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March 27, 2007


Rebel With a First Cause

I worship in a parish in suburban Boston. We are truly blessed with deeply spiritual and intelligent homilies. Our pastor has two doctorates, and we have regular visiting associates who are professors at Weston Jesuit School of Theology and St. John's Seminary.

We are also a mixed bag in terms of liberalism and conservatism so that many different kinds of people have found a home here. In terms of music, we have a great team of professionals who mix in some of the great Classics along with a smattering of Haugen/Hass. This is truly one of the best Catholic parishes I have ever seen.

Yet we just emerged from a grueling 3-year battle with our Archdiocese to avoid supression. If it had not been for the efforts and talents of some really smart and dedicated laypeople who educated themselves in Canon Law and produced a credible case that could have been taken to the Vatican, we would have closed in November of 2004 (alright, the true credit belongs to the Spirit, but these folks were certainly his agents).

We have two Catachumens this year. As they come into our community, they can plainly see the best the Church has to offer, right alongside the worst.


Pope John Paul 2 once said something like the Catholic church was breathing with only one lung without the riches of the Orthodox tradition. Could it be that those in the Protestant churches also have gifts and riches that the Catholic church needs, and we are weakened without them? For example, Scott Hahn brought the riches of his Protestant tradition into the Catholic church, and linked them with the older tradition, enriching us all.


Yeah. OK. The church does botch things up. Jesus did a huge botch-up job by selecting Judas Iscariot as one of the apostles, didn't HE ?

I'll have to get that book,The Catholic Mystique. Maybe it'll help my wife, a weak in faith Episcopalian.


What insight from Fr. Kimel. There's real beauty in such an airtight argument.

I have a question, though. While many people rightfully bemoan the lack of fellowship, etc. many of our RCIA candidates initially appreciated the anonymity that the Church affords. Many of them have come from small, Protestant congregations where it was impossible to be inconspicuous, or were self-conscious because they had no church background. They could slink into a back pew and "watch" for a while until they feel more comfortable. Has anyone else encountered this?

I guess that the answer is to offer genuine fellowship when that's what someone is looking for, but be careful not to be intrusive for those who prefer some "space". It can be a tricky balance.


On "a place to worship" and finding too much of the Catholic Church to be dissatisfying --

There is a crisis in the Church and there is a crisis of love in the world, and the two stem from the same problem.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the real and ultimate problem is not the Church or her many fallible and sinful members who do irritating things like create and promote atrocious art, architecture, music, and liturgy. Perhaps, just perhaps, the real and ultimate problem is a basic lack of humility from parishioners. If the Mass and other aspects of the Church are unsatisfying and aggravating, perhaps we should stop putting our own personal wants and desires first -- perhaps we should not be turned inward and concerned about making me happy, and satisfying me, but should instead be turned outward and more giving to fellow parishioners and the Bride of Christ. We should empty ourselves. In short, maybe we should love the Church -- truly and unconditionally love the Church.

If we emptied ourselves more, turned outward instead of inward, and stopped concerning ourselves with pleasing our own personal preferences in music, prayer, and liturgy, then the perceived ugliness which is only a reflection of ourselves would fade and we could begin to see the immense and indescribable beauty that is the Church. And by being more unconditionally and selflessly loving, and being less unfaithful and adulterous, we would finally quit complaining about how awful and a piece of junk the Church is.

Aimee Milburn

So, how can the Roman Catholic Church be the one, true Church of Jesus Christ?

Answer: Because, despite everything, it’s still here. And global. And unified under one head.

Sorry, this is long, and I should be studying, but it’s very personal to me. As a convert, I’ve struggled with some of these same issues. Again and again I’ve come to the same conclusion: the Catholic world is not like the Protestant world. The Protestant world is countless thousands of denominations where people sort themselves out into churches they like, that suit their taste. Or they just found their own, and do it their way.

Catholics don’t have that option. We really are one, big, worldwide Church, and we have no choice but to learn to live together and love each other with all our differences, weaknesses, faults, and flaws. That includes the differences and faults of our pastors and music directors. It’s a great leveler – and a great way to get our own unholy personal preferences ground out of us.

Without sounding too corny, to paraphrase someone else in history: The question for me as a Catholic is not “what can my parish do for me,” but “what can I do for my parish.” If we really believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, then the parish is too. If the parish is suffering, then Christ is suffering. Criticizing the parish for its shortcomings, then, is criticizing Christ.

Yes, the Church is clear in her liturgy documents, and yes, they do need to be implemented, not ignored. But standing with our arms folded during mass, refusing to sing, will that really help? I’m struck by the fact that the writer of the story is a former Lutheran pastor with knowledge of music. Did she ever offer to help? Or did she just continue to shop, until she finally found a parish that did music the way she liked it? That is the Protestant way. That is also the consumer way.

It’s a lesson I’ve been slow to learn. I did, and do, plenty of judging. I’ve parish-shopped. But really we should be praying, offering our gifts to the parish, offering to help – not sitting back waiting for someone else to do it, or leaving if they don’t. Loving the parish and the people in it regardless of how bad the music or how brightly lit and empty the sanctuary. Offering up our suffering on behalf of the parish, the pastor, the off-key cantor. We’re not here for ourselves. We’re here for others, to serve, and to love.

Beautiful music, art, and architecture help, and are called for. But the people are more important. Christ didn’t die for music and art. He died for souls.



There are ways to find "fellowship" or "community" within Catholicism in any diocese if you truly do want to find it. It's there -- you just have to push a bit more in a Catholic parish. I am a born and bread Catholic but that small group "fellowship" element was rooted in me by a high school group within a Protestant church yeeears ago. I value Bible Study and Lenten "sharing" groups. I value meals in my home with others who share my faith. I have been seeking it out for many years now... but you do need to seek it out. It is *not* automatic at a Parish.

And yet, in the last few years, I have begun to appreciate more those folks who I call "just show up" Catholics. I mean, why do they do this? They just keep coming! I believe it's because they are fed by the Eucharist and that is enough for them. And I am encouraged by them and I learn from these (and Sherry W. might get mad at me) seemingly "unintentional disciples" who are just as Catholic as I!


I always think about Peter the Rock: Christ built His church upon him, but sometimes he was as dumb as a rock. The Church hasn't changed much because it's full of solid people and screw-ups, too.


Ms. Ferrara's comments demonstrate, to me, a type of snobbery that I detect all too often in adult-converts/reverts.

She views the fact that "The monsignor never begins Mass with 'good morning', offers no explanations" is a good thing, or somehow particularly evidences orthodoxy?

It seems like there are two types of Protestants: those that criticize the Catholic Church for being just "smells and bells", and those who convert and criticize the Church for not have enough "smells and bells".

And if Ms. Ferrara refuses to believe that parishes that have, gasp, guitars and missalettes, are not "part of something far bigger and more important—the community that traces its history back to the apostles and their living testimony of the Risen Christ.", then I think her formation was somewhat lacking and superficial.

Eileen R

I don't think it's just RCIA candidates who might welcome the "anonymity" of Catholic churches. A lot of us cradle Catholics would be alarmed if people started talking to us after Mass. ;-)

Or is that just a Canadian thing?


I was one of the "back pew slinkers." I tried it in Protestant churches but inevitably got "caught" and dragged into situations I wanted to avoid. Then every week you would have to make small talk instead of praying.

My perspective is, if everyone notices you are new, doesn't that imply that they are paying attention to the people around them more than to the service? In a Catholic church, everyone just assumes you're Catholic and come every week and everyone focuses on the liturgy instead of each other. Yay!



My Anglican/Episcopalian wife has often remarked about the lack of "fellowship" at Catholic churches we've attended. I must admit that I was somewhat annoyed and felt on the defensive because of these remarks. I couldn't really articulate why "fellowship" was irrelevant - to a large degree - in any given Catholic church. I gradually realized that the lack of fellowship was due to the seriousness and mystery which surrounds the Eucharist itself. Let's leave out the often execrable music and litugical inanities of the Mass. Fellowship, though a positive thing, seems pale in comparison to the Eucharist, doesn't it ? I think fellowship has assumed such proportions in Protestant denominations because the service observes merely a "memorial" or "symbol" of Christ's passion. Flannery O'Connor had it right - "If it's just a symbol, then to hell with it". Viewing the Eucharist as merely a symbol necessarily forces fellowship to a higher prominence.


Cathleen -

I'm one of those converts who loves the anonymity, at least at this early point in my life as a Catholic (almost, come Easter Vigil). I've always felt stifled in evangelical churches (and I've never attended a small church). It always felt as though fellowship and being "plugged in" was an obligation, in large part because what passes as fellowship in many evangelical churches is oriented towards gregarious, extroverted people, not introverts like myself. It was impossible for me to fit in without forcing myself to act in ways that were completely foreign to my personality. So yea, I'm really enjoying the fact that we have time to ease in to our church, and we can participate in community life as much or as little as we feel is best, and in ways that cater better to our personalities.


The problem being, of course, that many of us are not "people persons", and have no clue what most people want. (And a lot of people persons have no clue what introverts want, for that matter.) Personally, I have a lot of trouble recognizing _anybody_ except the closest friends and family, so it'd be almost impossible for me to recognize a stranger, as opposed to "someone looking for a seat or the rest of the family".

Fortunately, the little old ladies of my parish know _everyone_ and maintain a vast intelligence network, as well as being not particularly hesitant to introduce themselves. The ushers also seem to know everyone. But how you can develop this kind of human resource in a parish that's not a neighborhood one of some description, I don't know. Though I guess you have to start sometime.

If someone makes an effort to be friendly, though, I think most people of goodwill will appreciate even the clumsiest attempts. People who are looking for something to get upset about, OTOH, will nearly always find it.



If you note, Jennifer's article concerns her life before she actually converted, when she was still a Lutheran pastor, when she was trying to figure a lot of things out. It wouldn't exactly be the proper thing for the seeking Lutheran Pastor to take over music ministry in the Catholic parish.

Would it?

Further...the Catholic world is littered with the figurative corpses of people who have tried to participate in parish life, but been turned away because they are "too rigid" or "not Vatican II enough" etc...


"But standing with our arms folded during mass, refusing to sing, will that really help? I’m struck by the fact that the writer of the story is a former Lutheran pastor with knowledge of music. Did she ever offer to help? Or did she just continue to shop, until she finally found a parish that did music the way she liked it? That is the Protestant way. That is also the consumer way."

I've really got to defend Jennifer Ferrara here. I respect the glow of Aimee's conversion but she really has no idea of the place of music in Lutheran worship. Lutheran hymns are acknowledged worldwide as some of the finest Christian music ever produced. These hymns are not just "aesthetic" in nature, but they teach, catechize and sing theology. It is very, very difficult to sing the awful songs at the average Catholic Mass when one is accustomed to the beauty of Lutheran hymnody (even one as august as Father Richard John Neuhaus admits he still misses the music of his former Lutheran environment).

The current poor state of Catholic worship is evidenced in the rate of recidivism of converts.

It greatly discourages me that I am still struggling with the same issues that I struggled with ten years ago when I converted and I very much relate to what Ferrara wrote. As she is a former minister and knowing how highly Lutherans value the education of the laity I think it is very presumptious of Aimee to write what she wrote about Ferrara.

Nate Metzger

The best proof of the Holy Spirit is that the greatest stumbling block to The Church is The Church.

The Church has an incredible history of messing things up. Yet people still join. In great numbers!

When I was received into The Church last Easter, I knew what I was getting into. I knew I was entering an atmosphere of jangly guitars, feel-good theology from the pulpit, breath-taking ignorance from the pews, and more than a bit of narcissism on both ends. Yet, here we are. :) Going strong.

The particular struggles and valid criticisms of The Church today will change to different struggles and valid criticisms tomorrow. It will always be filled with not just sin and corruption, but ridiculousness.

The greatest stumbling block to The Church will always be The Church. Yet The Church will be around tomorrow, as long as the Holy Spirit is. Going strong.

Aimee Milburn


I read the whole article before I wrote my piece, and at appears to me that she is speaking not only of her point of view prior to her conversion, but also of her current point of view.

If we insist on attending only a certain type of parish, as this writer indicates she has (and as I confess I have in the past, though I try to be less rigid now), I wonder how well we really grasp what it means to be a member of the truly Catholic Church, worldwide, in heaven, on earth, in purgatory, throughout history?

Music is very important in worship - and I speak as a former music director who worked hard, against a lot of resistance, to follow the guidelines of Vatican II on liturgy - but I don’t think we should mistake the outward forms alone for the worship, or for the Church, itself.


"If we emptied ourselves more, turned outward instead of inward, and stopped concerning ourselves with pleasing our own personal preferences in music, prayer, and liturgy..."

It's a both/and situation in many regards.

We do need to empty ourselves, and we must keep things in perspective. Keeping the divine half of the Church in mind will significantly help in that regard.

At the same time, resist the temptation to think that therefore questions about the liturgy, sacred music, etc. are just asides or ultimately "subjectives" that we should focus less upon.

This is a seamless garment sort of issue, and while one should maintain their Faith in the Church through all, at the same time we don't diminuish the importance of such matters. The Church doesn't, the Pope doesn't so why should we?

There is a balance to be struck, but its a balance which finds the importance of these issues, just like doctrinal issues (the two are fundamentally related incidentally) since we're ultimately discussing four things:

1) the worship of God
2) the stirring our souls (and others) to sanctification
3) the catechetical dimension of the liturgy
4) the evangelical power of the liturgy

All very important things.


Bender said:
"If we emptied ourselves more, turned outward instead of inward, and stopped concerning ourselves with pleasing our own personal preferences in music, prayer, and liturgy, then the perceived ugliness which is only a reflection of ourselves would fade and we could begin to see the immense and indescribable beauty that is the Church."

OK, I understand the point. But I am sorry - I am an unreconstructed Aristotelian/Thomist/von Balthasarian and I do not for a minute believe that the ugliness is merely "perceived" or is "a reflection of myself." There REALLY IS such a thing as transcedent beauty. There really is splendor, and the psychobabble-cum-German-Idealism view that ugly music or architecture is merely a projection of my own mind is quite simply a non-Catholic position.

The other day I was forced to listen to a 12-minute solo of a breathy, sexy, ballad singer singing a torch love song DURING COMMUNION!!!! Of course, the "lover" was Jesus (this is the "Jesus-is-my-boyfriend" school of songwriting) and it was so mind-boggling inappropriate - the heavy breathing would be ok for an anonymous porn phone call, but NEVER during Mass --- and I don't even want to TELL you the words.

The next song - a Haas favorite - was a Disney-like Broadway tune, and a miserbaly wretched one at that. Believe me - I am a sinner; I do not judge others; I accept the suffering of revoltingly bad - and I mean OBJECTIVELY BAD - music as sharing in the suffering of Christ.

But c'mon. Why is it always the truly bad and truly ugly that are forced down our throats? We believe in the growth and sanctification of the soul, the ethical growth of the person, even in getting healthier by eating right. Doing vice makes you vicious; eating wrongly makes you fat and sick; sinning darkens the soul; and repeatedly being forced to listen to bad music hurts your aesthetic sense so badly that you think anyone who calls it what it is - "ugly" - is merely projecting!

My point is, why not TRAIN people to love beauty - beautiful art, beautiful music - as we train them to love the good?

And if you want to argue that beautiful music is JUST a matter of "personal taste," then you are the first person who needs to sign up for a class!

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B.

The "hand-selected-by-God" original apostolic episcopacy:
+ Judas Issssscariot (That's with a "Boo!" and a "Hiss!")
+ Pope Peter I (Good Friday's Cursing Triplex "Liar-Liar-Pants-on-Fire!")
+ Ten other runaway cowards in hiding for the duration of the Paschal Triduum

Think you can do better than God the Eternal Son?


After the suicide of Judas, Pope Peter I kicks off apostolic succession by directing the remaining apostolic bishops to find a replacement: Matthias.

Under the direction of the restored twelve-- who are Hebrews-- the entire infant Church perpetrates a scandal in the form of ethnic prejudice: in distributing goods for the poor, the Church ignores the Greek Christians. Acts 6.


The Church is the Bride of Christ, and he's in a bad marriage. Despite that fact, there are and always have been many shining examples of generous fidelity to Christ among the members of the Church.

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life."


/i/When I was received into The Church last Easter, I knew what I was getting into. I knew I was entering an atmosphere of jangly guitars, feel-good theology from the pulpit, breath-taking ignorance from the pews, and more than a bit of narcissism on both ends. Yet, here we are. :) Going strong./i/

Yes, exactly. My experience mirrors Nate's. I am one of those people who "read their way in" to the Church. The first time someone asked me seriously why I wanted to be Catholic, I repsonded that it was because I believed everything the Church taught and that it was the Church founded by the Apostles.

This was an unsatisfactory answer for the questioner, who said he couldn't understand something like that. For him, choosing to join a church depended on one's emotional response to the service and music and a feeling of belonging.

So I replied, "Well, I like having the rules laid out for me and clear authority figures." This satisfied him because I was now saying the Catholic church just happened to meet my personal tastes! I meant it mostly tongue in cheek.

Anyway, I read my way from my Presbyterian-evangelical background into the church, but I knew going in that most Catholic churches were not going to meet my ideal. This is something I struggle with daily as I've moved from a on-the-cusp-of-orthodoxy parish to a new town.

I've made good friends in the parish, but the majority are poorly catechized and the liturgy, music and parish activities reflect that. There are more orthodox parishes within 15 minutes drive, but.... I guess I feel called at this point to stay (at least for now) and help in whatever way I can to improve the situation. I think God made me to enjoy somewhat being the odd-one-out and not mind too much what others think.


I find this unduly cynical:

But hardly any of that is visible in the experience of the average Catholic parish today. Liturgies do not reflect the mind (not to speak of the liturgical law) of the Church, catechesis only scratches the surface and homilies..well...why do they even bother to go to seminary?

It is not my experience, and I have a hard time believing that my parish is that exceptional. As with anything, you get out of Parish Life what you put into it. In my experience, and it has been all across the spectrum (immersed vs. causal), what I derive from my parish is a function of how deeply I seek. I have yet to find a Parish in my relocations that cannot meet my spritual needs to the degree I pursue them

From Amy: As the beginning of that paragraph indicates: "People complain that" - I was attemtping to characterize the nature of the complaints related to this issue as experessed in recent discussions at other blogs.

Aimee Milburn

Think you can do better than God the Eternal Son?

Fr. Stephanos, you make me shout out loud with laughter!

Kathleen Lundquist

[I posted this comment over on Intentional Disciples, but I'll post it here too:]

My reactions to this conversation are so mixed that it'll take me some time (and probably eventually a book) to sort them all out.

I'm one of those who "read myself" into the Church. My first experience of a Catholic parish since I was confirmed has been - well, banal is the word that fits best, with (a few) punctuating experiences of beauty and grace and (more) horrifying affronts to my spirit.

I relate to what Jennifer Ferrara was seeking; I am a person who is built for spiritual experiences through beauty and art, and I'm always hungry for it. Am I sinning if I attempt to place myself in a space where I can experience that? In the midst of those who condemn others for "shopping" and knowing my own judgmental tendencies, I know I have to examine myself and make sure I'm obeying Christ and not just seeking my own desires in such things. But if a church in my town makes experiences of such beauty that feed my soul available to me, why can't I just go there? I confess that I sometimes resent being made to feel unworthy to receive these blessings from God because I should be "offering my suffering up to the Lord".

Well, without going into gory details, my suffering over the past nine years in my present parish has been considerable, and I've been offering it up. And we're leaving now, thanks very much, for a parish where the women's ministry leader doesn't volunteer for Planned Parenthood, they don't add inclusive language and "cool, fresh" interpolated responses to the "boring" Gospel readings, and I don't have to sing black gospel-styled Mass parts during Lent. Sue me.

And mr - I'm with you. The more Catholic theology I read, the more convinced I am that Beauty, like Truth, is objective and knowable, not a matter of taste. The fact that the beauty of Catholic art, music, liturgy, and architecture touched and called my soul to Christ was no accident of personality on my part.

(*Ahem. Sorry. I guess my feelings on that score are clearer than I thought.)

I've never considered leaving the Catholic Church again, because I worked very hard (mentally, socially) to get here, and I know that despite the casual liturgical abuses and the non-Catholics that the priest allows to take Communion and all the rest, Jesus faithfully shows up in my church, and feeds me. So I've survived (and I could survive indefinitely if we chose to stay in this parish), but only because He's there - not because of anything anyone else does or doesn't do.

On the issue of fellowship and Christian friendship, my feelings remain in an agitating blender. At Mass, I desperately want to fade into the woodwork and not have anyone focus on me - I'm there, and I always hope others are there, to meet God, and I find trying to strike up or continue friendships in the midst of Mass a distraction.

On the other hand, when walking out after Mass, we hardly know anyone (/hardly anyone knows us) and we're starving for people to just hang out with and talk about our Christian experience. Even with the folks we do know, that old Catholic "don't ask, don't tell" habit prevents the conversation from deepening to a satisfying level. If not for old college friends and other out-of-state close friends we keep in touch with, and St. Blog's, we'd perish from the loneliness.

I don't know what to do about that, except to keep trying to connect with people after Mass and at study groups and potlucks, etc. And to keep up with my treasured old friends - they're more precious to me now than they ever were.


St. Pio recently came up in a discussion with a Catholic who is always seeking mysticism.
She asked if I knew how persecuted he was by the institutional Church. I said I did. What I should've added was: "...and did he leave that institutional Church"?

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B.

Since the Eucharist gives us Christ in his Body and Blood that he sacrificed on Good Friday, I like to think of the tensions in our liturgical life-- stretched between the hootenanny and the hallowed-- as a constant reliving of the Paschal Triduum itself.

On the one hand the Passover Supper was a sacred event of ceremony, formality, history and tradition; the Lord's Last Passover Supper gave the form, the substance and meaning of the next day's violence.

Then the Day of Sacrifice on Calvary was accompanied by the jeering howlers and the gambling soldiers. Hootenanny Mass! Afterwards, the holy women did what they could to provide the proper dignities of burial, even returning early in the morning on the first day of the week to complete (and still failing to complete) what was never completed on Good Friday.

The glorious mystery of the Risen One broke through all the lack of completion. The Church is left wanting rightly and sincerely to grasp the feet of the Glorious One, but he has a "further" glory to ascend to, and sends the Church off with a "Noli me tangere". Nonetheless, the Glory is present in the Church's celebrative words, "I have seen the Lord".

The Church then runs to the empty tomb, but it is empty of the Glory. The Glorious One appears again in a Liturgy of the Word on the road to Emmaus, and he inititiates a Liturgy of the Food at table in Emmaus. Glory recognized! Glory then vanishes.

Finally, in the evening of that first day of the week, Glory appears again-- in the upper room-- in the Birthchamber of the Eucharist-- appears to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church-- and gives his Liturgy of the Word, "Peace be with you. It is I. Do not be afraid." Then his Liturgy of the Body and Blood: "See, a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do. Do you have anything to eat?" What is his intention? "Receive the Holy Spirit!"

Just when we had a chance to grasp the Resurrection Glory in Person, he vanished from the first Eucharistic Sanctuary.

Forty days later, Ascended One left us to our liturgical efforts. The angels ask, "Why do you stand looking up to heaven?" Because we're waiting for Jesus to come again in the same way.

Liturgical glory is right and just. We need it. We owe it to God if we're going to put our money where our mouths are-- as well as put money out for the mouths of the poor. "You shall love the Lord your God with your all...." The second greatest commandment is like to the first. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Rightly do we spend effort on our neighbors, but God commands that effort to take second place to our effort to spend our all, all, all on God. Liturgical glory is about fulfilling the God-specified first and greatest commandment.

As for howling jeers (contemporary music?) and the playful, gambling "Mosh Pit of Peace" at Mass: a repetition of the need to say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

We reach for glory. We live the passion.


Fr. Stephanos, for me, this is a truly epiphanic remark:

the Passover Supper was a sacred event of ceremony, formality, history and tradition

Exactly. So often it seems the meal dimension of the Mass legitimates, if not encourages, a casual attitude, but the continuity of this traditional Jewish ritual is utterly astounding, even to this day. Christ himself no doubt celebrated it faithfully his entire life. I can't help but think that if we approached the Mass with a tenth of Jewish fidelity to, and joy in, such a tradition, the Mass would be an even stronger force for the integration of the Body of Christ than it is.

Away with the ad hoc! As the work of Christ, the Mass is something we ought to be able to cling to, in love, for protection -- instead of being something to criticize and endure.

Aimee Milburn

Stretched between the hootenanny and the hallowed.

(shouting out loud with laughter)

Yes, from the infamous Halloween mass in California to the solemn dignity of St. John Cantius in Chicago.

Excellent comment, Fr. Stephanos. I've been thinking much the same: Christ was disfigured on the Cross; his Body the Church is disfigured on earth. We love Christ on the cross; how hard do we really try to love the off-key cantors in our midst - or the priests dancing around in Barney costumes?

I confess I've done my share of complaining, and recently. Just last week, in fact. But how much have I really tried to love?

reluctant penitent

Kathleen Lundquist,

God bless you for not succombing to the iconoclastic heresy that has come to dominate so much of the church! Beauty in music, architecture, and liturgy are not trivial matters, and one has every right to flee ugly parishes. "Offering up" the suffering endured in an avoidable parish is sort of like offering up the indigestion that you got because you ate junk food instead of a nutritious meal. Not the greatest analogy, but I hope it conveys the basic idea...

Those who accuse Jennifer Ferrara of snobism and elitism should read paragraph 35 of Sacramentum Caritatis:

'35. This relationship between creed and worship is evidenced in a particular way by the rich theological and liturgical category of beauty. Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is veritatis splendor. The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion. As Saint Bonaventure would say, in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendour at their source. (106) This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love. (107) God allows himself to be glimpsed first in creation, in the beauty and harmony of the cosmos (cf. Wis 13:5; Rom 1:19- 20). In the Old Testament we see many signs of the grandeur of God's power as he manifests his glory in his wondrous deeds among the Chosen People (cf. Ex 14; 16:10; 24:12-18; Num 14:20- 23). In the New Testament this epiphany of beauty reaches definitive fulfilment in God's revelation in Jesus Christ: (108) Christ is the full manifestation of the glory of God. In the glorification of the Son, the Father's glory shines forth and is communicated (cf. Jn 1:14; 8:54; 12:28; 17:1). Yet this beauty is not simply a harmony of proportion and form; "the fairest of the sons of men" (Ps 45[44]:3) is also, mysteriously, the one "who had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" (Is 53:2). Jesus Christ shows us how the truth of love can transform even the dark mystery of death into the radiant light of the resurrection. Here the splendour of God's glory surpasses all worldly beauty. The truest beauty is the love of God, who definitively revealed himself to us in the paschal mystery. The beauty of the liturgy is part of this mystery; it is a sublime expression of God's glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth. The memorial of Jesus' redemptive sacrifice contains something of that beauty which Peter, James and John beheld when the Master, making his way to Jerusalem, was transfigured before their eyes (cf. Mk 9:2). Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour.'

In seeking beauty in the liturgy Mrs. Ferrara was merely seeking that which is appropriate to the Roman Catholic liturgy.

Rich Leonardi

Re: Stay or go.

Many folks, myself included, remain members of liturgically and catechetically sloppy parishes and yet take monthly breaks/checks at other parishes a bit more solid on those points. There's nothing wrong with that, and it reinforces that we are first and foremost members of a diocese, not a parish. You can also pick up ideas to 'take home' with you.

Rich Leonardi

I confess I've done my share of complaining, and recently. Just last week, in fact. But how much have I really tried to love?

A noble idea, so long as we remember that "love 'ain't 'wuv," i.e., true love goes beyond mere sentimentality or accepting people "for who they are," and instead seeks that the beloved become conformed to Christ. And yes, we all need that kind of love.

Aimee Milburn

Rich: you may be comforted to know that I am not talking about "wuv."

Here's a thought: scripture tells us that we are to use our gifts to build up the Body. The Church prefers (though doesn't enforce) that we attend the parish within whose boundaries we live (and I confess I don't). If we don't, are we depriving the parish that we are meant to belong to of gifts given by Christ to build it up? Are those parishes, then, weakened by our absence, our lack of participation?

Just a thought. But it's not a question of "wuv." It's a question of building, and each of us is gifted in some particular way by Christ to assist in that work, whether it's hidden prayer or active service.

W Riley

If I'm not mistaken, the Holy Rosary parish in the story is my own parish in Indianapolis.


Fr. Stephanos:

You post is beautiful and much appreciated.


Sean Gallagher


I believe that you are mistaken. The text of Ms. Ferarra's piece at First Thing's Web site noted that she wrote from Fleetwood, PA.

Rich Leonardi

If we don't, are we depriving the parish that we are meant to belong to of gifts given by Christ to build it up? Are those parishes, then, weakened by our absence, our lack of participation?

Perhaps -- maybe even likely -- to both questions. But my first obligation is to the formation of my children.

And I know you weren't talking about 'wuv, but it's important to remind ourselves of what we're talking about from time to time.


Thanks for the clarification. Too hasty a reading on my part. Sorry.

I will say that we changed parishes 2 years ago, mainly because my elderly in-laws moved in with us and this parish was far more physically accessible to them. The change has coincided with a wonderful increase in our spiritual life. I can't necessarily explain why. It is plain that Christ was present at our former parish, which was staffed by wonderful piests. There are many, many good people there, far better than I. But our current parish "feels" more right. Not really sure why, but it does.

I will also note that there is some risk to immersing yourself in a parish. You see the parish politics and petty personality conflicts, which can be disheartening if you let it. But grace builds on nature, and we should not let the exposure to normal human failings deter us. The Holy Spirit is still present even if "politicing" is occurring at a conclave or a parish council meeting. Still, it's a but offputting at times.


I was about to say something about the "how come the Catholic Church doesn't have any works to show for herself," but my gathering harrumph was cut short by Kimel's stellar apology. Amen, preach it, Brother Al!

As far as the first point goes, I think the good news is that the young priests and many Catholic faithful are also converts in a way to the Church of the "imagination". And they are just as determined to make the reality fit the ideal as anyone could hope. Masses WILL get more reverent, we are in the process of rediscovering and renewing our liturgy and spirituality, because the next generation is simply demanding it. The Holy Ghost doesn't sleep.

And that's yet ANOTHER reason why any converts out there having a difficult time should just hang in there. The graces just keep flowing, it's amazing. I am so glad I am Catholic, there's nothing to compare with it. Watching the Church make it through the desert of the Eighties and turn the corner and come roaring back from Oblivion as She has so many times before woulda made a Believer outa me if I hadn'ta been one already! I pity the poor Radtrads who can't see it and won't feel it.

Ferde Rombola

I'm with mr, Kathleen and rp on this issue. There is no doubt in my mind the the 'hootnanny' as Fr. Stephanos calls it, in all its forms, is an impediment to sacred worship. Anyone who doesn't think so hasn't been privileged to experience the grandeur and majesty that is an authentic, traditional Catholic Mass, either in its austere, subdued form at a local parish, or at its height in a Mozart, Bach, Beethoven or Faure Mass in a cathedral. Those masses are uplifting in the literal sense of the word; our hearts and minds transported to the Throne of Heaven. It is, without question, the most fitting way to celebrate, with true joy and the deepest love, the impossible miracle taking place before our eyes on the altar.

The Church will never convert the world by becoming more like it.


Rich -

If the spiritual formation of a child were dependent on the church s/he grew up in, then I would still be a semi-Gnostic, tongues speaking Pentecostal (or perhaps a semi-Gnostic, regulative principle Reformed evangelical). I learned a lot more from how my parents lived out their faith than I did from the churches we attended (and we were very involved in those churches).


Protestants dissatisfied with the Catholic Church upon conversion are not necessarily snobs, but maybe frogs who have simply not been in the hot water that long yet. Some of you might try pausing before the sanctimoious lecturing pf people about their lack of spirituality. In many places, the churches are packed with neo-pagans and priests making hash of the liturgy. In such instances, a Christian *should* be dissatisfied, regardless of the other glories of the true Church.


As an Episcopalian (who, with God's help, will be a Catholic at the Easter Vigil), I'd like to warn against getting too attached to the purely aesthetic aspects of worship. My decision to convert was partly prompted by the ugly realization that I was in the Episcopal Church largely for reasons of taste, and to avoid the stigma of Catholicism. So I left my parish, which had a beautiful church, wonderful music — and utter, bloody nonsense coming from the pulpit.

I am in RCIA now in a small parish in a (comparatively) small diocese. Yes, the music is pretty lame — but the choir are all non-professional volunteers, doing the best they can. The congregation is genuinely diverse, in terms of both ethnicity and social class. (One of the RCIA team is a guy who pumps septic tanks for a living. He also happens to be on fire for Christ.)

Yes, the priest says "Good morning," at the beginning of mass. He also preaches rock-solid, biblical homilies and celebrates the Novus Ordo mass with great reverence. Yes, we do regular adoration of the Eucharist. Yes, there is ample time scheduled every week for confessions — and people show up. I rather think that all of these things are related.

My point is: be careful to distinguish between the package and the contents. Bad music or bad interior design can be corrected. Bad theology will do actual damage. Go for good theology, even if the packaging is unattractive.

Dave Pawlak

I pity the poor Radtrads who can't see it and won't feel it.

A lot of radical traditionalists suffer from what I call "Dwarfs in the Stable Syndrome": they've been so taken in, they won't be taken out.

Rich Leonardi

I learned a lot more from how my parents lived out their faith than I did from the churches we attended (and we were very involved in those churches).

Tope: Both/and.

chris K

Protestants entering the Church these days I see as a real gift to the lukewarm. They really concentrate on what they are learning, weighing and balancing, until they are firmly convinced in the Faith. They then spur the complacent to take another look. Kind of like when a secure child has put the beloved toy aside for lesser stimulation, but is alerted to its value only when another child comes to play and sees the toy's original and continuing worth, picking it up, ready to carry it away.


Many have commented here about the Protestant tendency to be consumerist and to church shop. What about Orthodoxy? The "sameness" of Orthodoxy can look quite tempting to many Catholics dissatisfied with the way the liturgy is done in many Catholic parishes.

Someone also talked about the danger of getting involved at the parish level--seeing all the politics that goes on. I agree. I think the same can be said with getting involved at the wider Church level as well. It is SO disheartening to hear over and over, about what this or that theologian , priest or even Bishop says that often goes against Church teaching.


"take monthly breaks/checks at other parishes a bit more solid on those points. There's nothing wrong with that, and it reinforces that we are first and foremost members of a diocese, not a parish."

I cross diocesan boundaries for my "breaks." (Joliet has nothing like St John Cantius that I have found.)

Sincere question, am I doing something wrong, in finding my solace, in feeling more "attached" to that parish than to my own?

I support mine, I volunteer, I do my best to help with music but swallow my gorge at some of the things I hear, some of the things I am asked to sing, but I know in my heart, if I had time and money to make the journey more often, I would probably try to register in the other parish, in the other diocese.

Would that be wrong?

I have not been blessed with children, so I don't have that justification. (Although I converted a friend, and her accompanying me on my "pilgrimages" has helped renew her RCIA fervor, which was fast dissipating in the face of gum chewers in the Communion procession and a priest who tells loud jokes in the nave before Mass, so maybe that counts.)

"scripture tells us that we are to use our gifts to build up the Body. The Church prefers (though doesn't enforce) that we attend the parish within whose boundaries we live (and I confess I don't). If we don't, are we depriving the parish that we are meant to belong to of gifts given by Christ to build it up? Are those parishes, then, weakened by our absence, our lack of participation?"

But how am I building up the Body if I contribute, through my vocal or keyboard talents, to disseminating theology that is terribly misleading and sometimes, flat out wrong? (Remember that although people complain about the "music" the component that often bothers them most are the doctrinally unsound texts.)

Am I building the Body if my participation makes for a better performance of a musical style that fosters a casual attitude toward the liturgy that detracts (because it distracts,) from the sheer weight of the Awful Sacrifice, from the solemnity that should surround its Mysteries?

I can't think so.

I'll weed the rectory's front lawn, and buy macaroni for the food bank, but I am not going to raise my voice during Mass in celebration of how wonderful we all are, or contribute to the atmosphere that says, isn't this fun? Just like being at


Lex orandi, lex credendi.


About the Passover being reverent, ancient, sober.... that is an imaginary Passover. Well, it is ancient, but not sober. Not one celebrated anyplace I have ever been. Let's start with the four cups of wine. Then there is lots of food, lovingly prepared and eaten with all the dignity and reverence any American experiences at Thanksgiving. (Which can be 'not much.') Then there are the kids. The meal and the telling of the Haggadah are for the children. They are intrinsic. So, they are kids, being kids at the table. Then they have to go off to search for the afikomen and they tear the house apart. And Grandpa sneaks to the door to let in Elijah - and downs Elijah's cup of wine, so Grandpa is either drowsy or even more jovial.

There is no set way to celebrate the Seder. It is up to each family. The most common Haggadah in America used to be distributed by Maxwell House coffee and put into racks to be take for free at the supermarket. (Maybe people download more elegant versions from the web these days.)

The songs are raucous and engaging and hardly mimic anything one would associate with the solemnity of Yom Kippur, for example.

One might think that I have only casual and folksy experiences of Passover on which to draw - and that I haven't seen the 'real deal.' (Despite having a Jewish mother.) But the most raucous and wild Shabbat I ever spent was in a Jerusalem hotel dining room with a large group of Orthodox from New York. I had to keep explaining their behavior to the shocked Catholics at my table. But Shabbat is supposed to be a taste of heaven and heaven might be loud and joyous. The Passover is a celebration of freedom and that is not always so organized and solemn.

Roman liturgy might be another question. But don't think that our solemnity is rooted in these legacies, because I can't see it.

Aimee Milburn

Just for record, since I've made a number of comments on this thread, when I talk about loving the off-key cantor, etc., I don't mean approving incorrect liturgical practices or, for that matter, approving bad catechesis from the pulpit or anywhere else.

What I'm trying to get at is avoiding a critical spirit that is so easy to fall into, and can set us up for pride. Abp. Chaput preached about this last weekend, in the context of judging: yes, we are to judge sin. But we are not to judge the people who sin. How often, in our upset over bad liturgical practices, do we judge the people along with the practices? I know I do. And I'm trying to come to grips with that.

When I wrote about participating in the local parish, I was thinking of more than just volunteering for music (where, if very diplomatic, we might have a good influence), but also maybe volunteering to help with catechesis, or even just going and having good conversations with people after mass about what the Church teaches about this or that.

Or, at the very least, praying for the parish and the people while you're there. There's all kinds of ways, including hidden ones, to be a good influence.

That's all I'm talking about. I do want good liturgy - I just don't want to throw the baby (people) out with the bathwater (bad practices).

John Hudson

Austin: 'Pope John Paul 2 once said something like the Catholic church was breathing with only one lung without the riches of the Orthodox tradition.'

Actually, that is not at all what the late Pope said. He was talking about Europe, not the Church, and reflecting that the continent breathes with two lungs: one western and Catholic, one eastern and Orthodox, and that both these lungs were important to the health of Europe (contra the draft EU constitution, which made no reference to Europe's Christian heritage).

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B.

I concede more than one point to
"anon at Mar 28, 2007 12:55:59 PM".

Judaism created the ritualistic Seder sometime AFTER the Romans destroyed the Temple of God in A.D. 70.

Ritualized or not, ritualized highly or hardly ... the Passover WAS and REMAINS a joyous celebration of freedom.

As Jesus gave it to us in the Gospel and the Church hands it to us in the Mass, the Eucharist was NOT a celebrations of the Jewish Passover.

Rather, DURING the Passover meal, Jesus took bread ... and said what he said. His words about eating his body were a strange echo of the Exodus directives about eating the flesh of the Passover lamb.

THEN the Gospel and the Mass tell us that AFTER, AFTER, AFTER (NOT during) the Passover meal, Jesus took wine and said, "This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant...." With those words he echoed not the Passover but the Sinai Covenant rite recorded in the Book of Exodus.

The Sinai Covenenant rite ... THAT historical event WAS formal and frightening and deadly. Go read about it in the Book of Exodus. The people were FRIGHTENED; they told Moses, "YOU go and deal with the theophanic terror". For breaking the covenant almost immediately, God had the Levites kill 3,000 of the people; and that was still not enough for God: he then sent a plague upon the people.

In "cutting the deal" of the New and Everlasting Covenant, Jesus adds a condition to it that no other covenant ever had in it: the forgiveness of those who sin against the covenant. However, Jesus did not take away the death penalty from the covenant. Instead he received the death penalty.

Furthermore, since he offers the Eucharist to us as a COVENANT, that NECESSARILY means that he is asking us to bind ourselves to him with a life-and-death obligation of loyalty, since that IS the nature of a covenant.

By its very nature the covenant of the Eucharist demands reverence, loyalty, and solemnity. It goes past the Jewish Passover and transcends even Sinai.

Fr Alvin Kimel

I am curious when John Paul II first used the two lungs metaphor and how many times subsequently and in what contexts. In a google search I discover that in 2001, after his visit to the Ukraine, he declared:

"The visit to Ukraine, historical bridge between East and West, was a long-standing objective of mine, which I awaited and prepared for in prayer. Now, its fulfillment is further confirmation of a providential design: that the Church in Europe will begin to breathe again with its two lungs, so that the whole Continent will experience a new evangelization."

But clearly he used the metaphor earlier than this.

In 1998 Metropolitan John of Pergamon, in a speech delivered before JPII, said:

"As Your Holiness has aptly put it some years ago, 'East and West are the two lungs by which the Church breaths; their unity is essential to the healthy life of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.'"

I do not know if this was a direct quote of JPII or a paraphrase.

Can anyone provide other uses of the two-lungs metaphor by JPII.


The only balanced Catholics I know are those who trust the lead of the Pope without hesitation. They don't pine for the Church of THEIR dreams, they accept it as it comes from the Holy Father's hands. The liberals want to eat only desert and the traditionalist are whining for watermelon in winter. Balanced Catholics just eat what is put before them. If its not what we ordered or seems bland we don't have to pretend that we're ecstatic(our ignorance usually dominates our value-response) ...but as long as we want to stay under Papa's roof we heartily thank Mama for the meal."wow Mom, thanks, that was great!!!"
Do we think that just because Catherine of Sienna got the pope out of Avignon and there is such thing as a sensus fidei that we have a Duty to input and a right to influence the Holy See? To distrust the Pope's lead is to commit a sin against the Holy Spirit who was given to the Church so that the gates of hell should not prevail. Only the Church can set Heaven as your default option. Penance is over the counter all we want but absolution is prescription only.
Maybe some will accuse such undoubting obedience as a weakness--an intellectual laziness. I answer; God damned Eve's lack of laziness. She could have eaten of any tree, she didn't have to get up and dialog and ponder. She didn't have to use her nuggin. Thanks a lot Adam and Eve, stroke of genius, now tell me, do you feel just a little foolish?

Here's a quiz: Are you a conscientious, catholic, who deliberates before giving the Church your opinion, who weighs carefully before advising Her, and makes no rash judgments when faced with the "encrusted" dogmas of yesteryear or the "adolescent" vigour of Vatican II? If so, can I put you on hold? I have a Mormon on the other line.

As for me and my house we will follow Peter... because He has the groceries. "Feed My sheep"Jn 21
By the way, I am honored to be a balanced Catholic(entirely God's welcome intrusion upon my innate stupidity). How do I know? Because my landmark is a white skullcap.



A couple things...

First, I came across this post through Fr. Stephanos, so I would like to share what I said to him:

Father Stephanos:

Thank you for such a beautiful analysis of the liturgical situation here in the US. I want you to know that I have felt anger, frustration and suspicion at the "happy clappy" masses to which I have been exposed.

While I have tried to stop the thoughts from entering my head when I see the (incredibly well described) "Mosh Pit for Peace," but I have never succeeded.

Now, thanks to this, perhaps I can remember that, instead of worrying about the garbage of the others, I can remember the gift of grace upon the Beloved Disciple and the Holy Women. Perhaps, I can learn to be like them, at the foot of the cross, and ignore the cacaphony the surrounds this most precious gift.

God Bless you!

Second, the whole debate over the problems in parishes around the country has caused me to look at myself and ask, "Yes, but what am I really doing to change things?"

The answer: Frankly, not much.

I go to Mass, but I have "parish-hopped" to find a parish that I like. I suppose we all do this, to one extent or another. But still, why am I so concerned about walking up to the priest and engaging him in a reasonable conversation about how things are at the parish I was attending?

Part of that comes from not wanting to be another annoying parishoner with whom the priest must deal. I don't want to walk up to him with a copy of the GIRM and scream "You can't do that!" I know life is hard enough for priests without being another thorn in their side.

But, does that excuse me, or is it simply an excuse? Certainly, it makes it easier for me. What happens, for instance, if I go to the priest and say, "These people need to stop with the handholding during the Our Father?" What is he going to want?

More than anything else, he may agree, and want my help. I may be expected to be the one, to write an insert for the bulletin to instruct people on what the Divine Congregation for the Liturgy says. I may have to put my own neck out! Am I ready to do that?

In the end, the whole debate reminds me of a quote from the movie Oh God!. Near the end of the film, as God has finished testifying in court, he vanishes from view and, preseumably, walks out of the courtroom. The doors swing open and a reverberating George Burns voice says:

"I know how hard it is, in times like these, to have faith. But maybe, if you had faith in the first place, maybe the time would change. You could change them."

Changing the culture of the American Church will take many lay members with courage. I know how hard it is, with the Church the way she is, for the lay people to find the courage. But maybe, if we had the courage in the first place, we could change her.

What I enjoy the most about this thread is that I don't see a lack of love for the Church in the posters. That's a start. Let's take it from there!


"I don't think it's just RCIA candidates who might welcome the "anonymity" of Catholic churches. A lot of us cradle Catholics would be alarmed if people started talking to us after Mass. ;-)

Or is that just a Canadian thing?"

To comment on this, it isn't what I have experienced in the UK. My Church is a very friendly family, and every stays and chats after Mass, and has a cup of coffee :)

I have read on some blogs about people dashing off immediately after Mass to get out of the car park first, and have been bemused, as it doesn't happen that way here.

People in the UK love to "talk" to one another, and I count that as a blessing!

Have a great day xx

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