Posts tagged: liturgy

The Laity – Freedom and Responsibility

By , April 9, 2014 5:07 am

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Oh, how blessed is this holy Catholic Church. Just think – we have at least one billion, two hundred million members and for all practical purposes they are all laity. Just think of the reservoir of talent and energy that resides in this enormous mass of faith-filled human beings. They could accomplish wonders if not miracles, but in point of fact they don’t because they are really not able to.

I am proud of the faithful. They do a great job in backing their pastors and bishops in developing the material sides of parishes, schools, hospitals, etc. But ultimately, our system does not give them real freedom and responsibility. Their role is to follow their shepherds and that is not all bad, but the fact is that many of the shepherds among us do not really trust their fellow Catholics who have not been ordained. Father knows best and the old joke about the laity was that they were to “pray, pay and obey.”

Happily, following the Second Vatican Council lay involvement, especially in the liturgy, has increased tremendously but we have a long way to go. Let me tell you about a happy story in my first assignment as a pastor. We had established a first-class St. Vincent de Paul Society and it was doing wonderful work on behalf of the poor in that section of the city. One day the president of the Society came to me and told me that we had a serious storage problem, but not to worry – he had signed a two year lease on an inexpensive warehouse about four blocks from the church. I was thrilled. He saw the problem, he knew we could afford it and he acted. I am not saying that pastors and bishops ought not to provide close supervision but they must avoid being control freaks.

The other day when I visited with you in this space, I talked about the value system that was dominant in the world of my childhood. I then went on to admit that many of the cultural strengths of 75 years ago are now gone, generating the need for yet a greater response from the Church to encourage its members to embrace and live by the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s lay people are far better formed or educated than were the adults of my childhood. The Church has still not found a way through clericalism and antique ecclesiology to vest the laity, either in the parishes or in the dioceses, with a real sharing in power and authority. The Second Vatican Council had that as one of its principal agendas – convincing all of the baptized and confirmed on the planet that they had a vested interest and a very real responsibility to teach that “each individual layman must be a witness before the world of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God.” How is that for a job description?

The Council Fathers then went on to say give the laity freedom and opportunities to breathe and act and be responsible. In paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium, the Council stated that, “

“The pastors indeed should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church LEAVING THEM FREEDOM AND SCOPE FOR ACTING (emphasis added). Indeed they should give them the courage to undertake works on their own initiative. They should attentively in Christ initial moves, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. Moreover, the pastor must respect and recognize the liberty which belongs to all in the terrestrial city.”

Vatican II called for parish councils in every parish in the world but regretfully only a small percentage have functioned effectively. Why? Because they are deadly dull and do not usually come to grips with what that particular parish should be undertaking. Go check on the agendas of a dozen parish councils and you will see that much more time is allocated to painting the school auditorium than to how we should be advancing the message of Jesus in this neighborhood in this month. The challenge is awesome but sometimes not really heard.

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Yet More Good News

By , February 12, 2014 5:17 am

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The Second Vatican Council is now a half century behind us. Pope John XXIII’s calling of the leaders of the Universal Church into session was an extraordinary historical event and opened not only windows for fresh air, but doors for improved communication and solidarity with the larger world. As is so often the case when sudden changes occur, there has been resistance and opposition. Today, we are seeing under the leadership of Pope Francis that we are going to reach back to the Second Vatican Council and hopefully move it towards achieving its original purpose.

When people think of the Council they think of changing from Latin to the vernacular, the celebrant facing the people at Mass, the restoration of the diaconate and the use of lay lectors in the liturgy. These were all good things but they are really minor issues around the edge of the life of the Church. The true purpose of the Council was to achieve a vision of collegiality. It was the central ecclesial theme to emerge from Vatican II, namely that everyone who is baptized and confirmed shares in some sense with the spreading of the Gospel.

Happily, the geography of the pope’s new cardinalatial appointments tells us a great deal not only about our Holy Father, but changes in the Church itself. You don’t hear much about it in the United States, but the Church in Asia has done extraordinary things in attempting to fulfill that dream and vision and the appointment of Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato in the Philippines is a wonderful example of that.

As I mentioned the other day that Haiti, little Haiti, now has a dynamic young cardinal and we see in the person of Quevedo a new leader in the Church who will bring the Asian experience to the fore. All of this reflects that the domination of the Church by Europe, which has been so overwhelming for centuries, is beginning to recede. Given the fact that the European Church has grown so weak over the last fifty years, it is a good thing to see vision and leadership shifting to other parts of the planet.

When these 19 archbishops or bishops were appointed Pope Francis wrote each of them a personal letter the next day telling them very clearly, “The cardinalship does not imply a promotion. It is neither an honor nor a decoration.” He then asked the new appointees to not hold lavish celebrations before they officially become cardinals in a Vatican ceremony on February 22nd. Being a cardinal, Francis said, “is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts.” Of the 19 new cardinals only four come from the Vatican and only one is an Italian. The majority of the rest are from the Southern Hemisphere. It is startling, exciting and encouraging.

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It’s OVER!

By , November 23, 2013 5:22 am

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Once again, the Catholic Church brings to an end its annual liturgical cycle. For the last 52 weeks, we have been centering our Sunday worship on God’s salvific plan for the human family. It’s 51 weeks ago that you saw in your missalette that the first Sunday in Advent had arrived. We were launching four prayerful weeks to prepare us for the joy of Christmas.

Then, for almost two months, we enjoyed reading, thinking and praying about the presence of Jesus among us. Clouds come. Lent begins. We begin to live through a preparation for the awesome reality of the Resurrection and Salvation. The time after Lent ended with Pentecost, when you and I were commissioned…sent…to bring the loving message of Jesus to the world around us. Then came the many weeks of catechetics in which, in a systematic way, we reviewed and studied the teachings of our divine Lord. Well, that’s all over now. Today is the feast of Christ the King, when the Church reminds us of the obvious truth that Jesus is the cause and Lord of all that exists. Let’s listen to St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God. The first-born of all creatures. In him, everything in heaven and on earth was created. Things visible and invisible…all were created through him and for him. He is before all else that is. In him, everything continues in being. He is the head of the body, the Church.”

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God’s Plan Or Ours?

By , September 7, 2013 5:00 am

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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 8th
Readers of this blog may note that I am frequently bragging about the importance of the Lectionary. That is the book that the Catholic Church uses for scripture readings on Sundays, holy days and other special liturgies. It was developed immediately after the Vatican Council and was produced by countless hours of labor by scripture scholars pulling together separate texts in order to form a meaningful collage for each time the Church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist. It is really wonderful that several mainline Protestant churches now use the Catholic Lectionary. It is an important step towards unity. Overall, they are wonderful texts and neatly tie together enabling a person who wants to meditate them or even preach from them to have an easy task. However, that is not always the case and today is an example of what at first glance appears to be misfitting texts.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is easy enough. It is about mystery. The sacred author reminds us that we frail human beings really do not understand a God whose thoughts and plans are infinite. Human beings have very real limitations.
“And scarce do we guess that things on earth and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty but when things are in heaven who can search them out?”

This seems obviously true. Most of us are constantly trying to second guess God and not always with much success.
I will touch on the second reading but cannot do so adequately. It is an excerpt from the Book of Philemon, the shortest book in the bible, and Paul has had a runaway slave get in touch with him and Paul directs him to return to his master. The letter is to the master and Paul directs the man to give the slave freedom not for legal reasons but for the love of Christ. He tells him, “That you might possess him forever no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother!” I abhor slavery but let’s face it. The Church lived with it for more than half of its historical life.

Then the Gospel. This excerpt from St. Luke has our Lord challenging all of us to get our priorities in order and make walking in the footsteps of Jesus the chief goal and responsibility in our lives. The challenge is a tough one and scripture professors tiptoe around it because most of us simply can’t do it except in a symbolic way. Christ comes first. We walk in the footsteps of Christ and no relationship on earth should get in the way with our commitment to our Divine Lord. That sounds good enough but very few of us sell our cars or jewelry!

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Christ Working Through Us

By , July 6, 2013 4:09 am

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July 7th, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From time to time, I have to remind myself as to exactly what we are doing together as we journey through this long segment of the Church year called the time after Pentecost. At first, it seems like a fairly bland period of the liturgy. The big feasts of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are crammed in the first half of the year and now it is just, in a very real sense, walking with Jesus and listening to him talk in his public life. This period lasts half the year so we ought to utilize it as effectively as possible.

I think that it helps to imagine that you are walking with Jesus followers a little bit behind him and you can hear his voice. That was 2,000 years ago but it still rings true. Today, let’s take a look at one of Jesus’ followers who was an extraordinarily effective listener, Paul of Tarsus. In today’s second reading, Paul is writing to the community that he helped to establish in Galatia in modern Turkey. In it, he reminds the Galatians of misunderstandings that he suffered in the early Church, the sicknesses that he has had, beatings and other forms of persecution. Paul admits that he beseeched the Lord asking for an easier life but he heard the Lord say, “My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.”

Here we are dealing with one of the mysteries that has always been present in the following of Christ. The world has its own set of standards in what is good, what is to be pursued, what are accomplishments, but Jesus has a different approach. Through Paul, the Lord is telling us that while we ought to try our best at everything we do, we ought to be conscious that when we do great things it is his power working through us. When we do great things, even in the face of our weaknesses, then it is really the power of God that is being manifested.

In today’s excerpt Paul says, “Therefore, I am content with weakness, mistreatment, with distress, with persecution and difficulties for the sake of Christ for when I am powerless it is then that I am strong.”

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Not Always Accepted at Home

By , February 2, 2013 4:52 am

February 3rd, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thanks be to God for the Lectionary. I have been a Catholic priest for approximately 57 years and if you allowed for a couple of weeks of vacation or times on Sundays when I was not preaching, I probably averaged Sunday sermons 40 times a year. That is roughly 2,200 times to stand in a pulpit and try to present the message of Jesus Christ to a congregation. That is a lot of preaching but it is really not difficult at all. The Church’s wonderful system of a liturgical year, rotating seasons on a three year cycle with three texts for every Mass, gives us more than ample material. On occasions over the years I have had clergy complain that they didn’t know what to preach about on a particular Sunday or at a particular place. To me that is a mystery.
Today is a perfect example. We have two marvelous concepts placed before us by the Church in its liturgy. The first is St. Paul’s magnificent letter from I Corinthians about the nature of love and that while all virtues are good, love surpasses them all.
The Gospel except is from that dramatic scene in the 4th chapter of Luke where Jesus says to the congregation in his hometown synagogue after reading an Isaiah text announcing the coming of the Messiah, “Today the scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” There you have it! The first statement by our Lord himself that he is the Messiah. Jesus’ listeners took him very seriously and so accused him of claiming to be divine and then attempted to kill him. Read those two texts together. Everything to be said about love in human relations and about the mystery of the incarnation that God so loved the human family that he came among us and assumed a human nature.
There is always plenty to think about, talk about and pray about when it comes to our faith!

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Being Comfortable All Over the World

By , June 8, 2012 5:23 am


Within the last few weeks, there has been a considerable amount of negative publicity about the Catholic Church, much of it justified. For that reason, I have decided to talk to my friends via the blog about a number of things that I find delightful and encouraging about life inside the Catholic Church. Today, I am going to talk about our liturgical unity across the planet.

Most of my priestly life has been spent in Texas but over the years, I have done a considerable amount of travel in Europe, South America and even a little bit in Africa. Wherever I went in those countries, I was completely at home when it came to celebrating or attending Mass. There is a wonderful unity in the celebration of Eucharist and it extends across the entire planet. This fact was even more true prior to 1965 when the Church relaxed its position that Mass should always be celebrated in the Latin language. After that year, the individual countries were able to use the language dominant to this or that country. It was a much appreciated change and it has been seen as a real gift over the last 50 years. While there will always be some Catholics who regret the loss of Latin, most of us would never want to go back to it.

Apart from the language issues, there is still, however, wonderful liturgical unity in the Church. The format, the signs, the symbols are uniform across the planet even if the language shifts from nation to nation. If you slide into a pew in Mexico City or Paris, you may not know the language but you are perfectly comfortable with what is going on. Many central city parishes that are used to having a vast flow of tourists passing through make available various translations of the services.

When you look at the Church as a totality, it is truly awesome. There are roughly one billion, two hundred million members living their faith in about 200 countries under extraordinarily different circumstances. Who knows how many languages are used by the people who form the Church. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that there is a strong bond of unity that is very real, very important and is at the center of Church life. That bond is the sacred liturgy. Whether we gather in small communities or great throngs, we gather about the altar to celebrate the fact that Jesus is still with us, we are one with him and through him we are one with each other.

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Truly a Holy Thursday

By , April 5, 2012 5:58 am

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The Feast of the Nativity (Christmas Day) is in many ways the happiest day in the Church year while the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter) is the most important day in our religious calendar. However, in my opinion, today, Holy Thursday in Holy Week, does not suffer by comparison with these two other great feasts.

On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the establishment of the ordained priesthood and, of course, we celebrate the center of our faith, the Eucharist, the gift by which Jesus gives us his continued presence as the supreme source of our spiritual life and growth. Holy Thursday is also one of the most interesting in our liturgies in which we participate. It begins with explosive joy with the Church being decked with flowers, candles, golden vestments – every material thing that an individual parish can produce in order to reflect beauty, joy and a desire to use the best that we have in our service of worshiping. The same liturgy will end with an extinguishing the candles, the removal of the flowers the elimination of music and the transfer of the church from an explosive place of joy into a very large tomb as we move into the next day, this sacred Friday, a day we rightly call Good, in which we concentrate on the fact that God loves us so much that he gave us his only begotten Son.

I would hope that you will be able to attend the services on either of these two days but if that is impossible, please make every effort at some serious thoughtfulness, deep and committed prayer and an openness to God’s Spirit, which in a special way envelopes us during these special days of Holy Week.

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