Tarry for the Nonce

April 17, 2006

A Holy Family Feud

Filed under: Religion — lmwalker @ 4:27 pm

I’m on a rather ecelectic Catholic mailing list, and this article was forwarded today: The Catholic Church is Born Again.

It refers to the revamping of the Holy Family Parish in a more Willow Creek-esque style – rife with video screens and living dogwoods – in an effort to entice people to attend Mass for a Really Good Show.

Of course, the general 20-something and 30-something Catholic population in the Chicago area tends to roll its eyes and sneer at such frippery – and the fact that Holy Family has an infamous reputation for being egregiously liberal and unorthodox in their pastoral leadership does not help the situation. These young, and – for the most part – passionately orthodox Catholics consider the dog-and-pony show to be a distraction from the central purpose of the Mass (namely the representation of a certain Calvary sacrifice made eternal through this most perfect of prayers.) They consider the elaborate pomp to be gaudy, condescending, and a pathetic leftover from the post-Vatican II backlash. And considering the appalling lack of true comprehension displayed by Rosemary Geisler in her derisive comments about the kneelers, they might not be too far off the mark.

Nonetheless, there is certainly room within the Catholic Church for worship of this sort. While garish acrylic decor, gurgling fountains and rock-and-roll chorals don’t enhance my appreciation of the Mass, we Catholics are the first to acknowledge that we understand best what our corporal senses perceive. And if someone is being enticed to participate in the celebration of the Mass by the promise of a jingle-rockin’ good time, so be it. I doubt any of us could admit to entirely pure motives in choosing the Masses that we do. There is usually someone we hope to see or a particular priest we prefer to hear. As high as our ideals might be, we aren’t always drawn by the pure spirit of reverence and thanksgiving.

My experience with Holy Family is a supreme example. I am not blind to the foof that surrounds much of their ministry (one time I went for an evening service which they completely forgot to celebrate!) But they do have a Perpetual Adoration chapel and they are located close enough to Motorola to occasionally allow me time to attend their 12:15 Mass on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For those two things, at least, I am appreciative.

At the end of the day, the Mass is still the Mass and – most importantly – the Eucharist is still very much the Eucharist. And – to paraphrase St. Augustine – as we eat, so we become. And isn’t that the most important thing?



  1. Is it still a valid mass if a child or a woman reads the gospel instead of the priest? Hmm, that’s what I witnessed in the past. If its bringing people back to the church, great. But from what I recall, the church has a major emphasis on the people and really plays down the whole Christ is present in the Eucharist thing.

    Of course, growing up in the Joliet diocese (and knowing burgeoning Catholic rock and rollers), I have no problem with introducing new types of liturgical styles; considering that what we perceive to be classical music was, at one time, new, modern, and most likely shunned by the conservatives of the day. Ironically, a number of our most endearing classical tunes are protestant.

    My main concern is that the reverence is still given to the Eucharist, and that the mass follows the precepts laid down by the bishops. I would also have a problem with extra stuff that ‘took away’ from the focus of the mass.

    As an aside, the other reason I’m not a big fan is because I can personally testify to Pat Brennan’s encouraging parishoners to NOT give to the general Sunday collection because a portion of the money went to the diocese. Instead they’d have a second collection for all those outraged at the priest abuse scandals who didn’t want to give to the diocese. It was on the verge, when I last attended, of becoming its own church. Fortunately, the diocese investigation put a kabash on the shenanigans.

    Comment by Andrew P. — April 18, 2006 @ 12:13 am

  2. Is it still a valid mass if a child or a woman reads the gospel instead of the priest?

    Um . . . are you seriously asking that question?

    Comment by laura — April 18, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

  3. I suppose my experience with Holy Family is very limited, because I have only attended a few Masses, one Confession and one very flashy Stations of the Cross. I’m not particularly fond of the church itself (with a small “c”) and I don’t particularly care for their embellishments, but I figure as long as they have a Perpetual Adoration chapel, they can’t help but move in the right direction. I have boundless faith in the power of the Real Presence.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to protest liturgical abuse in all its forms. My point is that we should not get distracted by the things that aren’t abusive and focus on the things that are. The use of African drums is not a liturgical abuse. The refusal to kneel before God Almighty most certainly is.

    Comment by laura — April 18, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

  4. “…but I figure as long as they have a Perpetual Adoration chapel, they can’t help but move in the right direction…”

    I don’t know about that. While I’ve only been exposed to the church recently, it sounds like it’s an institution that is picking and choosing what it likes best about the celebration of Mass, and discarding what it doesn’t like; I have a problem with that. Admiring them for having a perpetual adoration chapel is like admiring the Clintons because they’ve given money to worthy charities in the past – I argue that it’s a small gesture that fails to compensate for a history of inadequate action in the past, false promises being made for the future, and a glossy texture to the present.

    Comment by Mueller — April 18, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  5. I guess I just put a lot of faith in the efficacy of the Real Presence.

    Comment by laura — April 18, 2006 @ 5:54 pm

  6. what is a “Perpetual Adoration”?

    Comment by Alistair A. — April 19, 2006 @ 8:14 pm

  7. I have not visited Chicago in several years and have never seen the church in question, but speaking as a priest and believer, I have many concerns.

    There is no absolute prohibition against children as readers, although as with any reader they should know what the Scriptures are saying and have the ability to communicate clearly. Indeed Genna W (mentioned in the Blog links here) read expertly for me when just a young girl.

    Bishops have jurisdiction over lectors and acolytes (these are lay ministries received by seminarians and open to laymen). However, most dioceses have generally dispensed from installing men to these ministries outside the seminary. An exception would be Lincoln, Nebraska where children and women are prohibited from reading at Mass. Without ordinary ministers, parishes are permitted to call forth men and women as readers (not technically lectors) and extraordinary ministers of holy communion (not male installed acolytes).

    Having addressed this aside, what are some of my concerns based on the article here?

    Essentially my worry is that instead of highlighting those elements proper to Catholicism, we are introducing foreign elements that may not be wholly compatible with Catholic faith. We have seen such problems in folk Masses and especially in the Black Church.

    MUSIC might become an ends in itself with the liturgy ecclipsed as merely an opportunity to show off the abilities of cantors and choirs. Some churches have moved the choirs from back lofts to places up front, even where the tabernacle would traditionally be situated. The liturgy becomes more a performance to entertain than a propitiary sacrifice focused upon Christ and Calvary. Pentecostal and Black ministers are often music ministers themselves. Few priests are able to function this way and still fewer would sing the Gospel or chant the liturgy. Instead, we rely upon “religious” or “secular” music, but not liturgical music. Responses and antiphons are regularly replaced with pieces outside the Roman Missal.

    DRAMA in gestures and dancing can displace or overwhelm the sacramental signs proper to the true celebration.

    OVEREMPHASIS UPON THE WORD in time and in emotional response can create an imbalance in the liturgy where the Eucharistic part of the rite is hurried through like an embarassment.

    FELLOWSHIP which is sometimes the essential component in Protestant assemblies is secondary to the Catholic liturgy and our view of worship. It is nice if you feel welcome and wanted at Mass, but in the larger scheme of things, quite unimportant.

    We neither come together to rejoice in one another’s company nor to be entertained nor to be mesmerized by a dynamic speaker. We come to give God his due. The Mass allows us to offer ourselves with Christ as an acceptable oblation to the heavenly Father. It is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, although in an unbloody manner. However, even the few who still come to Mass would have trouble telling you this. Many come because of a sense of duty or habit, and many more have fallen away. Some have gone to other churches where they will be entertained and told delightful jokes or see women in leotards dance around with veils or where the preacher where repeat himself ad nauseam to greater heights of passion, bringing his excited but empty-headed congregation with him. Feelings are substituted for reason and fluff for the real thing.

    If our people truly believed in the sacrifice of the Mass, the power of the priesthood, and the real presence in the Eucharist– we would not need to refashion the Mass as a cabaret.

    But, I guess that is the problem.

    Comment by Father Joe — April 20, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

  8. I think, Laura, that your faith is not misplaced but the efficacy of the Eucharist is only as good as the response it evokes. Many may be drawn to the Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, many may be inspired with love for Christ in the Eucharist through Adoration.

    If the love, however, does not evoke a response (ie: a commitment of some kind to living as if always in His Presence), then the efficacy is stunted — Not because He does not shower His Grace on us but because we fail in responding to that Grace.

    From what can be measured, it is not His Presence in Adoration that draws the faithful, but a real practice of faith that that Presence inspires. The RC Churches in this country that have the largest practicing Catholic congregations are not those with all the bells and whistles but those which adhere in great love to the teachings of the Church and follow its precepts.

    Everything else — the beautiful music, the fellowship, social justice, drama (if you will) in the celebration of the Mass (which I would argue is drama enough without overwrought emotionalism), large congregations, etc. — will follow where the faith is most …ummmm…. faithfully practiced.

    All those who come still receive the graces but only in so far as they are open to the graces. To paraphrase St. Therese, am I a thimble or am I an ocean basin?

    we would not need to refashion the Mass as a cabaret


    cabaret –I like that!

    Comment by auntlori — April 21, 2006 @ 12:01 pm

  9. I enthusiastically second Fr. Joe’s concerns. My own Church (a university parish of enormous proportions) is a case in point. The students all enjoy their own “Youth Mass” every Sunday. Nothing strictly wrong or improper is contained in the Mass, and the students passionately invest themselves in a celebration that “touches” them. Bongo drums, full scale audience participation, and a Creed sung to the tune of some 1970s song. A select group gathers by the band to dance about at the conclusion of the Mass.

    And YET they do not flock to the Eucharistic Adoration chapel.

    And YET when they return to their homes, they do not go to Mass because it is not celebrated in the manner to which they have become accustomed, complete with those pseudo-proverbial bells and whistles.

    And YET my revered university is famous (or infamous) for its flagrant immorality — a characteristic that pervades even our blossoming Catholic student group. With so much to fight in our modern age, they need the sacraments more than they need to croon the Credo.

    I certainly do not doubt the power of the Eucharist. I doubt the strength of modern man to find his way to the Eucharist when his only interaction with it is in an atmosphere too noisy to hear the words of Consecration.

    At the same time, it is probably important to remember that, over 100 years ago, factions within the Catholic Church were bewailing the introduction of that newfangled liturgy — the Tridentine. Where is the line between the Church’s ability to assimilate the expression of a culture into the pure core of Catholicity and the danger of lapsing into nonsensical theatricality?

    To quote St. Thomas Aquinas: “Better to illuminate than merely to shine.”

    Comment by eleanor — April 21, 2006 @ 12:19 pm

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