Friday, March 24, 2023

The Eucharist: A Parish Mission In Two Senses

March 18-22 I was blessed to be able to offer a four-day Lenten parish mission at my parents' church, St. Louis de Montfort in Fishers, Indiana. 

Their pastor, Fr. Thomas Haan, invited me as part of the parish's ongoing renewal and encounter with Jesus, and especially with Him in the Blessed Sacrament, in anticipation of the Eucharistic Congress hosted by Indianapolis in 2024. 

I preached the weekend Masses as a preview, and then gave spiritual conferences on three topics the following days, once in the morning and once in the evening.

Mass Homily: The Treasure and the Revival

Monday Evening: Worship and the Mass

Tuesday Evening: The Eucharist and Justice

Wednesday Evening: Adoration and Prayer

                                                     photo credit: Fr. Ben Rynearson, St. Wenceslaus, Wahoo

Sunday, February 26, 2023

We are Broken; God's Mercy is Greater

The 1st Sunday of Lent hits you pretty hard with the sinfulness of man, leading off with Genesis 3 and Psalm 51. In some circles, St. Paul gets critiqued as being negative, dour, or moralistic, but his 5th chapter of Romans that we hear right after that is the definition of good news. The gift is not like the transgression; the "physics" of sin are not like the dynamic of grace. Truly, there is a wideness in God's mercy. 

There are definitely a lot of personal stories in this one. This week I was thinking about how when you have a retreat day or a witness talk, you don't get convicted by hearing the theology of sin, you get it from hearing a person's stories and having that resonate with your own brokenness. So, we still have to be nerdy with Romans 5 a bit, but theres some big stories in there too. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

2 Homilies: Lessons from Septuagesima. Waiting for the Beatitudes.

So, here's two homilies. The first up is from just yesterday, about these last few days before Lent. 

The other one is actually from January 29, the start of Catholic Schools Week, but I started showing Covid symptoms that night and was a salted slug the next 10 days and never posted it.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Posting Homilies Again. Here's Three of Them.

One of my goals for 2023 was to get back in the habit of posting homilies. We're now halfway through January so I suppose I should get around to that. Here are the homilies for January 1st, 8th, and 15th. 

January 1: "Octaves, Sheriffs, and Posses"

January 8: "Christmas Wasn't Really Meant For You"

January 15: "What Lambs Don't Do"

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Rich and Poor: The Church Fathers on Lazarus

 A couple people asked it I could share this past Sunday's homily on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. 

The homilies that the Church Fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries gave on the Lazarus parable form the backbone of the Christian doctrine about care for the poor, along with their reflections on the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25, and well...most of Luke's gospel. 

And yet, the vast majority of the faithful today have never heard even one of their very plainly spoken quotes. Nothing. I hadn't, even as a cradle Catholic who attended 8 years of seminary. 

This homily is basically like ten quotes from the Doctors of the Church (men of the world, bishops of large prosperous cities) strung together by me saying "Holy cow. That's intense! Have you ever heard this before?"

If you want to see a written transcript of this homily, go to this previous post and scroll down to the third section. I literally printed that out on Sunday and used it for my text with minimal updates. 

And at the bottom of that post is a select bibliography of all these quotes and sometimes even whole sermons, available on the web. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Time and a Timeless Mass

It's been an intense 10 days. A close friend lost her mom. I learned the next day that my Confirmation sponsor, who inspired me in so many things, had died suddenly. It was a busy ordinations weekend here, and this year those days mark off twenty-five years since I visited Nebraska the first time and chose to move here and become a seminarian. That also means that June 6th was the 25th anniversary of my class graduating high school. Oh, and a group of students we called "The Babies" when I was in college are now 40. And my parents are seventy-five now. 

As the philosopher F. Bueller said, "Life moves pretty fast."

It has also been a year since my last blog post, which was my personal reflections on the full year that had passed since I started saying the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in addition to the Ordinary Form. And then today is the two year anniversary of my first time being the celebrant of a High Mass. Tick tick tick. Time makes itself heavily felt at every turn of life, it seems. And change too. Change of city, of time zone, of school building, of job, of state of life, of family size, of pants size, of vehicle, of technology, of medications, of aches and pains, of Presidents, of Popes, of hopes and dreams and worries. 

I like history. I like people telling stories of their pasts. I like the little time capsules that books and movies and photos are. I like reminiscing with family and friends. I like remembering things. One of my Top Five strengths on Clifton Strengths Finder is "Context" because I always want things plotted on a timeline and I want to see how things connect over time. And while that's a strength, I'll happily admit that a weakness of mine is nostalgia. Not even in the sense of wanting to go back to something (I do not want to relive some 99.9% of my life), but just in the sense that I enjoy remembering things. I enjoy merely fishing for pieces of the past and trying to recreate scenes in my head. 

This is me. I know me.

I bring this up because some people assume that if you like the traditional form of the Roman Rite it is because you are nostalgic either for something you yourself remember or for some imaginary scene crafted by a graphic designer purporting to capture a bygone era, like depictions of 1950s families in their 1950s neighborhoods, or of the 18th century Scottish highlands, or of a medieval French village. Or people think that maybe it's just that you appreciate the Latin Mass as a slice of history itself, a peephole into a storied past. All of those theories imagine the Extraordinary Form as a conduit for nostalgia.

There is even a way in which a few adherents and apologists for the Old Form can rely on a positive spin of this theory in their advocating for the EF. I mean, we Catholics embrace tradition, right? We look to Scriptures written by ancient Jews to teach us, and to ancient Greek and Roman Church Fathers to unpack those texts. We see the unbroken flow of two thousand years of Church life as a key argument for why we today follow the successors of the apostles, instead of being, say, Baptists or Mormons. 

So there can be a temptation to turn that positive spin into the argument in itself, i.e. Because the pre-Vatican-II Mass has been handed down with only small changes sometimes centuries apart, and has been prayed by billions of Catholics going back to Christian antiquity, and has good internal evidence that it may possess the oldest of all the Eucharistic canons, therefore it should be experienced and preserved and disseminated for those reasons primarily. Now, to be clear, the ancientness is a tremendous blessing: That it is fundamentally the same form of Mass since the time of Gregory the Great, and with a canon probably more than 200 years older than his pontificate, does resonate with us. But I don't think folks in some dioceses keep driving three hours round trip to assist at a traditional Mass do so just because it is the oldest blueprint for divine liturgy available, and much less so because they want to cosplay 13th century peasants for an hour before returning to their Suburbans and french fries and juice boxes.

What I am saying then is that both a negative "oh such nostalgia!" critique and a positive "oh such antiquity!" apologetic are seeing the phenomenon back-to-front. For comparison, Natural Law morality challenges Voluntaristic morality by asking, "Is murder wrong because the Bible tells us it's wrong, or does the Bible tell us murder is wrong because it is?" Likewise we can ask here, "Is the traditional Latin Mass a great good because it's been around for 14+ centuries, or has it been around for 14+ centuries because it is a great good?" I vote for the later. Its bright and lucid form are why it has received only the gentlest of tinkering over the centuries.

Bringing things back around to my second and third paragraphs then: Yes, the press of time and change are constant. But the attraction (at least for me) of the Latin Mass isn't one of nostalgia or of being a period piece or from claiming a very early copyright date. It is actually the opposite—it is its timelessness that is the draw. The old Mass was the same when the eight-year-old boy was learning to serve it as it was when eighty years later he celebrated his final Mass as a priest. I am 42 and there has been two major revisions to the 1970 Missal just in my adult life. The readings, the chants, the calendar of the usus antiquor could go centuries with no major changes. My grandma lived about fifty years with one form, forty years with a radically different form, and about five years in between those with two transitional missals. That which seeks to be up-to-date must always be updating; that which doesn't, doesn't. 

The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for me isn't about going back in time so much as stepping out of time entirely. I was taught and believe that the Ordinary Form lies outside of time too, but that is an objective truth that my brain has to struggle harder to accept when we just last year excised the "one" off of the "one God forever and ever" in the English translation, and had much bigger changes in the English in 2011, oh and now we can use Eucharistic Prayer IV on a Sunday also, and then we got some new reading options a couple years ago, etc.

And that's nothing compared to the much more time-bound fields of music and architecture and art. Even a total novice can usually identify whether a church is "1960 modern" or "1980 modern" or "post-2000 modern". That doesn't automatically make such things within the Mass promulgated by Paul VI and John Paul II wrong, but I think there's probably more nostalgia generated by hearing "Blest Be The Lord" and consequently remembering fondly the Masses at your elementary school than whatever nostalgia comes from hearing any of the Gregorian Mass settings, or even devotional hymns like Panis Angelicus or Salve Regina.

Now, I'm a priest so I know my experience at the Latin Mass is different from that of those in the pews. But when I talk to people who grew up with the Ordinary Form and later started going to the Extraordinary Form (especially to sung Masses) they consistently describe the experience as "almost otherworldly", and not as "somewhat-earlier-within-this-here-world-ly". 

When hearing a high school girl who texts like other teenagers and wears modern fashions say to her friends, "Wanna come to Latin Mass with me? They're singing Mass XI today and that one always gives me goosebumps," you don't get the impression these people think of it like a quick trip to the Renaissance Fair. At a TLM one will meet single parent families, dual income families, college kids who study I.T. and exercise science and broadcast journalism—none of whom seem interested in time traveling to 1905 Catholic Boston for the day. They seem to think this Mass fits just fine into their modern lives. 

Nobody seems to suggest that the Russian and Greek Orthodox liturgies are attempts to run away back to the first millennium. Even if Western Christians have only seen them in The Deer Hunter and My Big Fat Greek Wedding respectively, or YouTube videos of celebrity baptisms and intense Eastern sprinkling rites, their responses aren't accusations of escapism, but rather ones of genuine appreciation, or at least "Well, that's just how you do it when you're Greek, I suppose." Is it because slipping off to Chrysostom's Constantinople is in some way better than galavanting off to Gregory's Rome? Or do Westerners acknowledge a certain timelessness of forms to the East that they don't grant in turn to their own traditional Western forms?

The practical question is then: Are folks willing to trust that Traditional Mass goers can identify their own perceptions and reactions? And if so, then people need to let go of the temptation to guess at the motivations of Latin Mass attendees (nostalgia, museum going, live-action role playing, etc). I keep hearing that "the Church needs to be a Listening Church", and I think a good mark of that would be listening to traditionalists about their experiences and choices and not presuming about what their aspirations are. 

I know for me the draw is having a moment when the relentless drive of time seems to pause, and the worries of the day melt away, and where I can find a respite from change, busyness, and noise here within the timeless bounds of the Latin Mass.

Friday, May 28, 2021

One Year of the Latin Mass

Exactly a year ago I wrote a blog about how that afternoon, on the 15th anniversary of my ordination, I would for the first time offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, i.e. the traditional Latin Mass as it was said before 1963, and I announced we would have a Solemn High Mass on Trinity Sunday. 

"The Traddening." 

"Where was he tradicalized?" 

"So, what was your tradjectory?" (credit: Jacob Bauer)

"Do you think of yourself as more 'trad-adjacent' or 'trad-curious'?"

Whether mocking it or rejoicing in it, people definitely have noticed —and have found fun phrases to describe— Catholics, both priests and laity, who in recent years have sampled or even switched entirely to worshipping in the mode that existed for centuries previous to the Second Vatican Council. To some people it is a return that cannot happen quickly enough; to others it is a massive step backwards, an undoing of the long-awaited housecleaning of the Roman liturgy. It is not my goal here to try to answer that debate, but rather to share my impressions from some key moments in the last year. As one trained in philosophy and theology, I feel like a relativist offering up merely my personal experiences and (God forbid) maybe even emotions. But in the end, they are the only two small coins I can offer for the collection. 

My first Extraordinary Form (E.F.) Mass, which was a Low Mass or "recited Mass", was brutal. I told my sister and my friends who attended it that it was more exhausting than my "First Mass of Thanksgiving" fifteen years earlier. Which makes sense: I had spent eight years daily attending, learning, living the Mass that was promulgated in 1970 (the modern Roman Rite, the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form, or O.F.) In Covid lockdown I had spent at most five weeks learning the E.F. Mass. When my relatives, Fr. Antonine Scheetz OFM and Monsignor Tom Zimmer were both ordained in 1952, they had been serving the Latin Mass for almost 20 years. They probably said their First Masses as confidently as I lead a Rosary: quite smoothly, but a little fast through the Creed so I don't mess it up. Heck, my dad, who is 74 now and who graduated high school the year the Council ended, can probably still say the old Confiteor without a server's card more easily than I can after a year.

And therein lies the first big impression: that this was truly the Mass of my forefathers. We have a close-knit family, with an almost-irresistible tug toward history and to our stories, and a deep affection and even awe for our previous generations. But you need to understand: my grandpa was baptized Cletus Clement —straight from the Roman Canon. His brother was named Linus. Each of my four grandparents was a daily Mass-goer at different times in their adult lives. And the Mass of their first 50-60 years on earth was exactly the one that I first said in May 2020. In 1943 those two young couples could reasonable assume that their grandchildren would see and hear the things they did every Sunday. They knew chapel veils and altars rails, the Leonine prayers and the Last Gospel. And all at once, this congregation around me did too. This is going to sound melodramatic, but at the Commemoration of the Dead I felt like I connected differently with my grandparents— that I was now praying for them as they had prayed for their parents and grandparents, and those generations had prayed for even older ones. 

Ten days later we had a sung Mass (a "High Mass", or in this case a "Solemn High" because we also had two men assisting as deacon and subdeacon.) Again, by the end I felt like the opening of the Good Samaritan —beaten, robbed, and left for dead— but the memorable part was talking to parishioners afterward, folks who had never attended this form of Mass before. Here again, I am relaying but mere impressions, and these from other people even, but when they finally could find words to begin to describe the experience, they dubbed it: beautiful, transcendent, other-worldly, more reverent, more worshipful, and (though I could tell they wanted another word instead) "holier". The reticence with that word makes sense: no one wants to say that one form of Mass "feels holier" than another, especially when the second is the one that you and 99% of the world have attended for decades. One woman I think captured it best when she said, "It wasn't 'more reverent' in a sense that our usual Mass isn't —and Father, our altar boys here are so reverent— but it's more like the reverence in this Mass is just... more unmistakable. It like the reverence is baked-in; it's unavoidable. When you see the boys moving so precisely, the genuflections, the bowing all the way to the floor at the Confiteor before Communion, the extra cautious way everything is handled, the priest's fingers... Uhh! It just compels you."

The next Sunday was Corpus Christi and the striking thing there was what I will call "freedom from the tyranny of options". I am being overdramatic, yes, but it is a truth almost universally acknowledged that "Less" is the default position on options in a diocesan parish. If it can be skipped, if it can be shortened, if it can be done in English, if it can be rearranged to a tune we already know— it will be. The Covid lockdown was a blessing in Holy Week because I could say to the singers, "This may be the only year it's possible to chant the Victimae Paschali on Easter without those in the pews feeling left out; to feel comfortable using the older tune for Pange Lingua and rotate verses English and Latin; to do some absolutely haunting chants on Good Friday or a polyphonic Sicut Cervus for meditation on Easter, both of which we would not risk usually." But those were still choices the O.F. can make, choices made because nobody was in the pews to feel angsty, and laudable choices because if you are forced to try a new "delicacy" you might be surprised that you really love it. I think we have all had the experience of "What was that?? I didn't catch a word of it but it was gorgeous." 

The feast of Corpus Christi features the 24-verse sequence Lauda Sion. In most parishes (if it is not dropped entirely) it is cut down to just the last four verses, translated into English, and then recited. But there is something freeing about the older Roman Missal just telling you: 

We're doing it.


And in Latin.

And sung (at a High Mass).  

Likewise, I spent months complaining about all the chanting the priest has to learn for the High Mass. Music is not my gift. But the E.F. holds that if a Mass is sung, everything is sung by someone (if it is not whispered). And if the Mass is not sung, if it's a Low Mass, then no texts of the Mass are sung. This was so hard to accept. "Why can't I just sing the three orations, the Preface, and the Pater Noster at a High? And why can't we chant the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei at a Low Mass on days the choir is short-handed?" But honestly, if I were not forced to do so by the 1300 year old conventions of the High Mass, I would never have learned half of those chants. It was a steep learning curve, but a year later I love them all and would not trade them back. And no amount of parish pressure to hurry things along can impel the priest or choir in the E.F. to just pick and choose. 

The fourth impression is also about music. I was spaced out during the gorgeous singing of the choir during those earliest, overwhelming Sundays. Even now, I still miss a lot, since the priest is almost always doing something during the choir's chants. But once my brain could do two things at once again, I began to appreciate what the people were saying after Mass about the chanting. One couple was telling some choir members, "When the Sanctus starts, I swear it's like we're not even in a building anymore. Yeah, it's like we are being lifted up above the earth, or that the roof is gone and angels are pouring in above and around," and so I added, "Seriously, when the drones join in on that Sanctus XI, I legitimately want to just freeze and listen, but then I remember that I have to keep going because otherwise we'll never get to the Consecration." Yes, it can be weird and even frustrating to not hear the Canon of the Mass if you are coming from the O.F., but even two or three good voices can create a transformed, transcendent space in which to feel more comfortable with the idea that "maybe some words are too sacred for mortals to hear".

My final impressions come with some suggestions and encouragement for making it easier for people to sample the traditional Latin Mass. First, I have met way more "glad trads" in the last year than "mad trads" or "sad trads". That is huge draw for folks who are trad-curious, so please keep on being joyful, faith-filled Catholics. Next, the High Mass is much more of a natural bridge for Ordinary Form attendees to start to cross than the Low Mass is. Sure, the High is still all in Latin and the priest may sit down mid-chant, but there's music, a universal language, and the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei which folks should recognize, and the High doesn't have many long stretches of silence.

Frankly, good music is the "gateway drug" to lure people farther along. This means investing time (and money?) today to get choirs and cantors ready. It may be easier to recruit teenagers who are looking for a challenge and let the music itself "convert" them than it is to convince existing choirs to now shift radically. You can train an O.F. priest to say the E.F. in 2-3 months, but you may need much longer for musicians depending on their backgrounds. Start building now. Additionally, encourage visitors to: first, plan to come for 4-5 Sundays to give it a chance to grow roots, and second, maybe do not even try to follow along by missal or printout the first couple times; treat it like you stumbled on a Byzantine liturgy on vacation and just soak it in.

As stated above, the Low Mass is a much greater leap for newbies. I have had curious folks say, "Oh, I should sample one of the weekdays Masses first." Actually no, don't do that, if you can possibly try a sung Mass first. One person said that "to the uninitiated person, the Low Mass feels like half-a-holy-hour with Communion at the end." Accurate. But if a parish can't pull off a High Mass, or if a E.F. Mass is the only time that works for you on a weekday, there are tools to soften the learning curve on the Low Mass and navigate the silences. First-timers aren't going to invest in hand missals, and kids under 10 are going to struggle to read any daily selections from off the web, or even the classic "TLM Red Books" which also lack all propers. The solution is to buy a stack of the gorgeous Treasure and Tradition books by Lisa Bergman and have your regulars loan them to potential visitors even before they come, and also put out some in the back of church for drop-ins (adults and kids). If you buy a case, it takes off almost $10 per book. Or buy a case of their $9 softcover version of it (only a different cover) like I did, and when you put those out for everybody, you don't mind if the toddlers chew on them or tear a page.

These are my biggest takeaways after twelve months. I did not endeavor here to lay out the objections to the TLM that I carried with me for 23 years, and which fell away one by one. I did not try to weigh the relative strengths or weaknesses of the two forms. I did not investigate the confusing, twisting path between what the bishops prescribed in 1963 and what the Church was delivered in 1969. Someday I may reflect on those things. But today I am content to simply say: This was my own experience and these were my personal impressions.