When Liturgy Breaks Bad I

Journalist and blogger Mary DeTurris Poust posts on “Losing … Religion.”

I have been desperate for a shepherd, for someone who wants to meet me in my darkness and walk with me spiritually, for someone who gets up there and tries to meet people where they are – in the real world, struggling with real problems, in a way that actually has some meaning in their lives. That maybe the music lifts us up instead of leaving us shaking our heads. That something, anything, give off even the faintest whiff of meaningful spirituality.

I understand the feeling.

But I also lived a charmed life with regard to liturgy. Every pastor who’s hired me to serve his parish had a liturgist in place before me, so I wasn’t literally serving in a field hospital/triage situation. Sure, I followed up some troubled situations once or twice. (Otherwise, why are these guys hiring?) But there was a shared commitment to good liturgy in those places: national searches, committees and clergy talking, parish resources put into good music and other worship aspects.

The bottom line is that good liturgy is not magic. It is not the magic Father Z will sell you of saying the black and doing the red. Father Z and others are peddlers of another variety of cheap grace. Keep the clergy well-stashed in coffee, cigars, and brandy–and orthodoxy–and all will be well.

A moment of desperation:

I think every Catholic who is sitting in church week after week wondering, Why? Why? WHY? should not put another thin dime in the collection basket, should not volunteer one more minute of their precious time, should walk out every single time they are insulted by or condescended to or lied to by someone on the altar until something starts to change, until Pope Francis’ challenge begins to take shape before our eyes, not just in beautiful words spoken by a courageous man.

I’m talking about a revolution. But it’s not going to happen unless we care enough to take the dare and get up and walk out until they can do better. It took a while, but I’m ready.

I understand the sentiment. But this is wrong-headed. Here’s why:

If the clergy don’t care about your spiritual life, they won’t give a darn if you come or go. If your parish is circling the drain, on the edge of closure or merging, you will hasten the process, and Father will be reassigned to blow up the next parish across the diocese.

Even if a whole parish of lay people got up and walked out … well, Jesus’s line about a person coming back from the dead and not being able to convince comes to mind.

I know it’s difficult, but the first course of action isn’t to leave. The first course is to stay and make a holy nuisance of yourselves. Sometimes church people are too nice.

The other things about being fed at Mass …

  • It is reasonable to expect that liturgy will be nourishing. It is a meal as well as a sacrifice, after all.
  • It is unreasonable to think that the liturgy will be everything, all the time, to everyone. (That said, it is the front line of entry into the Church, so it needs to be great most of the time.)
  • For a person who has been a committed Catholic, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect uncaring pastors, cheapskate finance committees, and bored parishioners to be on the front line of spiritual nourishment. At some point, one has to go deeper, and take responsibility for one’s own spiritual life: finding a director, making an annual retreat, daily prayer with the Scriptures, and most especially a faith-sharing small group.

Discernment, as Pope Francis and thousands of Jesuits would tell us, is essential.

A dissatisfied person (and I have been that many times in life) has the opportunity to sort out which things are in one’s control, and which aren’t. I usually find that it’s my place to add something I’ve been missing, rather than cut something out that’s annoying me. Confront the annoyance, don’t walk away–that usually works for me.

I think Ms Poust lives back east. That seems to fit. Eastern Catholics, especially clergy, have a sense of entitlement. They deserve big churches, big collections, and bad, bad tradition. They will not care if an entire parish walks out the door. That will make the job of shuttering, clustering, merging easier–with fewer meetings.

But it will annoy the heck out of them if you all stayed and demanded better. Think those people who wouldn’t leave their church buildings when the diocese closed the parish. If you stop giving your money, you won’t be hurting any priest, believe me. He’ll just fire the janitor and cut back the secretary to half-time.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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16 Responses to When Liturgy Breaks Bad I

  1. alexander says:

    what is the dress code for the clergy during adoration if he is ministering it

  2. Todd says:

    During adoration, nothing. For exposition, alb or surplice over cassock, and a stole. Cope and humeral veil for the end of adoration.

  3. alexander says:

    what is the dress code for the resident priest during adoration if he is NOT ministering it

  4. Eb Hurley says:

    “Eastern Catholics, especially clergy, have a sense of entitlement. They deserve big churches, big collections, and bad, bad tradition. They will not care if an entire parish walks out the door. That will make the job of shuttering, clustering, merging easier–with fewer meetings.” This seems unfair. WE are CHURCH. As an Eastern Catholic (?), I am surprised at your uncharitable stereotype, Todd.

  5. John Drake says:

    Eb, Todd is big on uncharitable stereotypes in this post. See also his jab at Fr. Zuhlsdorf and like-minded orthodox priests.

  6. Todd, as someone in the same diocese as Mary DeTurris Poust, this is not much of a big fancy church diocese. That does not mean that many might not care about driving away the faithful, but it is rarely for that reason around here! Our bishop may be many things, but that kind of sense of entitlement does not flow from him.

    Just my two cents as a resident. This does *not* mean to take away from Mary’s post, which I posted on my own FB page when it all began the other day.

    • Todd says:

      From what I know of Bishop Hubbard, I would agree. But while I also have a high regard for my bishop in Rochester, I do know that a sense of good liturgical ministry did not seep down into many parishes there, and many priests and most parishioners were not aflame with faith.

      That said, it might well be my own experiences of Eastern rejection (Rochester, DC, Boston) that solidified in me the notion that those select places weren’t interested in hiring a good liturgist. My own diocese decided to leave a position vacant rather than hire me. And on another interview, I noticed a lot of fumblebuttery on the part of a few priests who were very well-known liturgists.

      I don’t think Albany needs fancy churches. But Ms Poust’s parish(es) sure seem like they need good help on the liturgy front.

      Granted, it’s a complicated thing. More complicated than Father Z’s brand of cheap grace. My criticism of him has nothing to do with stereotypes–I’m calling him out directly on what he says and promotes. (And if he wants to be criticized less, my suggestion would be to offer more substance.)

      • Todd, I love this diocese, but a hotbed of good liturgy it is not. I am very spoiled where I work and where I worship, excellent priests who are great liturgists and homilists. That said, Mary lives a short distance away, but too far for weekly visits to my home parish.

  7. Ray MacDonald says:

    Nobody is ever going to make everyone 100% happy. Fr. White in Baltimore appears to me to be on the right track, but there were folks in his congregation who hated his approach and fought him all the way.
    Our pastor is a fine preacher, but he still is stumbling over the wooden new translation we will be stuck with for a long time to come. Should I hold him accountable for this? Don’t think so.

    • John Drake says:

      We in the Diocese of Columbus must have exceptionally talented priests. I have not heard any “stumbling” over the new, improved translation since, oh, early January 2012.

      • Ray MacDonald says:

        I suppose you have more talent in the US. You haven’t heard the congregation in my parish trying to parrot the responses off the pew cards I guess. I just gave up a couple of years ago and don’t bother responding at all.

  8. Liam says:

    I was nearly fit to be tied when the editor (I am not sure who it is) of my fairly progressive parish’s bulletin saw fit to include what was an ad-dressed-up-as-a-motivational essay by a coach on our amazing selves, a re-tread of self-promo content that had run in HuffPo last month. The thing was nearly all platitudinous. (I’ve been a coach, I know the platitudes; used sparingly, they can be helpful re-focusing tools for particular people who need them in a given moment, but used universally they have the effect of promoting narcissism of the cheapest sort – and something I don’t think any Christian church should promote uncritically.)

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