Personal Musings: August 2007 Archives

Weary With Holding In

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I offered the Sunday Vigil Mass in a suburban parish last Saturday in order to help out a friend and brother priest. Father is very dedicated and I have immense esteem for him. The observations that follow are no reflection on him. He inherited a difficult situation and hasn't yet completed his first year in the parish. But, like the prophet Jeremias, I am "weary with holding in." Disclaimer: the images below are in no way related to the place or persons mentioned in this rant. Any resemblance is purely coincidental.

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Chatter

The first thing that disconcerted me was the idle chatter in church before Mass. It was like being in a theatre waiting for the lights to dim and the curtain to go up. People seated in little groups around the church held exchanged news and joked with absolutely no regard for the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the sacredness of the place, or the few faithful who were actually trying to pray. I knelt in the back of the church surrounded by prattle on all sides and felt an immense sadness in my heart. The words of the Mass of the Sacred Heart came to mind: "I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none" (Ps 68:21). Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was alone among his own: ignored and treated with ingratitude and indifference in His own house. The chatter resumed immediately after Mass.

The Place

The unfortunate architecture of this particular church does not easily lend itself to recollection or to a spontaneous focus on the presence of our Lord. In spite of the large crucifix above the tabernacle, there is something about the building that is inimical to prayer. But there is more: the faithful seem to have lost any awareness of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. There is no "eucharistic amazement." One does not find there the hush ordinarily commanded by an experience of the sacred.

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Reverence

Not that long ago there was still a lively sense of reverence among Catholics. People would sign themselves with Holy Water upon entering the church. They would genuflect before entering the pew, then kneel in adoration for a few moments. It was not uncommon to see people lighting candles before Mass or visiting the side altars and the shrines of their favourite saints. Some folks would pray the rosary quietly. Others would read over the Mass of the day in their missals. All of this has been swept away. When Pope John Paul II proclaimed the "Year of the Eucharist" his stated aim was the recovery of "Eucharistic amazement" — call it reverence, awe, or the spirit of adoration — in the whole Church. Instead of things improving in the average parish, they seem to be getting worse.

A number of factors have contributed to this desolate situation. I will enumerate a few of them:

1) The loss of any notion of sacred space. I think this is directly related to the removal of the Communion Rail or other effective delineation of the sanctuary of the church. Time to rally 'round the rood screen again! The Tractarians were right.

2) Mass "facing the people." This, more than anything else, undermined and continues to undermine the faithful's experience of the Mass as a Sacrifice offered to God in adoration, propitiation, thanksgiving, and supplication. The altar has become the big desk of the clerical CEO behind it: The Presider. It has become a stage prop for the "performing priest," complete with The Microphone.

3) Holy Communion in the hand. I see it every time I offer Mass in a parish church: the casual approach prevails. If one receives the Holy Mysteries like ordinary bread and a sip of ordinary wine, one begins rather sooner than later, will-nilly, to think of them as mere bread and wine.

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4) No bells. Instead of ringing a sacristy bell to announce the beginning of Mass, the organist leaned into His Microphone and said, "Let us stand to greet Father Kirby." Sorry. That is not what the Entrance Procession is about. It is a humble, joyful, and orderly movement into the Holy Place, a crossing-over from chronos (worldly, stressful, clocked time) to kairos (the heavenly, tranquil, timeless moment of God), an entering into the adorable presence of the God who is like a consuming fire, a making-ready for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven. A bell says it better.

Same thing during the Eucharistic Prayer. People need to be warned of the imminence of the most sacred moment of the Mass, even when the Eucharistic Prayer (Canon) is prayed aloud and in the vernacular. A bell does the job quite nicely. And another thing: saying the whole Eucharistic Prayer aloud and in the vernacular does not automatically guarantee "full, conscious, and actual participation" in the Holy Sacrifice. Silence, on the other hand, at least for certain parts of the Eucharistic Prayer, effectively opens a door onto the Holy Mysteries.

5) Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Alas, they are not extraordinary. They are ubiquitous and, I think, superfluous. Does expediting the distribution of Holy Communion really constitute grave necessity? In the church where I offered Mass last Saturday there were four Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, all of whom were women. Three were wearing casual slacks and one was showing cleavage. They could have been serving lemonade at the parish garden party. It was frightfully inappropriate.

Could there not be properly instituted acolytes for the service of the Holy Mysteries where such are needed? These would be adult men — few in number — suitably vested in amice, alb, and cincture and, most of all, schooled in reverence, attention, and devotion, and carefully trained for the service of the sacred liturgy.

This brings up yet another issue? Where have all the men gone? At last Saturday's Mass, the four Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, the Server, and one Lector were all women. I am not a misogynist. But honestly, this situation does nothing to foster priestly vocations.

6) The Music. Dare I call it that? Oh, the music! Show-tuney, trite, tired, and sickeningly sentimental with the organist/crooner singing into His Microphone. Might we not try singing the Mass itself: the Ordinary and the Propers? More than anything else celebrants must begin taking their sacerdotal obligations seriously by learning to cantillate the dialogical parts of the Mass, the orations, the Preface Dialogue and Preface, and the other elements that belong uniquely to them as priests.

I am not a gloomy person by nature, but last Saturday's Mass left me very sad indeed. "For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?" (Lk 23:31).

Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum

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What do these Catholic bloggers do when they meet? Pray. Sing. Talk. Eat. Pray. Sing. Talk. Eat. Did I mention the singing? This photo of Father Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. of Rifugio San Gaspare, Richard Chonak of Catholic Light, and myself was taken in the entrance garden of the little church of the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B. in Branford, Connecticut.

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Yesterday we sang the beautiful Ordinary XII (Pater cuncta), together with the Introit Salus autem and the Alleluia Te martyrum from the Mass of SS. Pontian and Hippolytus. Mass at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross is at 11:50 on weekdays and at 11:00 on Sundays and Solemnities. When I am not serving as chaplain the times of Mass may vary, so call ahead.

The monastery church had to be designed in an existing space. The building is the former Connecticut Hospice. The low ceiling posed real problems. We opened it up with two light wells: one directly over the altar, and another directly over the place where Holy Communion is distributed. The low walls surrounding the sanctuary were another challenge. They contain all sorts of pipes and wiring and could not be removed. We integrated them into the design to form a very effective delineation of the the sanctuary. The Benedictine nuns are in two choirs to the right and left of the sanctuary. The lay faithful have chairs and kneelers facing the sanctuary.

The crucifix came from the workshops of the Nuns of Bethlehem and of the Assumption. The icons of the Saviour and of the Mother of God are by a Benedictine of Jesus Crucified in France.

We are presently holding a Novena of Masses for the happy repose of the souls of all those who died in the monastery building while it was The Connecticut Hospice.

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Yes, I do celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem. The wrought iron gates in front of the tabernacle are closed during the Holy Sacrifice and remain open outside of Mass. The conical chasuble of red wool is the work of Vincent Crosby. He explains the conical form of the chasuble:

The chasuble originated in the everyday dress of the Roman citizen at the beginning of the Christian era. It was known as the paenula, the outer garment that entirely enveloped the figure and hung in radiating folds. It had a cone-like or conical shape. To free the hands it was necessary to gather up the material into graceful folds across the forearms.

Over the centuries the shape of the chasuble has altered, reflecting changes in liturgical theology and presidential style. But the classic form of the conical chasuble remains the authentic shape of the Eucharistic vestment.

For the artist, it is a more interesting garment to design because unlike the more static “gothic” chasuble, the conical chasuble changes as it responds to the human body. It is also a more rewarding garment to wear because of the beauty of its folds.


More Solace for the Sizzling

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Space for Grace

So, is it sufficient to want chastity, to ask for it, and to wait for it? Yes. But if you really want it, after asking for it, you will need to make room for it in your life. This will lead you to make certain detachments. Some things — perhaps a lot of things — will have to go into Savonarola's bonfire of the vanities or, at least, into the dumpster. The gifts of God are for those who wait for them with empty hands.

Doing Something

It is important to pose concrete gestures. Make your desire for continence real and, in some way, physical. Fasting, abstinence, and vigils belong to the classic repertoire of Christian asceticism. They do not produce chastity nor do they guarantee it. They merely dispose one to receive it humbly as a grace graciously given by God.

The Little Way

Privilege the Little Way. Do not be anxious to meet self-imposed deadlines. Dismiss the desire to set up standards that, being unrealistic, are really traps. Proceed humbly but resolutely. Remain at peace. It is not necessary to do everything at once; it is necessary to do something, to do one little thing at a time. After a while you will surrender to the mysterious rhythms of Divine Grace and, as Saint Benedict says, your heart will be opened wide "to run in a sweetness of love that is beyond words" (RB Pro:49).

The Egg and the Ox

Getting rid of things linked to certain sinful patterns of thinking and acting makes room for Divine Grace. Detachment, even from small things, can be the first step toward inner liberation from sin. The response of God is magnificently disproportionate to the smallest token of one's desire to receive His gifts in poverty of spirit. Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort used to say with a bit of peasant humour: Pour un oeuf, Dieu donne un boeuf, that is, "in exchange for an egg, God gives an ox!"

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Our Lady

Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to show you what things you need to liquidate. She will counsel you every step of the way. Often, her inspirations will come to you during the rosary. Mary will lead you gently but firmly, pointing out the things that need to disappear from your life. "He that hearkeneth to me," she says, "shall not be confounded, and that work by me shall not sin" (Eccl 24:30).

Anoint Thy Head

Above all, keep a sense of humour. Laugh at yourself. Do not dramatize. Do not go all sour on life's simple joys. Be grateful for all things beautiful. Celebrate important moments with roses and wine. Practice a bracing mortification, but do not play at being the ascetic. "But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee" (Mt 6:17-18).

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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