Bp. Serratelli steps up

His Excellency Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop of Patterson (NJ) since 2004 has begun a series of articles on the sense of the sacred.  I tip my biretta in his direction for this good initiative.  o{]:¬)

Here is an excerpt from the first offering (my emphases and comments). 

Living in our world, we breathe the toxic air that surrounds us.  Even within the most sacred precincts of the Church, we witness a loss of the sense of the sacred [Do my eyes deceive?  I think H.E. just set up a parallel between irreverence in church and breathing toxic air.  Notice he used the word "precinct".   Oooooo Bp Trautman won’t like that one.  Toooo harrrrd!].  With the enthusiasm that followed the Second Vatican Council, there was a well-intentioned effort to make the liturgy modern.  It became commonplace to say that the liturgy had to be relevant to the worshipper.  [Again, the spectre of Bp. Trautman’s argument about liturgical translations slithers into view, as well as that execrable letter from the ordinary of Los Angeles, Gathering Faithfully [sic] Together.  Brrrrr….Old songs were jettisoned.  The guitar replaced the organ.  Some priests even began to walk down the road of liturgical innovation, only to discover it was a dead end[Nice analogy.]  And all the while, the awareness of entering into something sacred that has been given to us from above and draws us out of ourselves and into the mystery of God was gone.  [Excellent, Excellency!  Holy Mass is not about us or about what we do, ultimately, but rather about what God does for us and through us.  Mass is not a "truly human experience", as it was called by an old incarnation of the BCL at the time liturgy was being dismantled.]

Teaching about the Mass began to emphasize the community.  The Mass was seen as a community meal.  It was something everyone did together.  Lost was the notion of sacrifice.  Lost the awesome mystery of the Eucharist as Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  The priest was no longer seen as specially consecrated.  He was no different than the laity.  With all of this, a profound loss of the sacred.

Not one factor can account for the decline in Mass attendance, Church marriages, baptisms and funerals in the last years.  But most certainly, the loss of the sense of the sacred has had a major impact.

Walk into any church today before Mass and you will notice that the silence that should embrace those who stand in God’s House is gone.  Even the Church is no longer a sacred place.  Gathering for Mass sometimes becomes as noisy as gathering for any other social event.  We may not have the ability to do much about the loss of the sacredness of life in the songs, videos and movies of our day.  But, most assuredly, we can do much about helping one another recover the sacredness of God’s Presence in His Church.

I look forward to his other articles.

Three cheers for Bp. Serratelli!   This reminds me in a way of what Bp. Finn did in Kansas City some time back.

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  1. John says:

    HIP HIP…

  2. Henry Edwards says:

    Walk into any church today before Mass and you will notice that the silence that should embrace those who stand in God’s House is gone. Even the Church is no longer a sacred place. Gathering for Mass sometimes becomes as noisy as gathering for any other social event.

    For comparison, here is part of an account I recently wrote about a Mass attended in a traditional Latin Mass community:

    As usual, we arrived 45 minutes early, and people were already there. Not so much as a single whisper was heard until low Mass started at 8 am.

    Every Latin word by either celebrant or altar boys was spoken plainly and audibly. As a consequence, the Mass lasted 40 minutes, a bit long for a low Mass with no music or sermon.

    Actually, there was one hymn after Mass — a Marian hymn sung by the congregation as the priest and altar boys retired. At its end, every single person in the congregation knelt in silence for private prayers of thanksgiving. After which everyone left in the same total silence that had prevailed since our early arrival.

    Some churches still are sacred places, and some congregations still have a sense of the sacred.

  3. Paul Loewenkamp says:

    Ah, silence! I can only imahine what it would be like to be able to pray without distractions before and after the Mass. Our priest here in northeast Tennessee has been trying to restore this sacred silence in our parish, but unfortunately he has been meeting with heavy resistance from the “Spirit of Vatican II” types. Thankfully, now that we pray the Rosary before each Mass these people don’t show up until right before Mass.

  4. Nathan says:


    Please pray (hard) for Bishop Serratelli. He has his hands full in trying to restore any regard for the sacred in his diocese.

    In Christ,

  5. Cody says:

    I’m surprised by the silence comment. I’ve been to many parishes in the Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Boston dioceses, and I’ve never experienced a parish where people were chatting before Mass. After Mass is another story. Those of you who disagree need to go to a Baptist church before their service. That’s the tradition I was raised in, and there is no concept of “sacred silence” whatsoever. The silence before and during the Mass is what initially moved me to learn about the Church, and it continues to move me today. So you could say I was converted by silence, and not by words.

    I’m sure there are parishes where this is a problem, but I’ve never encountered it.

  6. What a joy it was to read this article.
    Years ago the Carmelite Convent in St.Louis had a sign in the vestibule that said,”Please leave your play-clothes at home.”I wish every Catholic Church would have one plus the sign, SILENCE.

  7. danphunter1 says:

    Almost all of the Novus Ordo churches I have been inside of in the last twenty years have sounded like chow time at the Circle O Ranch, before and after mass.
    You hear nary a peep during same time slots at Tridentine Mass’s.
    His Excellency now goes on the good list along with their Excellency’s Burke,Bruskewicz,Finn,Vigneron.
    Paterson is one blessed diocese.May all our prelates have the stones to teach what the Church teaches like His Grace.
    God bless you

  8. Father Bartoloma says:

    I have tremendous respect for Bishop Serratelli. When I attended Seton Hall University as a college seminarian he was a respected professor and scripture scholar. I had him for two semesters of Greek and for a brief time he was the rector of the college seminary. He is an amazing combination of orthodoxy, faith, intelligence, and always pastorally sharp and forward-thinking. At a time in my life and priestly formation when I was just starting to become interested in the Traditional Mass(I would take the train to NYC and go to St. Agnes on Sundays) Bishop (then Monsignor) Serratelli who was my rector was supportive and never saw this as the problem as, sadly, some seminary formators would. I always trusted him and looking back now, I learned a great deal from him. May God continue to work through and bless good man!

    If anyone was not aware of it, not too long ago Bishop Serratelli celebrated a solemn pontifical High Mass at Our Lady of Fatima, the FSSP chapel in Pecquanic. The pictures are posted on http://www.fssp.org/en/infos.htm just scroll down to where it says 9.V.2007 Photos: Pequannock (USA) and you will find them.

  9. Our priest here in northeast Tennessee ..

    Brother Paul, I just recently returned from trip to Franklin, Tenn. Me and The Bride went to Mass at St. Philip. Prior to Mass there were so many people speaking so loudly in the pews and in the aisles that it was difficult to concentrate.

    When I returned home, I called The Pastor and left a polite and pacific voice mail and followed-up with a polite and pacific letter to him cc’ed to The Parish Council.

    After a fortnight, he emailed me and thanked me for the letter and suggested the next time we visit beautiful Franklin we use The Eucharistic Chapel for it is only understandable that folks would want to catch-up on things prior to Mass etc.

    I thanked him for the response and suggested that if one had to leave the Nave to find prayerful silence prior to Mass then maybe it was time to review the situation.

    I recounted for him that back in the day, when I didn’t see my neighbors for a week twixt Masses, we caught-up before or after Mass OUTSIDE.

    I also mentioned the PARTS of the Mass in preparation for the Mass – Petition, Adoration, Reparation, Thanksgiving – and how silence, not voluble and cordial conversation about The Tennessee Titans, and where to buy the best barbecue, was not conducive to getting our minds and souls right for the Sacrifice/Heavenly Banquet of The New Covenant we were about to play a crucial part in.

    Who knows, maybe, in the long run, the letter will have done some good.

  10. Alex says:

    Submissa voce laudamus in sacrificio…..

  11. In my parish there is silence before and after Mass.Some years ago our late Bishop Keating wrote a pastoral letter on silence in which he mandated silence at these times in church.However,come confirmation and First Holy Communion where there are a lot of visitors there is sometrhing approaching a public auditorium.I have tried several ways to alleviate this unnerving phenomenon.I have gone out and told the people to be quiet and they respectfully comply for about three minutes.I have tried music,but they then talked louder.I have put up signs and that did not work.So one of my assistants thought up another way which was very non-confrontational.He went out and greeted the people and invited them to say the rosary.Then thecongregation contnued to talk but now they were talking to God.We have no more problem with human noise.

  12. John Spangler says:

    Amazingly, before reading this I had just finished suffering through another of Bishop Trautman’s rantings about the new English translations reposted on the Diocese of Erie’s website, and alongside is listed Bishop Serratelli as someone to contact as the INCOMING CHAIR OF THE BISHOP’S COMMITTEE ON THE LITURGY!!!

    Has the pendulum swung? Are we to have a good guy at the end of the BCL?

    Blessed be God! Blessed be His Holy Name!

  13. jon says:

    Pray that our Bishop will stay in Paterson for a long time, we need him to. He is such a great man, and model for seminarians and young men discerning in the diocese. Since his arrival, we have grown from about 6 seminarians to over 40 now.

  14. John Topolosky says:

    It was wonderful reading the excerpts from Bishop Serratelli’s article on the loss of the sense of the sacred. Ever since moving back to central Maine, I have had problems trying to find quiet in a church. I remember one lenten day, after mass while trying to make the stations of the cross, I left after the third station. I told my wife that it would be easier to pray in an auditorium during the state basketball tournament than in the local churches. It is not surprising that worship is down, it is more of a social gathering, than a worship service. THANKS BISHOP SERRATELLI

  15. Richard says:

    We are certainly blessed to have Serratelli as our bishop. He has wonderful things to say about the liturgy, but perhaps due to the state of affairs in our diocese, there’s been little change in individual parishes. The liturgies in my parish, for example, have been completely stripped of the sacred since Serratelli became bishop. But it seems the bishop has bigger things to worry about than Mass in his individual parishes. Settlements come to mind.

    He has done a great deal to increase vocations, and since his intallation, the number of new seminarians and religious has gone from none to the double digits. He has also brought in the Vocationist Fathers, who now run a shrine in Florham Park. But I do hope he soon turns his attention to the Mass before things get worse. He just recently said a Pontifical High Mass at the FSSP chapel in Pequannock. You can see the photos on the FSSP web site.

    Maybe someone could enlighten me. How much power does a Bishop really have to effect change in his diocese? Even if Serratelli wanted to, could he really change how Mass is said and sanctuaries are ordered in individual parishes, mine for example? Or are these more orthodox bishops trapped in a web of collegiality that makes it almost impossible to change already existing institutions?

  16. Kevin says:

    I am happy to report that Bishop Finn is STILL doing it here in Kansas City. Alas, we know the day will come when he is called to take “Extreme Makeover – Diocese Edition” to another diocese. Dare we hope for the “Finn-ish” of Dog Days in LA?

  17. Faith says:

    I’ve been to a few new churches. These are built to be “Community Halls.” It’s an effort to save money. What you think is the church, it is not, per se. The Tabernacle isn’t placed in this large room. There is a separate Adoration Chapel. When this parish hall is used for Mass, the priest and altar servers enter in and dress the table/altar with its linens and candles, etc.
    So…I’ve concluded that the people who are use to this type of set up, are the ones who are doing the chatting before and after Mass.
    Or…when new churches are planned, is the fact that people chat so freely in front of the Tabernacle the incentive to move the Tabernacle into a separate sacred space.
    My own parish in Massachusetts, USA, is renovating its lower church. This will be our parish hall/community space. There will be an altar, but no Tabernacle. At Christmas or Easter, or whenever Mass need be said there, provisions will be made to process from the Tabernacle upstairs. This isn’t set in stone; we’re still in the discussion stage.
    The impetus, though is money. We need a parish hall. We don’t need two churches.

  18. Get that man a Red Hat!

  19. I enjoyed the bishop’s relentless use of the past tense.

  20. Fr. Z. Thank you for publishing this. I emailed the link to St. Philip Church in Franklin, Tenn.

  21. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Did no one notice that he threw in the towel? He said we may not be able to do anything about the music — but this is at least partly the cause of the rest of the chaos. After all, when was the last time you heard respectful silence AT MASS, in terms of music?


  22. Romulus says:

    Get that man a Red Hat!

    Exactly. The see of New York is coming up soon, I believe. Something to pray about.

  23. prof. Basto says:

    Thanks be to God. His excellency deserves a red hat!

  24. danphunter1 says:

    His Excellency was referring to the horrible music that is churned out in the secular world.

  25. Geri says:

    I have traveled a great deal around the US and noise before, after and during Mass is a horrible problem many, many places.
    There are many reasons for it, but one of them no one seems to have mentioned is that it is actively encouraged.
    Wasn’t there some document produced by the American bishops, the run up to the promulgation of which included the assertion by some priests that asking parishioners to talk less before Mass was racist?

    “Special” Masses, 1st Communions, Baptisms, Graduations, Masses of Thanksgiving upon retirements, etc., are often a problem because the pews are filled with CsINO who are basically unchurched, some of whom will feel that stomping and hooting are acceptable acceptable expressions of emotion for the main event, the one they REALLY came for, that that silly sacrificial thing those other people are doing just interrupts or delays…

    (Save the Liturgy, save the world…)

  26. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    I defy you to produce even one shred of evidence within the text published here to support your conclusion.


  27. Chris: Maybe a little less defiance?

  28. RBrown says:

    Maybe someone could enlighten me. How much power does a Bishop really have to effect change in his diocese? Even if Serratelli wanted to, could he really change how Mass is said and sanctuaries are ordered in individual parishes, mine for example? Or are these more orthodox bishops trapped in a web of collegiality that makes it almost impossible to change already existing institutions?

    It’s not a matter of collegiality.

    Among other things, he can:

    1. Make sure that the best priests have the biggest parishes and are in positions of authority in the diocese and chancery.

    2. Have a weekly Latin mass at the Cathedral.

    3. Encourage any priest who wants to say mass in Latin, including assistant pastors.

    4. Personally approve the design of any new church or any renovation of a church.

    If you want a nice front lawn, it isn’t enough to kill the weeds–you also have to fertilize the grass.

  29. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    I’m sorry for the tone. Less defiance is required of me. It is borne of frustration, such as that I heard from a supposedly conservative priest: “Extraordinary Ministers aren’t called that because they are supposed to be rare, but because they are other than the ordained ministers”.

    I read Bishop Serratelli’s letter as a musician, convinced that the only way to change the atmosphere at Mass is to change the schlock called music. There was an editorial (?) in Sacred Music not long ago which insisted that bad music is not merely the province of certain dedicated Vatican III periti, but needs to be removed from Indult Masses where it exists. I couldn’t have said it differently. I’ve seen otherwise sensible parishes sing Amazing Grace at Mass, and have tried, unsuccessfully, to defend music choices in parishes supposedly “doing the right thing”.


  30. Re “extraordinary”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but EMHC are “extraordinary” because they are not ordained or “ordinary” ministers of HC. Their use should be rare for other reasons (as the Church has taught), but this isn’t the source of their naming. I pray the “extraordinary form of the Roman rite”, as hints have it the MP shall term it, will be anything but rare. It’s certainly extraordinary, and, in time, I hope it again becomes “ordinary”.

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