The Worship Wars: 2.0

In early part of the twentieth century the world came together to participate in a very devastating war that was in that era called “the war to end all wars.” Such was the magnitude of warfare and the loss of human life that it seemed humanity would learn a vital lesson and never repeat such a travesty. However, one hundred years later, that war is not now called by the phrase coined at its conclusion, but rather we know it as World War I. We all know what happened. Within twenty years of the armistice signed on November 11, 1918, the prelude for what we now call World War II was playing out on the world stage. The second war was even more devastating and deadly than the first. And in many ways the world has not fully recovered from its ravaging effects.

The bottom line seems to be that humanity does not learn from experience or from history. Even when we see the devastation of power mongering and false ideologies we have the naïve impression that this time it will work. Someone has said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Many of you dear readers will remember that I spent nearly 60 of my tender years in the protestant evangelical tradition of Christianity. In my early years worship was what we would now call “traditional.” What that meant is that we would sing from the hymnals and be accompanied by an organ and piano, or in smaller churches by only a piano. If a church was big enough it would have a choir and those choir members would wear choir robes, unless it was too hot, in the days before air conditioning.

Then somewhere in the 1970s the “war” began. We called it the “worship wars.” It started as we truly believed there was a “generation gap”, like the one that the general culture had been talking about since the 1960s. So we (my generation—late baby boomers) began to sing choruses, play guitars, clap, and if we were really daring, raise our hands in worship, not in the main service, but in youth services or conferences or conventions. And as those late boomers began to move into leadership, we decided that we probably should have two services, a traditional one for our parents and grandparents, and a “contemporary” one for us and our kids. That contemporary service has morphed down through the years to include drums, bass guitars, strobe lights, and smoke machines. The hymnals were forgotten as we started using overhead projectors and finally PowerPoint. We have arrived and our hearing is shot.

Yet so many of our young people are turned off by the “contemporary” scene and they are looking for roots, quietness, tradition, liturgy, “smells” and “bells” and something of substance. Many of these young people have found themselves in Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic churches to recover the traditional worship.

I have been in the Catholic Church since March 2016, and in that short time I have grown to deeply love the worship in the Mass. Thank God I have never experienced the abuses in worship after Vatican II which took place here in the U.S. I have heard horror stories of “hootenanny” Masses and celebrants dressed as clowns. May God forgive such sacrilege! Yet, I also know we have lost something as we turned away from the Traditional Latin Mass and its incredible history and glory.

That brings me to the Youth Synod currently underway at the Vatican. Over the past year young people have been asked what they wanted to see in the Church. It seems that many of their concerns have been substituted for an agenda held by “progressive prelates” who didn’t get enough at Vatican II. The youth show, that they like their counterparts in evangelicalism, they long for the history and richness of the Mass. Young people, couples, families and singles show up at the Traditional Latin Masses. They are not asking for the Mass to be modernized or “protestantized.”

And yet we hear from Paolo Ruffini speaking for some of the Synod Fathers that we need “a Liturgy that is better suited to present times, more participatory, more understandable, otherwise the youth might consider it dull…” In response to this a Catholic priest on Twitter who goes by the handle “Father V” wrote: “It’s almost as if the higher-ups have developed amnesia about the net effect of felt banners, guitars, insipid music, and burlap bag vestments. Mass attendance plummeted and continues to fall everywhere.”

Lord have mercy! Keep praying for this synod that continues through the month of October.

The Worship Wars: 2.0

An Object in Motion…

SEPTemberdaysPriestly Fraternity of St. Peter

There seems to be a spiritual application to Newton’s First Law of Motion. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

I see personal application to this in my own spiritual journey. I have known times in my life that there was little discipline to get up on time, and what I read was the news or sports stories or social media, and while I may have filled my mind with current events and other facts, it didn’t do anything to move me closer to God. So in this case my body at “rest” stayed at “rest” and the “rest” was not good for my soul. I can look back to those times and lament how much time I wasted being passive in my spiritual life.

Conversely, when I am actively engaged in my spiritual devotion, my spiritual life and fervor stays in motion and is fueled by the motion to continue to be in motion. For example, getting up at 5:00 a.m. and getting right into spiritual disciplines, followed by 6:45 a.m. Mass, praying the Rosary on my way to work, and sprinkling prayer throughout the day keeps me connected to the Source of my spiritual life. Motion begets motion and generates a daily commitment to stay in motion.

The turning point that changed the direction of my life was when I became structured and disciplined in my spiritual practices. I wasn’t Catholic yet, but I can’t help but believe that it was one of the portals God used to lead me to the Church. As I stated in an earlier blog it was a commitment to daily lectionary readings that gave me a foothold in the spiritual disciplines.

I share all of this to draw an analogy. As I have delved deeper into Catholic spirituality I am discovering that there are many practices and disciplines that once were commonly practiced among Catholics. For example, there were more holy days of obligation, fasts, Rogation Days, Ember Days, etc., and many of these things including the changes in the Mass go back to the years following Vatican II. For some reason, in the United States especially, the tendency was to deemphasize certain disciplines and decrease the frequency of others. My wife’s experience pre-Vatican II was going to confession every Saturday before Mass on Sunday. “But now only 2 percent of Catholics go regularly to confession, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Georgetown University—and three-quarters of them never go, or go less than once a year.” And now some are putting it as low as 25 percent!

In 1955, 75 percent of Catholics attended weekly Mass. That number has dropped to 39 percent in the period between 2014-2017. Why are we surprised that there is little distinction between Catholics and the general population when it comes to marriage and divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality and conduct in general? We also shouldn’t be surprised at the current state of affairs in the Church relating to sexual behavior in the clergy and the laity.

The theory of expecting less from the faithful and hopefully opening the door to those who were outside the Church was ill-conceived and now seems to be an idea hatched in hell. Thousand and thousands of people have left the Church, given up on the Church or never entered in because they were not challenged with a life-changing message and something worth giving up their lives for. Inside or outside, it pretty much seemed the same.

Thank God for faithful bishops, priests, religious, deacons and laity who over the past 50 years have carried the torch of spiritual life and discipline for the rest of us. May their number increase! May we take our place alongside of them! What can we do?

Pray the Rosary daily. Find an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel and spend time there. Make a commitment to go to daily Mass as often as possible. Read the Sacred Scriptures. Pray. Fast. Go to confession at least once a month or even twice a month. Observe Ember Days.

Okay! What are Ember Days? Check the link above. The September Ember Days are Wednesday, September 19, Thursday, September 20, and Saturday, September 22. These are ideal days to abstain from food, not a full fast, and pray for our Mother Church and our Holy Priests. And pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Let’s turn the tide. Let’s be “objects in motion” that will remain in motion for the glory of God. Amen.

An Object in Motion…

A Slap on the Cheek

If you are Catholic, what is your strongest memory of your confirmation? I don’t have to think back too far. It was March 26, 2016, at the Easter Vigil. My strongest memory was the moment my confirmation name was pronounced: “Francis” (for St. Francis de Sales) and the sign of the cross was made on my forehead and I was sealed in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit with the fragrant chrism of salvation.

However, there was one thing that I did not receive. It didn’t invalidate my confirmation, but somehow I believe it would have heightened the impact of the moment. What did I miss? A slap on the cheek!

Bishop slap

A Catechism of Christian Doctrine No. 2, also known as the Baltimore Catechism, in the chapter on Confirmation, question 172 says:

Q. Why does the Bishop give the person he confirms a slight blow on the cheek?

A. The Bishop gives the person he confirms a slight blow on the cheek, to put him in mind that he must be ready to suffer everything, even death, for the sake of Christ.

The slap or the slight blow dates back to A.D. 350 with St. Cyril of Jerusalem, when confirmation was seen not so much as a “sign of maturity” but as willingness to become a “soldier of Christ.” From that time until 1971, as a result of changes after Vatican II, the bishop would touch the cheek of the confirmandi while saying “Pax tecum” (Peace be with you). In the Roman Church this touch was interpreted to be a slap, a reminder to be brave in spreading and defending the faith.

We can decry the loss of another valuable image from the Latin rite, and we probably should. If anything, we need to be reminded more than ever that as Catholics we are entering into a battlefield, that we have become “soldiers of Christ.” Confirmation, God forbid, should not be a rite of passage that we observe for eighth graders so that they can dress up and receive gifts.

I love a story that Steve Ray tells of a family he knew in his parish. They, like him, were converts to Catholicism. When it came time for their 8th grade son to be confirmed they asked Steve if he would be the young man’s sponsor. He declined because of his busy travel schedule and Steve’s adult son instead became his sponsor. However, Steve did offer to spend one evening with the young man to help prepare him. As the story goes Steve had purchased an authentic Roman army helmet and a three-foot sword and his wife tied a red cape to his shoulders. When the young man was dropped off by his parents, Steve “jumped” him and held the sword close to him and said to him in an urgent voice, “Are you ready to become a soldier of Christ? If not, go home now until you’re ready and don’t waste my time!” The young man was shocked, but answered in the affirmative.

Dear reader, you may think this example extreme, but think about it, what did Jesus say about following Him?

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NRSV).

A little slap on the cheek works pretty well when we’re born; it might be just the ticket when we are born again!

A Slap on the Cheek