Is the Liturgy Really That Bad?

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Uploaded by Michael 1952.

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Uploaded by Michael 1952.

We’ve recently had a dust-up here on Public Catholic because I had the temerity to (1) disagree rather strongly with Cardinal Burke, and (2) come out in support of altar girls.

You would think that I had  barbecued a kitten.

I deleted a ton of hate-women comments in the course of this discussion. I also deleted another ton of hate-Rebecca comments. According to a good number of commenters, I’ve got myself a ticket to a first-class seat in that proverbial hand bucket headed to hell, all because I think we should have altar girls.

I had to delete that claptrap. If I had let it through, any self-respecting woman would have walked away wondering why she, or any other female person, would want to be part of the Catholic Church. At the same time, someone who didn’t actually go to mass on a regular basis might think that we’re running a carny show, complete with clown suits and balloons, behind the altars of our churches.

Of course, both assumptions would be off the mark. I’m going to set aside the woman question for a moment. That will give time for all those folks who dislike the fair sex so very much to draw a breath and gather themselves for the next attack.

I am instead going to stick my head into the liturgy hay bailer.

My question is simply this: Is the liturgy really that bad?

I mean, I go to mass on a regular basis and Jesus Christ the Lord is there every single time. You can count on it. He is there.

I remember wandering back into the sanctuary after Holy Thursday service one Tridium;  after we’d stripped the altar, removed the Host and doused the flame. The difference was stark. That sanctuary, which had always held a warm Presence every time I entered it, had been transformed into an empty, echoey room. There was no Jesus in that place, and the lack thereof was palpable.

So now we have a Cardinal, a prince of the Church, telling us that the liturgy is all messed up and driving men away from the Church because it has been “feminized.” Evidently, there are a lot of people out there who agree with him.

Public Catholic was deluged with angry commenters, swooping in to announce that the liturgy at our masses — the same liturgy that soothes my soul and brings me in direct contact with my Lord — is straight from the infernal regions. It makes me wonder if they and I are members of the same Catholic Church.

As I’ve already said, and will be happy to say again at any time, I think the Cardinal is playing the blame game. I think that for a Catholic Cardinal to blame anything about the liturgy on women, is, well, almost comical. He is the cardinal. If there is a problem with the liturgy, it’s his responsibility, not that of the womenfolk who sit at the back of the hierarchical bus.

Now, I’m going to take on those poor sad Catholics who seem to live to criticize our Church and its liturgy. As I said, I go to mass on a regular basis. I’ve also gone to mass in a number of places. I’ve never attended mass on the East Coast of the United States, so maybe that’s where the priests in clown suits and tap-dancing altar servers show up to do their do. I don’t know.

All I know is that I’ve never seen it. I have gone to mass in (gasp!) San Francisco, and (another gasp!) Seattle. What I encountered there was the same mass — about half of whose attendees were male, btw — that I saw at various points around the globe, as well as here in God’s country, otherwise known as Oklahoma.

Every mass has had some sort of fumble or titter from the pews. Sometimes a cell phone rings and is then hastily silenced. Babies cry, babies crow, little old ladies belch, the priest gets the words slightly wrong, or the altar server stumbles. I’ve seen people drop the Host and people keel over in a faint and priests trip.

I’ve seen priests who couldn’t stand, sit throughout their homilies and then totter to the altar and, ever so shakily, consecrate the Host and barely lift it up.

I’ve heard applause, and seen people hold hands during the Our Father, and other people get all sniffy about holding hands during the Our Father and transsexuals looking downright odd in their wigs and lipstick and truck driver arms and tattoos. I’ve seen women in saris and men in golfing shorts, and knelt in pews beside folks who needed a bath. I’ve heard mass in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and English. I’ve attended quick daily masses that took about 20 minutes, and full-on masses that lasted for an hour and a half or more.

Every liturgy I ever attended was unworthy of Christ the Lord. I know that every liturgy I ever attend will be unworthy of Him, as well. What I have never seen, not once, was a liturgy that was unworthy of me.

I’ve attended mass in living rooms, hotel basements, and once, on a mountaintop with the ocean spread in a 360 degree arc at its base. Every place I’ve gone, every mass I attended, I encountered Christ the Lord.

I didn’t encounter a Django Jesus, standing beside the altar with a baseball bat, ready to smack down the unworthies who try to approach Him. The Jesus I meet in the Eucharist of every Catholic mass is the Good Shepherd, the Jesus of the Cross, Who lays down His life for His sheep.

I have never walked away from the Eucharist feeling condemned. In fact, that encounter with Christ washes away the self-condemnation I so often bring with me when I approach it. I reach out and touch the living Christ, hiding in a wafer, and I walk away feeling accepted and loved.

Considering what sinful people we all are, I don’t see how anyone can approach God with hearts seething with condemnation of the people around them. Do these folks really go to mass and sit there, pick, pick, picking away at the priest, the liturgy, the music?

That is a horrible thought to me. Do you folks of the liturgy cops really, truly enter the Presence of the Lord with hearts full of rage and condemnation?

Don’t you know that you can not enter into the Presence of the Lord that way?

That, and not whether or not people hold hands during the Our Father, or the mass is in Latin or English, or if the people around you are properly reverent, is what can separate you from God.

I feel sorry for these people who spend all their time gnashing their teeth and getting all lathered up over what they see as the terrible liturgy. They are not only missing their blessing, they are taking their blessing and throwing it back into Jesus’ face.

I thank God that we have priests who bring us Jesus at every mass, who consent to be conduits of grace. I have no desire to pick at them over how high they lift the chalice, if they allow applause and whether or not they pray the liturgy with the “proper” amount of gravitas.

I don’t go to mass to find fault. I go to find Jesus.

The truth of life is that no matter what the situation, the occasion, or the event, if you want to sit back and find fault with it, you always can. If you want to go to mass and sit there, ready to carp and complain and pick away at the seams of the thing, you can do it. But if you do that, Jesus Christ will pass right by you and you won’t see Him.

On the other hand, if you go to mass to find Jesus, you will find Him. Because He is there.

My question is this: If Christ the Lord deigns to come to these imperfect masses and give Himself away to the even more imperfect people who worship there, then who are we to criticize?

If the mass and the liturgy are good enough for Jesus to be there, if we, with all our imperfections, are good enough for Him to love us and share Himself with us, then what’s our complaint?

I go to mass to find Jesus, and — this is the miracle — I find Him.

Every mass is a miracle. It is not a miracle of silk, lace and candles. It is a miracle wrought in suffering and blood.

Before we get too worked up about the particulars of the mass, we need to remember that Our Lord uses the most common things to do His work. He began with spit and dirt.

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Cardinal Burke’s Woman Problem

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke 1

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

I’ve written about this before. 

There was a reason why I entered my anti-God period. It had a lot to do with violence against women and the indifference of the church — meaning the whole of Christianity — to that violence. 

I spent 17 years, wandering in the spiritual wilderness over this. When Jesus basically reached out and scooped me back into His arms, I was confounded. The unconditional, ecstatic love that He showered on me was a complete contradiction of Who I had thought He was. 

Still, I was faced with a conundrum. If the men who claimed so stridently that they, and they alone, spoke for God, were telling the truth of things, then what place did I, a female person who actually felt that I was a full human being and not some smidge of what’s left of a human being after the preachers got done limiting me and my life down to what they thought was acceptable, what place did I have in any church that bore the name of Christ?

The Jesus I met seemed to me at that time to have very little to do with the mean-spirited, woman-despising message I had been given by His spokesmen. I loved this Jesus I encountered, and, right from the first, I trusted Him. But that other Jesus — the one who supported the double standard and thought women and girls should live their lives in the circumscribed margins of life that these men of God set out for us, who basically wanted us pushed aside, that Jesus I had been told about and bashed with, I mistrusted and feared to my core. 

I was so confused that I prayed and asked God directly if He hated women. This wasn’t a test. It wasn’t an argument. It wasn’t even much of a prayer. It was a plea and a question from the bottom of my shattered heart. 

I don’t always or even often get direct, immediate and discernible answers to my prayers, but God answered me then. I’ve been walking my walk with Christ on rock-solid certainty of that answer ever since. 

I realize that the Church does not recognize personal revelation except in very rare and well verified circumstances, and that even then these personal revelations are not binding as a matter of faith on the people of God. I think that’s a sound practice. 

I also think that this position on personal revelation makes Cardinal Burke and me just about even so far as this woman question is concerned. I had a personal revelation that God loves the female half of the human race and that He’s not so happy with His preachers who say otherwise. The good Cardinal evidently has had a personal revelation of some sort that the many and manifold problems of the Church are due to those of us who have two X chromosomes. 

In the Gospel according to him, the priest shortage is due to the existence of altar girls. His explanation for this is that boys don’t like to be around girls. Even aside from the fact that we are talking about adolescent boys, a good many of whom seem to rather like adolescent girls, that is absolute nonsense. 

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the priest shortage; the cultural upheavals — the sexual revolution, dissolution of the family, the priest sex abuse scandal, birth control — of the last 50 years chief among them. In addition to the huge changes in society, a major reason for the priest shortage is due to the 800 pound gorilla in the room that nobody will talk about.

As most Catholics over the age of 12 have probably observed, a good many of our priests are gay. Homosexuals are a much smaller pool of potential applicants than straight men. Also — get ready for this Cardinal Burke — straight adolescent boys don’t really want to spend their time with gay men. They just don’t. Call it homophobic. Call it adolescent sexual insecurity. Call it whatever you want, but there is one thing for sure about it: It’s not due to altar girls. 

In another report, I read that Cardinal Burke is decrying the “feminization” of the Church. In his view, men don’t go to church because there are too many women there. 

Uh huh. 

Men just hate being around women. I’ve noticed that all my life. They don’t like the way we smell. They don’t like our soft hands or higher voices. And they really can’t stand the way we look. 

I guess that Oklahoma parishes are just unduly macho — or maybe that’s sissified, I can’t figure it out exactly — but we’ve got a lot of men sitting in the pews every week. And quite a few of them are sitting beside their wives, daughters, mothers and, yes, even their girlfriends.  

I’m not sure how Cardinal Burke plans to run his Church if he and those who think like him manage to turn it into a Spanky and Our Gang Woman Haters Club House, but my personal opinion is that if they succeed in chasing off the women, they might think about closing up shop. 

Jesus did not found a boys club. He founded a universal Church that welcomes everyone. When Our Lord walked this earth, He went out of His way to treat women with honor and dignity that men of that place and time found scandalizing. 

God sent me to the Catholic Church and since the One Who owns the whole deal told me to be here, I’m staying. But I’m not going to listen to anybody, no matter what kind of hat they wear, who says things like altar girls are the cause of the priest shortage and that this Church with its all-male priesthood which makes all the decisions is too “feminized.”

Frankly, between this kind of thing coming from American cardinals, and the doh-si-doh about marriage coming from Germany and Belgium, I’m beginning to wish somebody would pull the plug on these guy’s mikes. 

I’ve struggled with this all my life and I can tell you that ramblings like those from Cardinal Burke were a big part of what kept me walled up in what I thought was self-protective armor against a God I believed hated me. 

You’ve gotta be careful, you men of God, telling half the human race that God thinks less of them than He does the other half. Aside from the enormous harm you do to the souls of the people you are supposed to be shepherding — and this little dance with misogyny is massively damaging to both men and women — you are defaming the Lord. 

Because God doesn’t hate women and He doesn’t want us at the back of the bus.

I know. 

I asked Him. 

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Dueling Bishops: The Synod in Their Own Words

I’ve put together a set of comments from the various cardinals about the on-going Synod of the Family. I think it’s best right now to let them speak in their own words, rather than try to interpret what they mean.

One thing that seems apparent is that there is a wide gap between the Cardinals of the developing world and those from the wealthier nations.

 

Cardinal Burke

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German Bishops

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Cardinal Napier on Polygamy

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Cardinal Tagle Poor Families Need Synod’s Help

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Cardinal Wuerl on Who May Receive Communion?

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Cardinal Nichols on Marriage and Fidelity

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The Public Scandal of Pro Abortion, Pro Gay Marriage Catholics in High Places

Cardinal Burke has issued a bit of advice to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: Don’t take communion.

His reason: Her “public support for abortion is grave sin.”

My guess is that there will be a flurry of blog posts and angry comments in com boxes about this advice, while Congresswoman Pelosi continues to take communion and her bishop says nothing. Then, everyone will go on to the next new thing.

Ta da.

Frankly, I think it’s time our leaders in the Church (the bishops) got their heads together and came up with some sort of consistent way of dealing with situations like this. The paradigm the Church is using is that Congresswoman Pelosi is under the spiritual guidance of her personal religious leader, which would be her pastor, who is acting through her bishop. They are supposed to make decisions such as whether or not she may take communion, I would guess because they are the ones who know her and understand her spiritual situation.

I would guess that things are done this way because the Church is a pastoral rather than a political institution. The purpose of excommunication is not to bash someone over the head and punish them. It is to save their souls by bringing them face to face with the gravity of their sins and giving them a shove to repent and change their ways.

Public admonishments to not take communion such as the one directed at Congresswoman Pelosi are rare, and they should be. I think it’s appropriate only when the person in question is doing what Congresswoman Pelosi is doing: Committing grave sin in a public manner that encourages other people to also commit this grave sin. This is called scandal, and it should be taken seriously.

There will always be temptations, but woe to those who do the tempting, Jesus said. Some translations use the phrase stumbling blocks. What it means is that there will always be people who lead others astray, who lead them away from following Christ, but that those people who do this are in even bigger trouble with God than those they lead.

Public figures of today have a mind-boggling arrogance about the way they tempt others away from following Christ. They assert that their sins are not sins. They proclaim themselves faithful followers of Christ even as they trample all over His teachings and commit the most vile sins in front of everyone. They even twist their sins around and proclaim publicly that these sins are righteousness and that those who disagree with this are the ones who are committing sin.

Whole denominations have thrown in the towel and forsaken the Gospels in their official teachings. They have themselves become tempters to sin.

The Catholic Church has refused to do this. But powerful members of its laity, as well as many of its priests, have joined the other side in the culture wars against the Church, while maintaining that they are, in fact, faithful Catholics. The Church has taken a wink-wink attitude toward this for decades, and now we are all paying the price.

No other denomination is so rife with this particularly egregious form of defiant public sinning as the Catholic Church. Prominent Catholics in all walks of life proudly parade their sins against human life and the sacrament of marriage before the public. They use the bully pulpit of their elected offices, media star positions and many-degreed professorships to proclaim an Anti-Christ Christianity that turns the Gospel on its head and makes it a teaching of death, debauchery and nihilism.

This is not just individual sin. It is a vast cultural rebellion against the Church led by Catholics who occupy positions of power in our society. I agree with Cardinal Burke. Congresswoman Pelosi should not take communion. However, I think that singling out one member of Congress and aiming the discussion at her alone flies in the face of the reality of the situation.

Catholics in public positions, including the clergy leaders of some of our Catholic Universities, are teaching an alternate form of the Gospels that conforms absolutely to the shifting paradigms of our deconstructing society and defies the teachings of the Church with equal absoluteness. This is not just one person, however prominent. It is a widespread, almost universal, defiance of the Church by those of her sons and daughters who sit in the seats of secular power.

These people refuse to humble themselves and follow Christ. They insist that Christ should follow them. They don’t leave the Church. They demand that the Church change its definition of sin to suit them. They admonish the Church with all the arrogance of self-made gods that it should change 2,000 years of consistent Christian teaching to conform to them and their newfound personally created gospels of self-worshipping narcissism.

They teach this to the whole society through their powerful positions in politics, media, education and science. They are as deadly for the soul of the Church as a basket of snakes.

The old paradigm of individual bishops dealing with individual sins does not address this new reality. The fact that every single one of these self-made gods has found a bishop who will support them in what they are doing is an indication of how seriously deficient the Church’s response has been.

We need consistent patterns of reaction from our bishops concerning this mass apostasy in the pews from prominent and powerful Catholics. They need to get together on this.

At the same time, they need to follow their own rules themselves. Catholic institutions should inspire us to follow the Church’s teachings by their faithfulness to those teachings. I have had it with hearing about Catholic organizations that pay for contraception in their insurance, Catholic hospitals that do abortions, Catholic universities that ban the Knights of Columbus, or yet another priest who was making passes at boys and it was overlooked.

We are entering tough times. The only way we are going to come through these times is if we begin by facing reality on reality’s terms. We need leadership in this from our bishops.

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