' In my view, the two options also might have put an undetermined number of respondents in the uncomfortable position of choosing between two categories, both of which they agreed with. They might have preferred a third option: that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ both really and symbolically (which is consistent with Catholic theology)."

A 1997 study by Dean Hoge, et al, of 20 to 39 year old Catholic confirmands published as Young Adult Catholics (2001) found that 96% of Hispanics and 87% of non-Hispanics believe that in the Mass the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Those numbers were confirmed by Davidson and the Roper Center in other studies; I am not aware of any more recent study that has confirmed the 1994 New York Times/CBS poll's poor results.

Obviously, the numbers aren't good enough. But the sky might not be falling.


Dale Price

"Why did the Pope place such emphasis on the Real Presence and eucharistic adoration? For an indication, one might consider the situation in the United States, where the 1992 Gallup poll reported that only 42 per cent of those attending Mass each Sunday hold orthodox views on the Real Presence. In 1994 the New York Times survey, under its religion correspondent Peter Steinfels, showed that “almost two-thirds” of Catholics did not believe that the elements were really changed into the body and blood of Christ. In 2001 the United States bishops responded with a statement on the Real Presence. Reviewing the above sociological studies and seven others, the sociologist David Davidson, writing in Commonweal for 12 October 2001, came to the conclusion that while the majority of Catholics still believe in the Real Presence, there has been some decline. This may account for the Pope’s stance."



Even if distributing Holy Communion by mail were justified -- perhaps It will have to be air-dropped into remote places -- receiving It doesn't fulfill the Sunday obligation to "assist at" the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


God bless the Van Damm family. But we need to take heart; it is from such little platoons that the Faith will again take root in Europe. The whole history of Christianity is one of continents being won to the Faith by the courage, zeal, fidelity and love of a small band-- all the way back to the Twelve. We also need to remember that our priests need not come from our home town. When was I was an Army officer in Germany, I was assigned to a depot too small for an Army chaplain. We had Mass every Sunday from an Australian, a Kenyan, and a Nigerian. Europe is mission territory again; whether the United States becomes mission territory again is as yet unclear. But we have it on the highest authority that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. I doubt faddish liturgies and a battalion of Pastor Evelines will do much damage, if we persevere.


Peace, all.

I struggle to recall anything in the New Testament about the need for uniformity of thought for Catholic community to work. It's really no mystery if Rod Dreher and 999 others who think just like him go to church together and enjoy it. They've replaced the Church with a social club. A sacramental experience, no doubt, but a social club nonetheless.

On the other hand, it is a real mystery (if not a miracle) that Rod and I (for example) can be devoted Catholics in the same community, worshipping at the same time (if not in the same building) each Sunday. I have no problem with that, silly as I might consider some of his views.

Like Neil, I don't put much credence in faulty polls. And even if it were true, it is still irrelevant. Sacramental acts do not depend on the believers; they depend on the grace of God.

And for the record, the first post way up there suggested this is what liturgists want the liturgy to look like. Wrong. A sacramental priesthood is vital. This tableau is little different (except for more structured ritual) from families saying a Rosary on the Sundays the circuit-rider priest didn't come.

Faith and the sacraments will persist because they depend on God, not us.

Rod Dreher

Let me be more clear about what I believe: I do not believe, as Cornelius alleges, that "Faith for me is not about my fellow man." Catholic Christianity is incarnational, and we know plainly from Scripture that faith without works is dead. Yet it's an oversimplification to say that if one is alienated from one's parish in large part because of doctrinal matters, then one is guilty of discarding one's fellow man. I don't want to be in a situation in which I stand apart from parish life. I know it's unhealthy, and unsustainable. I don't recommend it.

But listen, if I'd have made my family part of the parish where we were supposed to go during our last three years in NYC, particularly after the scandal broke, I would have risked being driven by despair out of the Catholic Church. The pastor at this parish is a loony old liberal showboater. He's the kind of loves to walk around the church with a wireless mike during his homily, stroking the hair of women in the congregation and the faces of babies. He teaches heterodoxy, and engages in all manner of liturgical silliness ("Don't wait for me to bless you; bless yourselves!" -- actual quote at the end of mass one day). There were times I was present at his masses in which I could not receive communion because I was so angry over what he had said in his homily. A friend of mine convinced her semi-atheist teenage son to go to confession to him. Son came home and said Father was cool. "I told him I had taken the Lord's name in vain," said the son, "and he said, 'Oh, who gives a damn?'" Etc.

It's ironic that Todd would say that those of us who insist on the importance of right belief as the basis for parish community are guilty of wanting to turn the parish into a "social club." That's exactly wrong. If you believe, as Todd seems to, that it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you show up, then what is that but a social club? What does heresy mean in that kind of ecclesiology? That ecclesiology makes it very comfortable for folks who would like to deny core Catholic doctrines and key social teachings, and think of themselves as good Catholics. I know lots of people like that, and I would not deny that they're often good people, or at least no worse than the rest of us, and maybe even better. But we fundamentally differ over what the Church is for. Orthodoxy (right belief) is non-negotiable, because it is the map by which a parish needs to navigate. I am united in some sense to everyone who professes Christ, be he Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox. But there's a reason Protestants and Orthodox go to their own churches on Sunday, and not to mine: we have fundamentally different theological convictions. It matters whether the Catholics are right, or the Baptists, or the Orthodox, etc. If a parish forgets that or deliberately discards it, then they will, in time, fall away. As Fr. Neuhaus has said -- and I paraphrase -- where orthodoxy is optional, it will over time be forbidden.

I don't wish to deny the difficulty, and even pain, of being an orthodox Catholic. There are aspects of Catholic teaching I struggle with. I still can't give a clear and satisfying (to me) explanation of Humanae Vitae. But I assent to it, both in what I believe and in what I do within my marriage, because I believe the Church has taught authoritatively on that matter. I'm sure like everybody else, I'll be struggling to understand and live out parts of what the Church teaches and requires of us for the rest of my days. The point is, though, that I recognize that there is a standard to which we are all called, and I submit to it. If we don't all agree at a basic level what we are all supposed to believe and do as Catholics, then what unity is there? If affirming the teachings of the catechism is optional in a parish, or otherwise not taken as central to the mission of the parish and Church, then what's the point? If I thought parish life was primarily about fellowship with other folks who more or less believe as I do, I wouldn't have left the Episcopal Church -- which in most cases is much more satisfying liturgically and in terms of fellowship than Catholicism.

Along those lines, I have some friends here in Dallas, converts of two or three years, who are in a lot of pain now. There is a terrific Anglican parish near their house, an evangelical-minded parish that's on fire for God, is as Biblically orthodox as you will find in that communion, and is where men, women and families are vigorously involved in the work and mission of the parish because they share a common view of what the mission of their church and parish should be. From what my friend tells me, that parish has everything they're looking for, certainly compared to the anemic Catholic parish to which they belong. Our friends have two kids, and they understand the importance of raising children in a community of orthodox believers. Yet they cannot participate in this Anglican parish, for obvious reasons: they are Catholic. How long will they remain Catholic, though, when their own father(s) in God give them stones, not bread, and they find that their family is spiritually starved -- starved for good teaching and fellowship with believers who take tradition seriously? If they left the Catholic Church, I would grieve for their choice, but I wouldn't blame them. Not really. Salvation is too important to risk for the sake of being a Sunday morning social club, in service of a superficial unity.

Rod Dreher

One more story: a dear friend of mine was deeply involved in her parish in a California diocese for years. The parish began to go New Age some years ago. She stayed to fight as long as she could, but found eventually that this is what the people wanted. The final straw was when the pastor took down the crucifix over the altar, and replaced it with a cross that had a hole in the crucible. Father explained, referencing Jungian psychology, that the hole represented a "birth canal" through which we would all be reborn. My friend knew then that these people were too far gone, and she got out. She now goes to mass at a tiny Eastern Rite mission, and suffers from the loss of authentic Catholic fellowship. She wrote me just this morning that she still feels the pain of that loss. But she cannot stay in a parish where Christ is denied in a thousand ways, just because that's where Catholics in her geographical parish are supposed to be on Sunday morning.

I say listen to Carrie Tomko on this. She knows firsthand what can happen if you place faith in the parish over faith in truth.


"Like Neil, I don't put much credence in faulty polls. And even if it were true, it is still irrelevant. Sacramental acts do not depend on the believers; they depend on the grace of God."

They certainly do depend upon the grace of God for their action, but God has revealed in His Word quite clearly that those who eat and drink without discerning the body of the Lord eat and drink judgement upon themselves. That's a pretty strong statement. In other words, if you don't believe that is really Jesus up there, it is not the Bread of Life for you, it is in fact the bread of death. That's hardly irrelevant. And those who are living in mortal sin but receive the Eucharist anyhow are, to use the words of Scripture, "guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord." That's not exactly irrelevant, either.


Peace, all.

Rod, I appreciate your thoughtful response. Clearly, you and I both have lensed our assessment of the Church largely through personal experience. I'd agree that your New York pastor sounds kind of loony.

The question: "What does heresy mean in that kind of ecclesiology?" is an interesting one. First, it has to really be a heresy. Some Catholics, as is often pointed out, have never had adequate catechesis. If that is the root of disbelief in real presence, it is a far different thing than heresy. A person has to comprehend the doctrine, then fully reject it for it to be heresy. I have no problem sharing a pew with a person who might be ignorant of Catholic teaching. My participation at Mass and in the parish does not depend on my assessment of their belief.

It has been sixteen years since I worshipped at a parish beyond my geographical location (though when you're a housesitting grad student bouncing all over town, it's hard to shift parishes every few weeks or months) but is this such a central part of Catholic discipline that it can't and shouldn't be abrogated for grave need? (And I might agree, Rod, that a priest like that might create that need in me.)

Like you, I find some Catholic teachings unfathomable. My list might be a bit longer. But like you, I don't stride around trumpeting my superior opinion. I really have no idea why women can't be ordained, and I find the reasoning from the curia rather thin. But I don't need to attend schismatic ordinations of women or do other demonstrative stuff, in part, because I owe a good degree of loyalty to my Church, and also, that I cannot be sure my opinion is so secure. But it remains an open struggle; that's all I can give.

I don't think we are often confronted with situations in which the choices are two and are clear-cut opposites. One can be faithful yet still question and struggle. One can belong and want to believe but not yet be believing. It's not a matter of faith alone, truth alone, or action alone. We may come to Christ as specialists, preferring our intellect, or obedience, or love, or artistry, or whatever. But the mature Christian is always called out of the safe zone of personal preference. The gospels concede there is a time for shaking dust from shoes and moving on, but this is a last resort. (Though I think three weeks of Rod's NY priest might send me to that resort.)


Carrie--you ask if I "limit [my] responsibility to love others to only those who attend [my] church?" Hardly, but I think it's a good place to start. Paul's letters in the New Testament are directed to geographical communities of Christians and tell them to bear with each other and support each other, even when they disagree with each other.

Rod--I sympathize with your parish dilemmas, and I would acknowledge that there are some parishes that are, frankly, too dangerous to one's faith (and to one's children's faith) to go to. But you make it sound as if there are no parishes in all of NYC or Dallas in which you could participate without losing one's faith. That sounds like an abdication. God has put each of us in a geographical location, and our fellow Catholic Christians around us need our support and need our example. Perhaps that's the cross we have to bear, but that's what we have to do.

Rod Dreher

Anyway, if commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy, however imperfectly realized, is not the irreducible basis for a parish community, and the sacrifice of the mass isn't present, then why should a Catholic go to one of these Pastor Eveline services instead of to, say, an Orthodox liturgy, or an Anglican Eucharistic service. At least with the Orthodox service a Catholic can be certain that he is in the presence of the Eucharist, even if he cannot partake of it under the rules of the Orthodox Church. And with a solid Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical Anglican parish, a Catholic may not be in the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, but he is much more likely to experience beauty and transcendence in liturgical worship, solid Biblical teaching in the sermon, and true fellowship based on a higher percentage of shared theological commitments than the alienated Catholic may find at a Catholic parish.

I've always been struck, and saddened, by how I feel so much more at home among friends, theologically and liturgically, visiting my friend Frederica Mathewes-Green's Orthodox parish, versus most every Catholic parish I've been part of. I've written before about the devastating experience of leaving divine liturgy there to go fulfill my Sunday obligation at a nearby Catholic parish -- a 1970s-era grotesquerie in which all the statues have been removed, the liturgy is badly done (or at least it was the Sunday I was there), the homily was heretical on its face (so much so that my family walked out literally in tears), and there was ... nothing there. Nothing but the Eucharist, which is enough, I guess. But I know that if I were trying to raise a family of devoted followers of Jesus in that town, I would keep them out of that Catholic parish so that they might preserve their Christian faith. We'd worship with the Orthodox. We wouldn't become Orthodox, as long as we held to our Catholic faith, but at least my children would know what it means to be Christian.

(In actuality, Frederica's parish is in suburban Baltimore, and it's possible for a family to drive to any number of Catholic parishes that are decent. Still, it's an interesting theoretical situation to ponder: what would you do if those two parishes, one nominally Catholic, and one fervently Orthodox, were you're only choices?)

Rod Dreher

Cornelius: But you make it sound as if there are no parishes in all of NYC or Dallas in which you could participate without losing one's faith.

Then either I have not been clear, or you have read too much into my comments. The parish we are in now is not a place where you are likely to lose your faith; if it were, we wouldn't be there (as in that NYC parish we were supposed to belong to, but fled). But for me, it's not a place where I discern much chance to grow in faith (my wife thinks I sell the place too short, and she may be right). At this point, I feel like if I'm not losing ground, I'm doing okay.

It's supposed to be about more than holding our own, isn't it?

Besides, here in Dallas, our bishop is destroying one of the very best parishes in the city. It's so depressing it's hard to talk about it without wanting to cry, or punch the wall.

Rod Dreher

Sorry, I got the URL screwed up in that last post. Here, uncoded, is the URL for Blessed Sacrament church:


And here is what is happening, as told by Fr. Joe Wilson:


When you see this happening to a parish and a priest as good and faithful as Fr. Paul Weinberger, and the persecution is coming from the chancery, it's hard to be hopeful and enthusiastic about things.

Neil Dhingra

Dear Rod,

I'm really not sure what to say about your unfortunate experience. While the general quality of Catholic preaching is poor, I've never heard a heretical sermon. In 1998, Commonweal sent fourteen correspondents to report on Sunday Masses in different places, and, while there was indeed some evidence to confirm that Jesus still comes to call "not the righteous but sinners" (Mt 9.13), there wasn't any hint of widespread apostasy or politicization. The challenge seemed to be to see Christ even in the ambiguity and the mediocrity of the ordinary, which required a good deal of attention, a bit of letting go of one's natural rigorism, and a sense of the eschatological nature of the Church. Here is the best excerpt, from a writer named Elena Cabriel in Rochester:


A lot would have to go wrong with the liturgy for Mass not to make my Catholic faith a more compelling reality. On October 19, things at my parish went fairly right--which means, to my taste. But, as Annie Dillard brilliantly dramatizes in her essay, "An Expedition to the Pole," personal taste is not what Mass is meant to serve. Only when Dillard imagines herself transformed into the most ridiculous member of her church's dreadful singing group can she join the wacky communal trip toward the Absolute.

I'm not as tough as Dillard, so I was grateful this Sunday that the music was mostly congenial. The choir did well for amateurs. I liked their brief chanting of the Asperges me during the opening sprinkling rite. I liked the organist's perky improvised march as the children left, with the presider's blessing, for their own Liturgy of the Word. I had to put up with only one hymn I can't bear, "Here I am, Lord."

I was grateful, too, for our pastor's eucharistic reverence as presider. Though I'm frustrated that his pre-Vatican II conception of the Eucharist keeps our parish locked in an outmoded theology, his joy that Jesus is "truly present in the Holy Eucharist" (as he appends to some of the prayers) overflows into a genuine welcoming spirit. So, as is his custom, he invited those bringing up the gifts to set the table. He beamed encouragingly at the altar servers, especially the girl with Downs syndrome whom the parish has nurtured since infancy; when she started serving last year our hearts collectively melted. Our pastor's repeated metaphor of "parish family" was enhanced by our visual surroundings: the Gothic carved wood Apostles joining us in the sanctuary, around the walls the extended family of stained-glass saints surrounding us in this 1910 church.

I was even grateful, in a way I've learned from Dillard, for the disastrous homily given by a guest priest. Choosing to read the Gospel option for Mission Sunday, he then performed a stand-up comedy monologue on his hilarious adventures with alligators and tarantulas in the Nicaraguan jungle. I was furious at his wrecking of the liturgy's spirit; yet it gave me something concrete to forgive at the Lord's Prayer. I also had to forgive, there, the irritating inattention of about a fifth of the congregation: those who drifted in late, who sat with dully blank faces, who didn't sing the hymns or Mass parts, despite the cantor's joyously energetic efforts to engage them. But praying "forgive us...as we forgive," I thought: Am I any different? My attention drifts even as I sing; my body gets to church on time while my spirit lags behind; surely I can be as ridiculously maddening to others as the homilist was to me.

I'm not trying to make a case for inattention or lousy liturgy. But I'm willing to forgive some bumbling at Mass because, really, we are all just bumbling toward the kingdom. Sunday Mass is most meaningful to me when I'm celebrating it with those I've stumbled along with--even crashed into--in our efforts to build the kingdom during the preceding week. So this Sunday, my Catholic faith became the most compelling reality at the moment when I received Communion from a fellow parishioner with whom I clash on every political issue of church or society. As we exchanged the words "The Body of Christ" and "Amen," and our Lord passed between our hands, our eyes met on what we both knew was the only plane that matters, where we are one Body.


Now, I've never been to Rochester, and I'm not exactly sure about the various nuances of Cabriel's theology. Nevertheless, I've always imagined that her short piece works well as a description of the Catholic Church in America. Especially the last sentence.


Neil Dhingra

By Elena Cabriel, I meant Peggy Rosenthal. Sorry about the mistake, which, considering that most college students get their information from the internet, is particularly bad.



Peace, Rod.

"Anyway, if commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy, however imperfectly realized, is not the irreducible basis for a parish community ..."

I'm troubled by this being placed at the bedrock of a parish. My saying this does not minimize doctrinal orthodoxy, but I wonder if your emphasis doesn't stray dangerously into a faith-by-my-own-bootstraps kind of church. By all accounts Arians held the numbers, but eventually the early councils held sway and things settled down.

My liturgist's bias would put the sacraments at the core of a parish, especially the Eucharist. If any doctrine is part of the "irreducible basis," it would be the Creed, not the Catechism. Or it could just be I'd rather put my faith in faith rather than in reason.


Peace, Rod.

"Anyway, if commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy, however imperfectly realized, is not the irreducible basis for a parish community ..."

I'm troubled by this being placed at the bedrock of a parish. My saying this does not minimize doctrinal orthodoxy, but I wonder if your emphasis doesn't stray dangerously into a faith-by-my-own-bootstraps kind of church. By all accounts Arians held the numbers, but eventually the early councils held sway and things settled down.

My liturgist's bias would put the sacraments at the core of a parish, especially the Eucharist. If any doctrine is part of the "irreducible basis," it would be the Creed, not the Catechism. Or it could just be I'd rather put my faith in faith rather than in reason.

John B

Rod, I know the feeling of being a Liturgical Refugee. That is the reason why I started to attend the Tridentine mass not because I am against use of English, but because of the complete lack of reverence. I was a badly lapsed Catholic untill the summer of 2001, and when I went back, I had no idea what the Eucharist was, and the parish closest to me, while not horrible, celebrated the mass in such a manner that it lacked the externals to drive home what the Eucharist was. The parish used the typical OCP hymnal dreck, there was no Tabernacle in the main "Worship Space", the priests homilies while not herreitical were typical softball sermons that had little substance. After going to parish' where I lived for a few months after "reverting", I learned more about my faith not because of the liturgy, but because of EWTN radio where I used to live and the internet. I will also say this, untill the day I went to my first Tridentine mass, I did not fully realise how amazing the Eucharist was, how powerful, and it was indeed the body and blood of Christ.

Anyways, I have since moved to Ohio, and while I still do not attend my local parish' there is a excellent parish in downtown Columbus Ohio ran by the Dominican Fathers, St. Patricks, that has reverent hymns, either traditional Catholic or Anglican hymns, the chiro often sings in Latin, the preaching, of course being the charism of Dominicans, is solid, and we recieve at the rail. Anyone in Mid Ohio who feels they are not getting spiritually fed at their local parish is welcome at St Patricks anytime.


When my husband and I married, he was a practicing Catholic who believed what the Church taught. It was an important reason why I married him. That was in 1970. After the wedding we moved into the parish that I later learned had the reputation in my area of being the "wacko" parish.

We left Mass in anger so many times that we started talking about no longer going. I cried about the situation. A lot.

The message we kept hearing was that involvement in the parish was the future thrust of the Church. So I tried involvement.

And I tried not to let the Matthew Fox explanation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, delivered from the pulpit, get to me. I tried not to be too angry on the Sunday morning when we walked into church to discover a baby grand piano on the altar playing something unfamiliar that sounded like it belonged in a piano bar. I tried not to get angry when baptism at the Easter Vigil took place in a blue plastic child's wading pool on the altar, or when the baby was baptised at Mass by immercing him in the pan normally used to cook hot dogs for the grade school. Or when the priest told us we were no longer supposed to seek a personal relationship with Christ, but instead find Christ in community.

Finally the Sunday came when we could take it no longer, and we stayed home and had a prayer and Bible reading session at the kitchen table instead. It was unsatisfying. I needed Eucharist. And I needed a place to worship where I didn't have to explain to my daughter what was wrong with the Mass and the homily every Sunday on the way home from Church.

So we went church shopping for the second time since we had gotten married, with the hope that this time we would be successful in finding a place that would permit us to hold on to our faith. What we found was the church I still attend, and my husband used to attend.

My daughter is still Catholic. She still attends Mass regularly even though she is no longer at home. The damage from our previous parish was too great for my husband to overcome, however. He gave up on the Catholic faith.

If he had not given up already, this new Sunday Communion service would destroy what little remained by the time we changed parishes. I don't think I will even tell him that some of these services may be led by women. He might give up on God as well at that point, and start trying to get me to leave the faith.



I know you have tried to move this duscussion to a more recent post. Do you know that the comments link doesn't work up there?

Rod Dreher

[Let me say again that I'm enjoying this thread. I sure don't want to come across as if I have all the answers. I am a bad Catholic struggling to be faithful in a bad place and a difficult time for the Church. I like the fact that we can talk about these things in a forum like this.]

Todd writes: I'm troubled by this being placed at the bedrock of a parish. My saying this does not minimize doctrinal orthodoxy, but I wonder if your emphasis doesn't stray dangerously into a faith-by-my-own-bootstraps kind of church. By all accounts Arians held the numbers, but eventually the early councils held sway and things settled down.

My liturgist's bias would put the sacraments at the core of a parish, especially the Eucharist. If any doctrine is part of the "irreducible basis," it would be the Creed, not the Catechism. Or it could just be I'd rather put my faith in faith rather than in reason.

I trust that you don't wish to minimize doctrinal orthodoxy, Todd, but I can't see how your approach does anything but that. Catholicism is not merely a series of propositions to which one gives intellectual assent to be part of the family, so to speak, but it is at least that.

I'm not talking about being legalistic here, with sour-faced Pharisees standing in the pews keeping a mental list of who around them fails to hold to orthodoxy on this, that or the other issue. But I am talking about a basic orientation toward doctrine, and the importance of rightly understanding it, and yielding to the Church's teaching authority even when we don't understand it. One can dispute what fidelity to this or that Church teaching means to us in this place and time, but it seems to me what absolutely cannot be up for debate is that all Catholics are subject to that teaching, and that it's vitally important to get that right.

If you don't, you'll get the dissolving of religious identity within a generation or two. I've seen it happen in my own extended family, which belongs to a mainline Protestant denomination. This denomination in the past used to have clear doctrine, but at some point quit emphasizing it. I grew up in this church, and while there's no question that the people there love each other, and love Jesus, we never, ever got anything doctrinal. Never. All the homilies were about being nice, and loving your neighbor. The minister has coasted for the entire three decades he's served in my family's church on general assumptions about who Jesus is and what he asks of us.

Well, guess what? You can believe pretty much anything and be part of this church. When, as a college student reading theology, I concluded that I wanted to become Anglican, my father hit the roof. I asked him to talk about the differences between his denomination and the Anglicans, and he had no idea what to say. Over the years, I've engaged in religious talk with various family members, and it's so dismaying to me to see how popular culture has dictated their understanding of Christianity to them. The whole "Left Behind" scenario? Some of my family think that's entirely Scriptural and orthodox. And why not? They never, ever get anything in their church to challenge that, or to tell them what Christians of their church do believe. In fact, the only thing that holds my family to that church is family tradition. That can't last forever.

This is what happens over time when doctrine is made secondary to the gathering of the community. If you have no hard and fast theological principles to anchor you against the winds of popular culture, you'll be blown far, far off course, and you won't even notice it.

I don't agree with the distinction you draw, Todd, between faith and reason. It should be an either/or. I came into the Catholic Church years ago because in large part I became intellectually convinced that the things I took on faith as a "mere Christian" inevitably led to Rome. In other words, if one accepted A, B, and C, then one was obliged to do D, E, and ultimately F. Ultimately, though, my decision to become Catholic -- that is, to act on my intellectual convictions -- came from a series of mystical experiences that could not be proven, only accepted through faith. But if one comes only on faith, one is vulnerable to a radical subjectivism that could lead to disaster, ultimately -- just as if one comes only on reason, one could easily become a whitewashed sepulchre.

I think you dodged the question of heresy in an earlier post. I asked what meaning heresy has in a Church in which the unity of the community is the paramount goal. You said that heresy depends on the internal disposition and understanding of the accused heretic. But that's not what I'm talking about. I don't mean to address how one decides a particular person is a heretic. I mean to raise the question of the meaning of heresy in an ecclesial context in which doctrine is considered peripheral to the mission of the parish. In that case, the only heretic is one who stands on the margins of parish life. In other words, me.


It might be a little late to get in on this discussion, but I thought I'd add my two cents, for what it's worth. One thing that underlies all of this discussion is that, however upset we are with our local parishes, or even the church in general, we are not willing to cease being Catholic. I have been a pianist for many years now at a small Protestant church that is much more "vibrant" than my own (Catholic)parish. The people there are like a family to me, and there are very few people from my own parish that I could say the same thing about. Yet there is something so strong that is missing in that churuch. It is not just the Eucharist, although of course that is the most important thing, and probably the thing that is keeping all of us who are commenting here Catholic. It's also the sense that these people, even though they claim historical Protestantism as their grounding, are on their own. They have their own fellowship, rich as it is, and they are connected in some sense to other congregations in the denomination, but there is no unity in worship style, let alone liturgy, among congregations. There is no head to their denomination, as we have in the Pope, and while they profess a belief in the "communion of saints", I doubt they give it much thought past their prayers for each other, as earnest as they are. In other words, we as Catholics are united to each other through the Eucharist, even if we don't know (or much care for) the people next to us in the pew. This whole sense of being one body, as St. Paul describes it, is something that I just don't think is available anywhere else.

And yet I can understand Rod's point of view, and in fact have felt it so often during these years when I often feel the need to apologize for my church. And I should insert that our parish -- and our priest -- are very orthodox. But the fellowship, or maybe better, the striving for holiness, is not always there among the congregation. Yes, individuals live saintly lives (which put me to shame). But, as Rod mentioned, when children come into the picture, then you, as a parent, have to weigh the options and decide what's best. And sometimes you think that, when Christ said that following him meant taking up your cross, He didn't mean that your cross would be His church, or at least your little branch of His church. Or did He?

Rod Dreher

I should add, Todd, that it's reason that keeps me Catholic now, pretty much. The faith convictions I arrived at, through grace, back when the Church looked different to me are still true today, post-scandal. As much as I find that I want to flee this Church and its rottenness, if I was right in the first place that the Church is what it claims to be, then the Church remains what it claims to be, despite it all. This is what I mean by doctrine and reason being absolutely vital. It's an anchor in the storm.


Rod writes: "I mean to raise the question of the meaning of heresy in an ecclesial context in which doctrine is considered peripheral to the mission of the parish. In that case, the only heretic is one who stands on the margins of parish life."

That is precisely the argument currently offered up by ECUSA revisionists on why traditionalists should not leave now that gnostic heresy is now embraced by the denomination.


Wow...how this thread has really tiptoed around the core issue!

Both the left and the right are now unwilling to accept a hierarchical Church that tells them that they must belong to a geographical parish and must be subject to a pastor and a bishop in whose appointment they have had no say.

Chaos, perhaps......but progress, definitely.


"Both the left and the right are now unwilling to accept a hierarchical Church that tells them that they must belong to a geographical parish and must be subject to a pastor and a bishop in whose appointment they have had no say."

would you please locate for me the Church teaching that says that I as a parent have to abdicate my responsibilities as the primary teacher of my children to a parish that would teach my children heresy? Or maybe the Church teaching that says that I am bound to obey anyone who tells me to do something that is morally wrong? A paragraph # from the CCC would be fine. Best of luck.


Well, Stacey, you could start with Canons 515-519, CIC. You see, the CCC is an instructional, educational document, not a canon law document. CCC does not define obligations. Under canon law, as a resident of a diocese, a lay person is assigned a geographical parish and his/her spiritual care is assigned by the bishop, under authority granted to him by the Holy See, to a pastor.

Your opinions and input are not a part of the canonical process. Your opinions about the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of your bishop or pastor are definitely NOT part of the process. Scary, huh? And JP2 has appointed virtually every bishop in the current system. Go figure.

Fr. W. Jabusch

I had no idea when I wrote that short article for Commonweal that so many comments would follow. But I am glad that it provoked some truly fine thoughts on the subject They should be required reading for us priests and certainly for the bishops.
I just had word from my friends in Holland. It has just been decided that there will now be one priest for ten parishes!They are happy that the lone priest is young and zealous, prayerful and intelligent. But is there not a danger that he will find himself lonely and weary and burn out after a few years? Please pray for priests at this difficult time.

Rod Dreher

Well, Fr. Jabusch, your article was important because it forces us to contemplate what a parish is for, and what it should be for. No matter which side one comes down on, it's a desperately important question, one without easy answers from the left or the right, and one that's going to become ever more pressing in this country as the ranks of the priesthood dwindle. In this thread, I've indicated how much I struggle internally, and within my own family, to figure out the parish situation. I don't expect it to get any easier anytime soon.

Before I became a Catholic, I imagined from the outside that the parish was a safe harbor in a storm (I hate to keep using the nautical metaphor, but it seems to fit the beset). I had no idea that the confusion and hostility and culture wars that beset the culture everywhere would be every bit as present within the Church, even within the parish. I think cradle Catholics have no idea how naive outsiders are.

Dale Price

I've reviewed CIC 515-19, and have found nothing that binds the People of God to their nearest parish like Russian serfs to the nearest boyar's manor, being herded around with their children like epsilons and smiling while the pastor lets his theological freak flag fly.


I do see some evidence that the faithful aren't mind-gelded serfs from Canons 212-214. And Canon 226 is game, set and match to Stacey.


Then again, I haven't had the benefit of a Jesuit education, so I'm probably missing something. Go figure.



If you can't find in those canonical sections that your spiritual care is entrusted to a pastor appointed by the bishop, then it is redundant to tell us that you haven't had the benefit of a Jesuit education.

If you're looking for individual rights in the Canons, you'll mostly look in vain.....which is my point.


Thanks Jim. Ok, so let's look at one of these:

Can. 518 As a general rule, a parish is to be territorial, that is, it is to embrace all Christ's faithful of a given territory. Where it is useful however, personal parishes are to be established, determined by reason of the rite, language or nationality of the faithful of a certain territory, or on some other basis.

I see here an allowance for those who would form a parish based upon rite, such as the various Eastern Rites, or the Tridentine Rite, so if I wanted to belong to a Tridentine Rite community because I felt reasonably confident of the parish's orthodoxy and because that rite ministers to me spiritually, what is there here that would prevent me from doing that?

And while we're on Canon Law, what about this:

Can. 773 It is pastors of souls especially who have the serious duty of attending to the catechesis of the christian people, so that, through doctrinal formation and the experience of the christian life, the living faith of the people may be manifest and active.

Can. 774 §1 The care for catechesis, under the direction of lawful ecclesiastical authority, extends to all members of the Church, to each according to his or her role.

§2 Before all others, parents are bound to form their children, by word and example, in faith and in christian living. The same obligation binds godparents and those who take the place of parents.

Can. 1136 Parents have the most grave obligation and the primary right to do all in their power to ensure their children's physical, social, cultural, moral and religious upbringing.


Nevertheless, pastors can and do release parishioners so that they may join other parishes. The process is pretty much a rubber stamp, most likely because the unhappy parishioner tries for a while to reform the system from within, catching the pastor's notice in the process. He is likely to be glad to see the parishioner move on and stop "causing trouble" in his parish.


The Pope is enamored of ecclesial communities. He also seems to be somewhat indifferent to the situation in American parishes, since he has not corrected heretical liturgies nor taken control of the sexual abuse situation. I seem to recall reading that the future of the Church is expected to be in the ecclesial communities and not in the parishes. Anyone else read anything like this?

Dale Price

You do a very convincing chump impression, Jim, but that's not important right now.

Under none of the cited canons is Stacey is bound to stay or entrust her children to the education of the priest or bishop of any particular geographic subunit.

The entire point of which you missed in your determination to carry through with your performance.


Neil, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, no matter if anyone is looking or not. Moreover, the Eucharist does NOT depend on any "congregation" for its existence. It can be confected by one single priest, saying mass alone. By the action of God in the hands of an ordained priest. Period. Consistent, traditional church teaching. The Eucharist is sufficient for everything it does--because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass makes present the Holy Sacrifice of Christ, which in itself suffices for all. It's the Lord's greatest gift to us. Why can we not accept that, which was given so freely, unless we put it on our own silly terms??


We have, just a few miles over, one of those "priestless parishes." Anyone who hangs around there must be clueless though, I think, because the drive to the next parish is six (count em, 6) miles. Duh. Close that baby down and save an electric bill, is what I say.


Hey Neil, whatever happened to all that solicitude and nicety when it came to respecting peoples' communities and shared histories in 1965? Or does all that really only pertain when you want it to?


Doug, I don't think it's slander at all. I'm quite sure that it's been done at retreat houses many more times than once, and I'm not putting myself in the position of being the victim of such a thing.

John B

In the US at least, personal parish' have been around for quite a long time. Before Vatican II, they were in the form of ethnic/national parish', and some of them still function in that manner to serve established or immigrant communities.

In recent year, a de facto personal parish' system based on orthdoxy and liturgy seems to have developed, almost like a conregational style system such as the Episcopalins now have. The parish I now attend used to be a ethnic Irish parish, so it was never a territorial one, and now has what can be called, "liturgical refugees". Maybe this is a extension of the concept of ecclesial communities. It is sad as Rod states that the spiritual warfare is so intensely fought within the Catholic church, and one has to look at times for reverence and orthdoxy, and sadly, more often than not now, it seems that community is no longer geographical in nature, but based on ideology.

Two parish in tyhe St Paul Archdiocese stick out like a sore thumb with is a growing trend of extra territorial parish'. One is St. Joan of Arc Parish' in Minneapolis MN, the other is St. Agnes in St. Paul MN. Both parish take the vast majority of their parishoners from territories outside of their parish boundries, but that is the only similarity these two parish' have.


I also have been at Mass a thousand miles from home with like-minded Catholics from all over the world. What we share is NOT geography, secular culture or parish lines. What we share is the truth of the deposit of the Faith, and our belief in the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Catholic Faith. Those beliefs are constitutive of practiced Catholicism. Those beliefs compel those who share them to receive the Eucharist in its proper setting and within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The choice to settle for less is simply that--LESS.

Neil Dhingra

Dear Michigancatholic,

If you read my remarks again, you will see that I never questioned the validity of any Eucharist. I simply pointed out that Catholic thought includes numerous statements like, "Through her communion with the body of Christ the Church comes to be ever more profoundly 'in Christ in the nature of a sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of intimate unity with God and of the unity of the whole human race'" (Eucharistia de Ecclesia). Thus, we can say that there is something amiss (but not invalid) about a Eucharist that doesn't lead to some sort of concrete unity.

The "unifying power" of the Eucharist isn't something that we can disregard as mere icing on the cake. When St Thomas answers the question, "Whether Sacraments are Necessary for Man's Salvation?" his 'On the Contrary ...' is:

"Augustine says (Contra Faust. xix): 'It is impossible to keep men together in one religious denomination, whether true or false, except they be united by means of visible signs or sacraments.' But it is necessary for salvation that men be united together in the name of the one true religion. Therefore sacraments are necessary for man's salvation."

Sacraments are necessary for salvation because they bring about this graced communion. Our Eastern brethren would stress this even more than us, I suspect. Here is Metropolitan John (Zizoulas) of Pergamon:

"It is not by accident that the Church has given to the Eucharist the name of 'Communion,' for in the Eucharist we find all the dimensions of communion: God communicates Himself to us, we enter into communion with Him, the participants of the sacrament enter into communion with one another, and creation as a whole enters through Man into communion with God -- all this taking place in Christ and the Holy Spirit Who brings the last days into history and offers to the world a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.

"The Eucharist does not only affirm and sanctify communion; it sanctifies otherness as well. It is the place where difference ceases to be divisive and becomes good. Communion in the Eucharist does not destroy but affirms diversity and otherness. Whenever this does not happen, the Eucharist is distorted and even invalidated even if all the other requirements for a 'valid' Eucharist are satisfied."

I'm not sure about our views on Metropolitan John's last statement (he is Orthodox), but the stress is unmistakable.

As far as I know, this is traditional teaching, "silly terms," or not. You write, "The Eucharist is sufficient for everything it does," but what exactly, in your mind, is the Real Presence supposed to do? Provide a shortcut to Christ that has nothing to do with the Body of Christ? Surely, it would be the deepest of ironies if the Eucharist were to eliminate the need for the Church to exist between the moments of consecration.


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