Missing Your Blessing

I’ve refrained from answering comments about my post on liturgical abuse because I wanted to see what people would say.

It’s been a sad sort of education. Evidently, all that’s necessary for a person to be labelled self-righteous, heretical and told to leave the Church is to say that the Real Presence and healing graces of the mass are more important than liturgical irregularities.

Before I go further with this post, I want to make something clear. Those who say that I am not worthy to be a Catholic are correct. I am not worthy. And I know it. But I don’t think I’m unworthy because I refuse to boil my pastor in oil for allowing applause during the after-mass announcements for the people who put up Christmas decorations.

I am unfit for far more substantial reasons than that. In truth, I never walk into a Catholic Church that I don’t feel just how unworthy I am. Even after all these years, I am grateful — and astonished — that anybody ever let me in. So, if this debate is going to devolve down to me and my sinful, unworthy-to-be-Catholic state, I will short-circuit it by telling you right up front that you are right. I have no business standing in the presence of God. None.

I can only do it because of the Catholic Church and its forgiveness. I am here by the grace of God working through the totally unwarranted kindness that a priest extended to me once upon a time. He just opened the doors and let me in, something I’m sure the liturgy cops would want him punished or censured for doing.

I understand that the Church (not you; not me; but the Church) is responsible for keeping the liturgy whole and handing it forward intact to future generations. I know that conformity to the rubrics is part of this. I’m not arguing with that. I just don’t think it’s the laity’s job to police the liturgy.

I also think that some of the articles I’ve read about this are mean-spirited and hateful (as were a couple of the comments on this blog) and that our priests do not deserve this kind of treatment. I don’t look for mistakes in how my priest says the mass, just as I don’t ask to stay awake during surgery so I can birddog my surgeon.

The mass as it is actually said in parishes all over the world is bound to be imperfect because human beings are imperfect. That is how things are, and how they will continue to be until we share in the banquet of the Great High Priest in Heaven. There is no amount of criticism or angry denouncing that can change this.

People who stand before the miracle of the love of Christ and only see the faults and failings of the priest who has given his life to bring Christ to them in the sacraments confound me. They are blinding themselves to the miracle.

The mass is a living re-enactment of Calvary. It is heaven come down to earth, so that we can be in communion with heaven while we are still here on earth and experience the healing power of the living Christ in the Eucharist. In my opinion, standing before the throne of God and engaging in a petty snipe-fest about this or that “abuse” is itself an abuse.

We cannot experience the miracle of Christ in front of us and indulge our angry obsessions over the faults we see in the liturgy both at the same time. Our brains just aren’t made that way. We will do one. Or we will do the other. Worship Christ, or critique the priest: That is the choice. Those who critique the priest are missing their blessing.

I don’t honestly know if this over-concern with the real and imagined faults of our priests is a genuine concern for the liturgy and a miss-placed attempt at devotion or if it’s an expression of anger over other things. What I do know is that we can trust the Church to do this job of defending the liturgy. The Holy Spirit is going to protect the Church from failing in this regard.

I also know that this is not my job, and it’s not yours. Our job as laity is to worship Christ at the mass; to let the love that is there heal us, and then to go out from there to change the world. We are God’s great change agents for a suffering world. When we indulge these obsessions with what we think the priest is doing wrong, we block ourselves from receiving the graces that are there for us in the mass and unfit ourselves for the battle we were made to fight.

If you walk out of mass seething and angry rather than loved and healed, then you’ve done something wrong while you were there.

I’ve often said that if people were the ones who decided who would go to heaven, then none of us would go. We would all judge one another and send each other to hell. I’m going to amend that to say that if the liturgy cops were the ones who determined who goes to heaven, the rest of us wouldn’t want to go there. These people remind me of the Puritans who first settled this country and who, I’ve read, used to walk up and down during church services with sticks so they could jab anyone who dozed off.

I am not fit to stand before God under any circumstance. And yet I do stand before Him and receive Him in the Eucharist as a free and totally undeserved gift of grace. The Catholic Church makes that possible; the real Catholic Church that is full of imperfect priests who sometimes commit errors while ministering to the confused and imperfect people who sit in the pews.

We are all of us standing before the cross in the solidarity of our sins and lostness. If that isn’t true, then why do we even need the Eucharist? Perfect people have no need of the sacraments or a Church to preserve those sacraments. Perfect people don’t need any Savior but themselves.

If you spend your time in mass looking for faults and picking things apart, then you’re impoverishing yourself with a second rate experience. You’re like a child who refuses to open his present because the bow is crooked.

Do you have any idea what is happening in the world? Do you understand that Christianity is under attack, that the world is a butcher shop, and that these priests bring us the only hope there is? Priests are human beings. I’ve sometimes gotten exasperated with one or another of them, as, I assure you, they have with me. I’ve had disagreements, and rather heated ones, with priests I know. But not over their advice to me about spiritual things.

I have never felt anything but awe when one of these very human men looks down at that wafer and says “This is My body,” and by saying that, makes it so. They bring us Christ in the Eucharist, and, my experience has been, when you’re in trouble and you call them, they come.

When I talk about the people who were at the Christmas Eve mass, I am talking about living miracles of grace. The pillars of the community, illegal immigrants, the gay man, the transsexual, the gabbling ladies, the cop who was supposed to never walk again, and, yes, incredible as it is to say, me. We are all miracles.

The only reason I can say that I am Catholic is because of the love of Christ and the kindness of a priest who helped me when I needed it badly.

This dear priest is also one of the most quick-tempered, sometimes difficult people that I know a big part of the time. But he is God’s man and he, like most of his other brother priests, does his best. I’ve seen God reach right through these men and into suffering people, have experienced it myself, again and again.

They are my brothers in Christ. We, all of us, owe them a debt of gratitude.



  • http://biblisvox.wordpress.com Biblis Vox

    Amen to ALL of that. I’ve attended a lot of different churches, pertaining to differing denominations in many different parts of the world and I think these words could/should apply to any one and any church that calls itself Christian. Reminds me of something someone once said about forests and trees…

  • http://theshepherdspresence.wordpress.com Karyl

    I am not sure what brought on this “rant” but I am smililng. As the comment above me already stated, it is just not the Catholic denomination. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being in a church with far too many “cops” calling the shots, even over the clergy. I found a different pasture in which to graze. What is so sad is that the bickering within the churches is hurting us in so MANY ways. Most of all, it hurts the name of my Savior and that is the biggest hurt of all.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      As usual Karyl, you said it better than me.

  • http://www.havingleftthealtar.com Katherine

    I have found your previous post and this one both a bit baffling. Maybe I just don’t know the people you know, but, while I don’t like holding hands during the Our Father, I’ve never heard anyone call it a “liturgical abuse”. The same applies for talking while leaving the sanctuary, though I consider it rather rude for those who are trying to pray and thank God for the miracle you want them to relish. I hadn’t read the comments, so I don’t know why anyone should be attacking you or acting unkindly but I partially disagree with you in this post as well. Certainly no one should be spending Mass just looking for faults, but if something is seriously wrong, there is nothing wrong with a layperson speaking to their priest or consulting their bishop in the matter. I once had my pastor ask a rabbi to give us a “homily.” Certainly not everything should be ignored by the laity? I think the problem you are trying to address is nit-picking and scrupulousness of the laity with regards to the liturgy but you don’t limit your assertions to that, which, I think, causes problems. The laity have a responsibility to the Church too, but they should likewise take that responsibility seriously with common sense, right judgment, and proper respect for their priest. I once attended a Mass where the priest left out the Our Father… but it would be stupid to complain about it or get upset as it was a complete accident, and obviously so after a mixup with the choir. Discernment, prayer and charity in all things both with regards to our priests, each other, and our liturgy for the offering at Mass is ours as well.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Katherine, I agree. If something is truly serious, then we should say something.

    • Subsistent

      Is it really “seriously wrong” for a pastor to ask a rabbi to give a homily? Seems to me, it depends on which rabbi the pastor would ask. Pope Benedict recently quoted a rabbi in agreement with the latter’s view on marriage. Would it necessarily be seriously wrong for that rabbi to be invited to speak briefly on that subject, provided he understood that nothing he said was to contradict any teachings of the Church?
      Altho I don’t think I’m a liturgy cop, I guess I am something of a Catholic orthodoxy cop. But I noticed nothing heterodox in what a certain rabbi once preached some years ago at a lenten “mission” on invitation from our Catholic pastor. Indeed, with a scroll of the Hebrew Torah (not the specifically Judaistic Talmud or anything like that, but just the first several books of the Bible) resting on our Catholic altar, and with a bit of prayer in Hebrew (some of the rabbi’s congregation were also in attendance), it was for me a moving symbolic representation of the hoped-for reconciliation of the new Israel with those whom Pope John Paul termed “our elder brethren in the faith”.

      • http://www.havingleftthealtar.com Katherine

        Subsistent, there is nothing wrong with asking a rabbi to speak, but this was the “homily” during Mass. The homily fulfills the priest’s prophetic role as alter christus. It is not the time for just anyone to make a speech.

        • Subsistent

          I now see, from Canon 767, § 1, that the homily “is reserved to a priest or deacon.” So I concede Katherine’s main point. However, since a deacon too may give a homily, the ground of “alter Christus” is perhaps not decisive.

  • Dave

    I am not sure whether I agree with you or not. Yes, the presence of Jesus is more important than any liturgical problems. However, for those of us who know and love the form of the liturgy, deviations from the norm are like discordant notes in a favorite tune. It’s impossible to not notice it. And when it goes on week after week, it is evident that it’s not just a mistake. I do have to disagree that it’s not the laity’s job to speak to the Bishop about liturgical deviations. Of course, the priest should be spoken to directly, first. But if that doesn’t resolve it, if the laity doesn’t tell the Bishop, how will he ever know about it? The liturgy is of utmost importance, and cannot be deliberately tampered with by anyone.

    • Ted Seeber

      This is going to shock many people on this blog but here it goes. I go to one of the most liberal parishes in “Keep Portland Weird” Portlandia- yes, THAT Portlandia. More than half the parish is pro-choice. We’ve had a string of Pastors who seem to disagree with Church teaching on everything from using crystal for the eucharist to women being allowed to give homilies.

      Our new priest has tightened up considerably in the last year.

      And yet, after seeing the Roller Skating Circus Angels of the Solemnity of Mary online from Brazil, somehow very little liturgical abuse bothers me any more. The only complaint I made in the last 10 years was over the use of ballet as liturgical dance; and even that was more about the immodest costuming than about the actual interpretive dance.

      • Ted Seeber

        Oh yeah, and I made that complaint to the *ballerina*, not the priest. Somehow, she never volunteered to do that ever again. I don’t think she understood male lust.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Ted, I have no idea what I would do with a pro choice priest, or a pro choice parish, for that matter. It would be terrible for me.

      • Sus

        Ted, I do find your comments shocking but this one is the most shocking of all! It must be difficult for you.

        • Ted Seeber

          It is difficult for me, but that’s why I worked very hard to bring Knights of Columbus to the parish. I wanted to give the few men like me a group they felt welcome in, because I knew far too many that had been chased away from Christianity entirely by the heterodoxy.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Dave, are these serious matters or just things that annoy you? The reason I ask is that I do think that there are times when we need to say something, but I personally would never do it over the things that seem to rev the people who’ve been commenting and sending me emails and tweets.

      The only time I ever got on a priest was back when I was an Episcopalian. We had a guy at our parish who was also a college professor and who said things from the pulpit like “Christianity is just one religion among many and they are all equal in God’s eyes.” He basically debunked most Christian teaching in his homilies, but, week after week, no one in the parish said anything. Finally, I went to a meeting about something else entirely and the people there got to chattering about our priest. It turned out that they were all beguiled by his “beautiful” high-church liturgy — which was flawless — and were not listening to his homilies at all.
      I was in charge of the confirmation class and the kids WERE listening to him. He was harming them spiritually with his preaching. Finally one day I met him in the hall and just burst out at him about how he was confusing the kids and destroying their faith. I was soooo angry with him. He didn’t argue with me. And he did tone down his anti-Christian message into a sort of mushy nothingness after that.

      I, personally, consider what he was doing plenty serious enough to have talked to him. I think I did the right thing and don’t regret it. I think with something like that you almost are obliged to do something.

      I’ve been told all sorts of things today, including that I’m a self-righteous phony Catholic heretic who doesn’t care about the mass. Everyone who’s sending these poison pen thingies seems to have the idea that it is their province to police the mass and “do” something about what they feel are egregious “abuses,” and anyone who tries to talk moderation to them is doing so because they are … well, everything they’ve been calling me.

      They’re wrong. On both counts.

      I also doubt if these abuses they’re so worked up about are so very bad. The reason I say that is two-fold. First, based on the things they are saying to me, they are rather obviously given to histrionics. Second, if they’re right, then Oklahoma must be the liturgical promised land. We have small things happen, but I’ve never seen a priest do anything that, so far as I know, would make a mass illicit or damage the faith of the people there. I’ve experienced good shepherds.

      My feeling, and I really don’t have the right to tell you what to do, so take what I say with a pound of salt, is that just because something annoys you, that is not a reason to start in on your priest. Frankly, if reading books about the liturgy and canon law was making it harder for me to see the miracle of the mass and was destroying my ability to experience true worship in the mass, I’d stop reading them and spend more time with Scripture instead.

      That actually is what I do. I read through the Bible every year and I try to pray the Rosary every day. I also have recently discovered the Daily Office, which I’ve got on my iPad. I don’t pray it all, but usually do the evening prayer before bed at night. These may sound like simple things, but they keep me in the palm of God’s hand through all sorts of challenges.

      I think that priests must feel like they are being pecked to death by ducks from all these barbs and accusations. If something is truly important — then by all means. But the criticisms I’m reading sound petty, punitive and destructive. It might be better to offer to help your priest than to criticize him. If you knew him better, you would either not feel so jarred and angry about what he does, or, failing that, have a situation where you could talk about these things in a non-accusatory way.

      I support my priest.

      And my bishop.

      • Rebecca Hamilton

        Dave, about six weeks ago, I had a bad new problem with my broken foot. One of the broken bones somehow managed to move, despite the fact that it was pinned and planked and screwed into place. That caused a lot of pain and messiness — not to mention upsetting me rather badly.
        When I was talking to my surgeon, I asked him, “Why does it hurt so much?”
        And he, with the usual surgeon’s verbal skills, answered, “Because you’ve got a broken foot.”
        I then tried again. “It hurts when I try to stand on it,” I said.
        “Don’t stand on it,” he answered.
        That’s kind of what I was trying to say to you about reading up on liturgical abuses and canon law. If you’re not a canonist where you must do these things, and they are coming between you and the Lord, then don’t read them.
        I’m and elected official, and I don’t watch the news. It’s so inaccurate that it drives me crazy. So, I stay away from it. I also don’t read my own press for the same reason. Before I learned this lesson, I had a lot of stress that made my job much, much harder to bear.
        It’s not exactly the same, but I think there is at least a little bit of symmetry.
        Don’t be offended. I enjoy your contributions to this blog and respect your thoughts. All I’m trying to say is don’t let anything come between you and Jesus.

        • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

          I’m not in a position to worry about it right now. I have children so I make sure to take them to a parish where there is solid, orthodox teaching (which, thanks be to God, is most of them now). This also tends to eliminate the probability of liturgical abuse. Liturgical abuse and heterodoxy tend to go hand-in-hand (at least in the places I’ve been) – priests who feel free to alter the liturgy also feel free to alter Church teaching. I would tend to complain about the latter more than the former, but they’re of a piece in my opinion. Anyway, none of the specific things you’ve mentioned to date are even liturgical abuses, as far as I can see, unless the priest is directing people to hold hands during the Our Father.

          It’s not so much that I actually study the liturgy, but I love it, and notice when something is off, just like I’d automatically notice discordant notes in my favorite song. I have never actually complained to the Bishop about an abuse, and I hope that streak continues. However, in many, many parishes around the country, there are more severe liturgical problems than you are used to.

          In our parish now, our priest mangles the introductory and closing prayers all the time, but it’s just something off with his reading or his eyes. He is a good priest, and doesn’t do it on purpose.

          • Rebecca Hamilton

            “In our parish now, our priest mangles the introductory and closing prayers all the time, but it’s just something off with his reading or his eyes. He is a good priest, and doesn’t do it on purpose.”

            • Dave

              Happy New Year, Rebecca! I hope your foot is doing better also.

  • Manny

    I missed that original blog and I didn’t really read this close enough to follow the details, but it always amazes me how Catholics jump on each other for the least thing that doesn’t follow conventional. It probably happens in other religions as well. I wouldn’t let people who disagree with you Rebecca get to you. It’s a sign we all take our faith seriously and occaisionally bump elbows in our expression. From everything I’ve read in your blogs I think you’re a great Catholic. Unless one is a clergy, it strikes me as extraordinary pride to tell someone they’re not a good Catholic. People can disagree, but they should have some sense of humility.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Good thoughts, and good advice. Thank you Manny.

  • vox borealis


    At the risk of answering for Dave, I think that liturgical abuses are both personally annoying AND a serious. And here, I’m not talking about an innocent slip or mistake now and again. I mean actual liturgical abuse: intentional (even if well meaning) and repeated abuses of the liturgical norms. Attendance at the mass is the ONE thing that the Church asks us to do regularly—not receiving the sacraments of communion confessions, nor participating other formal liturgical rites. No, it’s attending the mass once a week and on holy days of obligation. That’s the most regular obligation in Catholic rulebook. The mass is THE universal prayer of the church. To attend the mass and participate in our proper role IS to worship God. To deviate from the rulebook is to distort worship. To do so intentionally is to thumb one’s nose at the authority of the Church and violate the rules of the ONE regular obligation in Catholic life.

    Priests are instructed specifically not to deviate from the rubrics in the approved liturgical books. The laity is expressly guaranteed in Canon Law that they have a right to the liturgies practiced according to the liturgical norms. The Church just spent ten years haggling over a new translation into just one vernacular language of the Roman Missal. The Roman Missal itself was revised for the third time in the last forty years or so. The VAtican has issued several documents clarifying and defining and redefining how the rubrics should be interpreted, what sort of music is appropriate at mass, etc. The Pope himself, as Pope and as a Cardinal, commented and wrote on the liturgy.

    In other words, the Church herself makes clear that the liturgy IS serious business. If so, then it follows that liturgical abuse is serious, not merely a personal annoyance or matter of taste.

    I reject the false dichotomy presented: “there are really serious problems and yet too many Catholics attack each other over minor things like trivial liturgical abuse.” It is this attitude, in my opinion, that has led to an overall weakening of the Church, because it normalizes the idea that Church authority can simply be ignored, that all those rules from Rome are just nonsense or unimportant. It contributes, I believe, to a loss of belief on the part of the faithful and, ultimately, has contributed to the drift away from the Church of so many laity in the last fifty years or so. It contributes to a false dichotomy that the mass is, at the end of the day, unimportant compared to the real problems in the world. What could be more important than the worship of God? Why wouldn’t we try to do out best to worship Him, and to follow the rules HE set down through His Church?

    This false dichotomy contributes to the problematic notion that liturgical abuse is OK because Jesus doesn’t mind that sort of thing. How do we know what He minds? Is this the same Jesus who scolded the apostles when they tried to prevent the woman from perfuming his feet with expensive ointment? Meanwhile this view of the Jesus-who-doesn’t-care-we’re-all-sinners contributes, I believe, to an underlying relativism (we’re all OK because Jesus doesn’t sweat the small stuff, so whatever I do is not really soooo bad…).

    So, yeah, I think that liturgical abuse is a pretty big deal, especially when one considers the shambles that has been Catholic liturgical practice for more than a generation now. We are not talking about the ocasional slip or a little funny business now and again. It is a week in, week out, year after year, parish after parish rejection of the Church authority—a flat out refusal to follow even the few simple rules and rubrics laid out in the liturgical books. And then, when someone gets fed up and criticizes a priest or complains to the liturgy committee or posts something on a blog, s/he is accused of being judgmental!

    Maybe that’s why I (for one) tend to get a little frisky over this topic.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I read a news article a few months ago about a priest in one of the states where gay marriage was on the ballot who refused to read his bishop’s letter about the vote. According to the news story, he didn’t just not read it, he took it out during his homily and announced he wouldn’t read it and then went on to speak out in favor of gay marriage. The article said that the parishioners burst into applause.

      If that’s the sort of thing you’re talking about (only maybe not so splashy or newsworthy) I’m with you.

  • vox borealis

    I just don’t think it’s the laity’s job to police the liturgy.

    This seems to me a problematic position. If not the laity, then who? In fact, the Church has a whole system in place for the laity to “police” the liturgy. If there are problems, the laity is supposed to go to the pastor first, and if the problems are not addressed they may then go to the bishop. If problems persist, they are encouraged to submit the matter to the nuncio or to the proper Curial office in Rome (I think it’s the CDF, but maybe I’m mistaken).

    It is everyone’s job to police the liturgy.

  • Terry

    If the priest deviates from the rubrics, openly disobeys Canon law, says things that are blatantly anti-Catholic and anti-Christian, then I think the laity has a duty to speak out using approved approved Diocesan channels but not verbally attack the priest behind his back. If what is bothersome to some people is in the priest’s “delivery” or the music, or standing instead of kneeling or the sign of the peace, then I don’t think that warrants a complaint. Change parishes if you really can’t stand it, but don’t attack the priest. A couple of weeks ago, I watched and listened in amazement as someone scolded a dear friend who is a priest because my friend forgot to mention one saint….one saint!….in the litany of saints he recited after the parish rosary. That sort if nit-picking is unacceptable and uncharitable.

    • vox borealis

      Change parishes if you really can’t stand it, but don’t attack the priest.

      I agree, to a point. But you do realize that technically Catholic laity are obligated to attend mass at their own territorially designated parish? In theory, we are not supposed to shop around. From a philosophical perspective, the laity shouldn’t *have* to shop around.

      • Terry

        From what I’ve been told by members of the clergy who definitely deviate from the rubrics, JP II lifted that obligation; however, I agree with you that we shouldn’t have to shop around. It’s unfortunate that sometimes we have to.

        • Terry

          I meant definitely DO NOT deviate from the rubrics.

  • Theresa

    I went back and read some of the comments on the last post. I’m sorry if I, in any way, added to the chorus of less than charitable comments.
    I definitely see what you’re talking about and I also found some of the comments enlightening, particularly in the different things people notice during their time in a church for mass or other liturgy. And I also recalled a line from the Gospels- something about disciples grumbling among each other. I guess its kinda comforting to know that these kinds of squabbles are nothing new under the sun, although a kind of sad reality at the same time. God must spend a lot of time looking at us wondering when are we gonna learn! (Except that he’s omniscient so he already knows the answer to that question…) But I also think there is evidence of grace, even in this discussion. We are all prone to notice different things- good and bad- as further evidence of the individuals that God has created us to be. And we all come to know God better through those things we notice. I think our collective temptation to overcome is only seeing these things through one our own lens. I doubt anybody thinks they bring anything short of a “serious” matter to their pastor. You’re so right on the money that we have to remember that our clergy are human, prone to error as we all are. We can’t be ready to tar and feather them over all the wrong things that happen, especially in light of the fact that we are told to cast the first stone only if we are without sin.
    Thanks for hosting this discussion. :) Happy New Year.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Beautiful comment. Thank you Theresa.

      Happy New Year to you and yours.

  • http://alwaysadvent.wordpress.com Connie Clark

    Reading these posts reminds me of one thing we can all agree on. We need to keep on praying for our priests. A lot.