AP story: different take on Mass at Nationals Stadium

An AP story has different takes on the Mass at Nationals Stadium 

My emphases and comments.

Papal Mass raises questions about role of laity

By ERIC GORSKI – 5 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — For 46,000 Catholics, it was a Mass like no other, with the altar standing on centerfield at a ballpark and the presiding clergyman arriving in a bulletproof vehicle.

But Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass in the nation’s capital Thursday was also different from a typical service in another way: Lay people were not asked to distribute Communion, which was administered exclusively by 300 priests and deacons.  [Just to drill into that word "typical", we should keep in mind that in some contexts (such as liturgy) it doesn’t just mean "usual" but rather "normative", as in the "typical edition of the Roman Missal".  In the case of a Mass where there are so many clergy, it would be an abuse for anyone other than clergy to distribute Holy Communion.  However, it is also very often an abuse in many parishes to employ so many extraordinary ministers, when it is likely that none are needed.]

Organizers of the Mass at Nationals Park were only following the letter of church law. [As I said.  But do you sense a kind of "violated the spirit of Vatican II" coming down the line?] But to some Roman Catholics, the ceremony was symbolic of what they see as Benedict’s desire to erect clear boundaries between clergy and lay people.  [Unreal.  I would say a table altar is a barrier.]

"What he wants to do really is to reinforce the old categories and classifications — different roles for different people," said David Gibson, author of books on Benedict and the future of the U.S. church.  [Sure.  But… that is a good thing.]

"Men and women, priests and lay people. Each one has their role according to their talents, their ordained status in the church."

The clear division of roles doesn’t sit well with all American Catholics, who are used to living in a democracy. [Then they need to have a clearer Catholic identity.  Liturgy is a good place to start with that.  That is the very place we MUST start in most cases.] Some would like a greater say in church affairs, including choosing their parish priests. [I bet they would!] Others cherish the distinct roles held by clergy and point to several examples of the two working together in harmony.

The pope has signaled his position through some relatively small gestures, Gibson said.

For example, the Vatican has issued a document reaffirming that only priests and deacons can touch and clean the chalice after Mass, something many lay people have done.

The Rev. John Wauck, a professor of literature at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, warned against measuring appreciation for the laity by what they can and can’t do in church.  [Precisely.  When you blur the roles of lay people and priests, and try to "empower" lay people by having them do things appropriate to priests, then you are effectively saying that lay people don’t have dignity on their own.  To have importance they must be more like priests.  Being a lay person isn’t good enough.  In fact, this is the worst sort of clericalism there is.  And it is NOT imposed by traditionally leaning Catholics.]

"The life of the church doesn’t take place in sacristies and parish meeting halls alone," Wauck said. "It takes place in homes, shops, sports fields, businesses, hospitals … wherever there are Catholics."

He added: "The relationship between the clergy and the laity can’t be seen in terms of a power struggle. [Which is the feminist view, and usually a feminism of the Marxist variety.] Both are serving the church in their own way."

Because of the priest shortage in the U.S., lay people are increasingly being called upon to run the administrative side of parishes while leaving sacramental duties to clergy.

In 2005, nearly one-quarter of the nation’s 217,000 parishes were without a resident parish priest. At the end of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, more lay people than clergy were working full-time in American parishes and many of those lay leaders were women.

Lay people also have taken more active roles on parish financial councils and high-profile panels like the church’s National Review Board, which was formed in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis.  [Okay… this is all very interesting, but the writer seems to be drawing an equivalence between liturgical roles and what other things lay people can do in and for the Church.  The argument seems to be: if they can balance the books, they should be able to do everything else too.]

Even so, that board is advisory. Bishops still make policy decisions, and board members have left after complaining their advice was not heeded. [That is really another issue.  Sometimes the advice is bad.  Sometimes the bishops are thick.  But advice is merely advice either way.]

For distribution of the Eucharist, priests and deacons are known as "ordinary" ministers, meaning they should do the job when they are available.

At Thursday’s Mass, 1,500 priests and deacons were in the stadium — five times the number needed, said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Another staple of parish life — altar boys and girls — also were missing from the Mass. Under papal liturgy guidelines, seminarians perform those duties.  [Well… sure!  Most of them are actually installed lectors and acolytes.  Altar boys and girl altar boys actually only substitute for installed acolytes in their absence.]

But lay people also played high-profile roles, reading the Scripture and serving as cantors and petition readers.  [And I don’t think they should have.  This was a sore spot in the Mass: I got the sense that the organizers instrumentalized these people to force the Mass to be multi-cultural.]

"To me, it’s almost seamless how we work together," said Gibbs, one of nine lay people on the archdiocese’s papal planning committee. "Clergy bring pastoral teaching and direction. Lay people bring business skills, administrative skills." [That seems like common sense to me.  I can’t imagine not consulting people far more experienced than I am on matters of business, etc.]

Patty Olszewski, 51, of Potomoc, Md., was disappointed about the lack of lay Eucharistic ministers — she is one.  [Because its about Patty, right?  I dunno… maybe I am being unfair here.  After all, she didn’t say that, the writer did, about her.  But this seems to be so common in these discussions: it all comes back to "me".]

She describes herself as an anti-abortion Catholic who wishes the church would at least consider women priests and disagrees with church teaching against homosexuality. [Okay,… two solid reasons she probably should not be a distributor of Communion at all, anywhere.  Such a role should also involve a deep commitment to the Church’s teachings.  All of them.  Instead, by making a public statement in this way, she creates confusion.] Even so, she said she’s happy with her role and feels like she’s contributing.

"In everyday life, you don’t feel oppressed by any sort of hierarchy because it’s so heavily populated by the laity," Olswewski said. "That’s ‘We the People.’ The church is all of us."  [This person seems to be confused about the hierarchical structure of the Church, which Jesus Christ gave to us… and which is a gift.  Sure, it depends on how that is embraced and with what charity it is fulfilled.  But this "we are Church" stuff leads down the wrong path every time.]

Erin Johnson, 24, a parish youth minister from Gaithersburg, Md., believes "you either follow the traditions of the church, or you don’t."  [Contrast the attitude of the 24 year old, with that of the 51 year old.  Does that suggest something?  It does to me.  And let’s ask both of them some basic catechism questions.]

"I feel like I have plenty of opportunities to serve," said Johnson, who brought 30 teens to the Mass. "Each individual, every single one of us, has a place."  [Thanks for not having baggage!]


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. TNCath says:

    Hmmmm. Interesting yet erroneous perspective from Eric Gorski. Fr. Z., I especially appreciated your line, “Because it’s all about Patty, right?” This line pretty much sums up modern American society.

    By the way, just to refresh my memory of today’s Mass, I have tried to access it on both the EWTN and the USCCB websites. On the former, the streaming video stops with Joan Lewis’ interview. On the later, I can’t find it at all, as if it has been removed from the website! Can anybody confirm this for me? I may be completely wrong about this, but I wonder if they have removed the coverage from the websites on purpose?

  2. Rob from NYC says:

    Thank you Father Z. Your comments are so very true and sobering. It is sad when eucharistic ministers are thought of as typically necessary, when maracas and bongos are thought of as musically superior to the “treasure of inestimable value”, and when lay people have to pout because they feel they are not getting “equal billing” with the clergy. Unbelievable.

  3. Matt M says:

    Go get ’em Erin.

    I am glad that they reserved the distribution of Holy Communion to ordinary ministers. I think that things are moving in the right direction w/ Pope Benedict.

  4. VoxCantor says:

    You’re the future Erin!

    God bless you!

  5. Diane says:

    I wish the USCCB, under Cardinal George, would begin to catechize the faithful from their new blog on a regular basis about these things.

    How can people learn if it is not discussed? Most of these people aren’t on the web digging for the understanding, unfortunately, and bishops don’t talk about it.

    One problem I see is that something comes from the Holy See and it ends there. Perhaps it may end up on the bishop’s site, but clearly there is a misunderstanding about the role of the laity with regards to the distribution of the Eucharist, as well as purification of vessels. Catholics were quoted.

    I see these kinds of publicly visible misunderstandings as teaching opportunities for the bishops.

  6. I have searched the internet, at least to my ability, and can not find a Catholic Church that would be the home of Patty Olszewski – who stated that she disagrees with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and is still a Eucharistic minister. These seem to be a growing number of people who seem to think they know better than the Church. Someone who can do something should be informed about a person who is not in communion with the Church, yet still distributing the Host.
    Thank you

  7. vox borealis says:

    Interesting perspective. I thought the mass today was a disaster and set back any ‘reform of the reform’ movement by years. Indeed, I feared this would be seen as a crowning victory for the progressive Catholic types. Yet this article seems to indicate that the progressives are upset at over how traditional (!) today’s liturgy was! Maybe I have completely misjudged today’s events: if the AP chooses to focus on the proper role of ordinary ministers of communion rather than the cha-cha music and multiculturalism, then maybe the tide really is turning. Slowly to be sure, but turning nonetheless.

    My spirit is somewhat restored for Sunday’s mass at Yankee Stadium.

  8. As far as the giving of the Body of Christ is concerned Extra-Ordinary
    ministers are only helpers of the Ordained Ministers. If the Priest tells
    us that he needs our help we help him. If he tells us that he can manage the
    distribution of the Eucharist we don’t serve anymore we just attend the Mass

    This is the case here wherein 46,000 faithful were present in the Papal Mass
    and there were 300 Ordained Ministers present I am sure not all (46,000)will
    take Holy Communion.

  9. vox borealis says:

    I find it interesting that 300 ministers were able to distribute communion to 46,000 people (1 for ever 150 or so) in a baseball stadium. Yet at Sunday mass in St. Everywhere USA, an army of EMHC are required to hand out communion for what, a couple hundred people at most? Regardless of how many priests or deacons are present.

  10. Paul says:

    This makes me mad. Grrrr! It just highlights the enormity of what the Holy Father is trying to do. Or do these kind of articles make the problem appear greater than it really is?

  11. Way to go Eric, applauds are due…Musically, the Mass was the worst thing possilble, but Liturgically, much better.

  12. Nick says:

    You beat me to the punch, Father!

    Excellent commentary. I agree with your comments, and I enjoyed the joke at the end.

    Though I was confused abut the “acolytes.” What is an acolyte? I don’t think my home parish ever had them. Though I could be mistaken.

    At any right, I know that you’re a busy priest, so if you don’t have time to answer the question, I will totally understand. Thanks, again, for the great blog. Keep it up! You’re in my prayers, Father. God bless!

  13. ed says:

    Respectfully, Fr. Z–what the papal mass at National’s stadium demonstrated to me: there is NO (“marshall”) plan whatsoever on the part of Pope Benedict to reorient the mass to sacredness and away from showmanship. This was so evident today and I am extremely distressed–that is putting it mildly. I am at a loss………..

    Sour Grapes Award Winner

  14. Matt Q says:

    Ed wrote:

    “…There is NO (“marshall”) plan whatsoever on the part of Pope Benedict to reorient the mass to sacredness and away from showmanship. This was so evident today and I am extremely distressed—that is putting it mildly. I am at a loss…”


    Yeah,and where are the Clarifications to Summorum Pontificum? Are they still stuck in some insipid committee, sitting on the Pope’s desk, in the trash? Where? I dread what it may not say, no imperatives to the bishops and pastors. It may just contain pious articulation on the greatness of the Tridentine Rite and how wonderful it is to say it. With the Holy Father not going around saying the Tridentine Mass, he all the more shows lack of example. My opinion.

  15. Paul Stanton says:

    As a youth minister, I would take issue with your assumption, Fr. Z, that there is a large amount of young people and young adults in the Church who are of a more traditional flavour. This is a very blinkered reading of the Church which focuses on the ‘new movements’ and the ‘traditionalists.’ For sure, if you go to a TLM you will see young people, or a youth 2000 retreat, or a faith movement conference… but if you go into a mainstream youth centre, youth group, catholic school chaplaincy, the picture is somewhat different. For sure, you will see a lot of luke-warm Catholics who don’t really go to Mass, or care that much. But you will also see committed Catholics who use the phrase ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ as a positive assertion, not a loaded criticism.

    This is my first comment on wdtprs, so I’ll sum up by saying this: please please don’t assume that young Catholics are more traditional. If you look at FSSP, Youth 2000, Faith etc etc, then you would probably get that impression. But look a little wider. The Trad takeover isn’t progressing quite as well as you think.

  16. Chironomo says:

    Paul S…

    Actually, the recent survey of Catholic attitudes (perhaps someone can supply a link for this!) which just came out this past week showed just that: Young Catholics born sine 1980 are overwhelmingly more like pre-Vatican II Catholics (conservative/ Orthodox), while their parents (VII Generation) are more likely to be liberal/ progressive in their theology. Seminarians entering the seminary are overwhelmingly orthodox/ conservative as well.

  17. Chironomo says:


    Further still… I think the term “Trad Takeover” betrays an agenda in your posting…

  18. Hoka2_99 says:

    How about this, then: our weekdays Masses have attendance of on average six people. Our retired assistant priest insists on using an extra ordinary minister, so, reluctantly I am that person. By the way, I’m commissioned and I do adhere to the complete Magisterium of the Church. At least this priest does not expect me to cleanse the vessels after Communion; the extra ordinary ministers at Sunday Mass have to do this and I have now left the rota for Sundays because of this and because one person is allowed to intinct the Host.
    On weekdays, if an extra ordinary minister is not present, the priest gets the few people who are there to pass the chalice from one to the other – thus giving the Precious Blood to themselves, not having it “given to them” – another abuse.
    FatherZ – your blog is brilliant! How can we get all these comments, which we write from the heart, to the attention of someone in authority.
    I live in England, in one of our many “liberal” dioceses.

  19. RBrown says:

    Was there something about Vatican II—decidedly a valid council—that didn’t sit well with manly men? Something about the Kumbaya, hand-holding, ecumenism, instead of doctrines, dogma, Saints, who often died or gave up worldly pleasures for our Lord, and “we know this to be truism” that didn’t sit well with real men, willing to give up family, friends etc. to become a Priest?

    JRatzinger wrote and said on various occasions that the present state of the liturgy does not accurately reflect Vat II.

    But remember, the Priestly abuse scandal only touches abused children, it doesn’t touch on those priests not living their celibate vows—which is the vast majority. Who wants to be part of a group where the leader doesn’t live the very message he is supposed to proclaim? Modern priests are the epitome of hypocrisy. Or, again, maybe they should join the Episcopalians and stop being hypocrites. But I know: way too many fey priests have way too comfortable a life style to just give it up.

    It touches all priests. Cardinal O’Connor said some years ago that priests now all have the sense they’re under suspicion.

    Besides which, in addition to the crimes of priests’ abusing altar boys, there is also the problem of priests in homosexual relationships that are not illegal under the criminal code.

  20. Marcin says:

    “The clear division of roles doesn’t sit well with all American Catholics, who are used to living in a democracy.”

    That may be true, but the author gives no examples of who it “doesn’t sit well with,” and who cares! I guess they can join the Episcopalians if the Catholic Church doesn’t “sit well” with them!

    Exactly. There must be something truly endearing to them in the label “Catholic”, because they want it stapled on anything even if it contradicts the Catholic Church.
    But wait! They could easily transfer to Episcopalians, because these also claim to be “Catholic”!

  21. Patrick says:

    The continued emphasis on The Holy Father’s supposed aim of returning the laity to it sproper place is getting worn. Neither the reporters or the disgruntled extraordinary ministers of communion who participate in these news events seem to have read the GIRM, or any of the documents that instruct us in what is the proper form and function of our liturgy. Father wrote that one “minister” had an “all about me” attitude, which is a widespread attitude. Not ony do we have the priest as “performer” we have a supporting cast of willing collaborators.

    “The clear division of roles doesn’t sit well with all American Catholics”, what does this mean? How many are in the sample? Are all 50%, 40%, or maybe a distinct minority? As long as newsoutles and interest groups can present nebulous figures and approximations as fact, we will forever have an uphill struggle to present the truth.

    I am sorry that someone turned the Liturgy into a multicultural platform for the readings and intercessions. But they are not doing anything they have not done on a Pentecost SUnday in the last 30 or so years and have gotten away with.

  22. RichR says:

    Fr Z,

    Thank you for posting this article along with your comments. Can we not see how the abuse of EMHC’s has created this perverse spirituality that is epitomized in the above article?

    As JPII said, “The clericalization of the laity and the laicization of the clergy.” What’s wrong with roles proper to, preferential to, or reserved to clergy? My goodness! And they wonder why we don’t have any priests! Who wants a job that required so many sacrifices, yet can basically be done by a married layman with a well-paying outside job?

  23. Anna says:

    The Priest at my parish stopped using lay ministers and no one complained.
    in fact, communion is distributed in less time(many people argue that lay ministers save time) There is more reverence for the blessed sacrament. More and more people have begun to take on the tongue and to kneel. It is really quite beautiful. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful Priest…Go Father Whittington!

  24. Gordon says:

    I was at a weekday mass over 10 years ago in a small suburban church with about 12 ppl in , at communion time, 4 of them went onto the altar to give out Communion to the other 6. That place had 3 priests serving 3500 but 20 or so ministers of eucharist. This is the norm in most places now. Dont know what they intend doing about the woman “sacristan” if that’s what she is, in the cathedral in my Archdiocese in Scotland. I would say it is true that younger folks are after more tradition…but only those ones who really do care about their faith, which here is a depressingly few. Certainly, it has been all younger priests offering the Missa Cantata(New Mass) in Latin. Not seen any clergy over 45 yet. However, I live in hpoe!!

  25. Dan Soderlund says:

    Fr. Z, you are the man! Great commentary.

    Why is it that people feel they need to be the Priest (or act in the manner of the Priest) in order to be a part of the Mass? As a daily Mass attender, I know that my greatest role is to participate in the Mass by offering up the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus at the Consecration and when I receive Communion (I only receive from the hands of a consecrated man – Priest or Deacon), as well as actively participate in all of the prayers. I don’t want to be like the Pharisees, but I believe the extraordinary ministers are “diluting” the Priesthood and the role of the laity – not enhancing it.

  26. Daniel Latinus says:

    Reading the article, I want to say “what else is new?” It seems that this controversy came up at Papal Masses offered by the late Pope John Paul II. (IIRC, the Archbishop of Denver ordered that no Masses be scheduled during the Papal Mass at WYD, and that every available priest be at the Papal Mass to help administer Communion.)

    In this, the Vatican is not doing anything it hasn’t been doing since JPII visited in 1979.

    The overuse of Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers has gone on for way too long.

    BTW: why do we need layfolk reading the readings, commentators, or song leaders in the sanctuary at all?

  27. Boko says:

    No altar girls was nice. There had been rumors that they would be present, which could have ruined the generally excellent visuals (as opposed to the music) of the Mass. I’m already forgetting the music (a few beers last night helped), but I’ll long remember the reverence and gravitas of BXVI. (Placido Domingo also showed us how a grownup does this kind of thing.)

    I did see one man in a suit distributing Holy Communion. A permanent deacon, perhaps?

  28. Wanderwide says:

    It seems to me that a major part of the problem with the large numbers of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and with the confusion about their roles, is the result of the excessive frequency of the administration of the Chalice to the laity.

    One of the reasons for which the protestant “reformers” insisted that the laity should receive under both Kinds was that they perceived the restriction of the Chalice to the Priest as being an expression of the ontological difference between the Priest and the laity. That is not the Church’s intention, because she does permit lay people to receive the Precious Blood under certain circumstances. But limiting this to special occasions, such as First Communion, Confirmation and Marriage, does indeed serve as a subtle and salutary reminder that this important distinction exists. Both the Priests and the laity who are most insistent on Holy Communion under both kinds tend to be those who wish to blur such distinctions.

    When I have visited parishes in countries where the laity normally receive the Precious Blood, on numerous occasions I have seen Priests – sometimes even the Principal Concelebrant – go and sit down at the time of Holy Communion for fear of offending an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion by “usurping” their function. The constant need for Extraordinary Ministers to administer the Chalice makes their service seem “ordinary”- indeed, something to which they have a right. The best way to check this is to make the reception of the Chalice “extraordinary” rather than the norm. Anyone who comes to Holy Communion busy worrying about their “right” to receive or to administer the Precious Blood is really in no fit state to do either.

    I hope that there will be widespread pressure to ensure that any future “reform of the reform” will address these problems by restricting the reception of Holy Communion under both Kinds by the laity to special occasions under tightly-controlled conditions.

  29. Nick asked about what an “acolyte” was at 10.43. The 2002 General Instuction of the Roman Missal (GIRM)has: “98. The acolyte is instituted to serve at the altar and to assist the priest and deacon. In particular, it is his responsibility to prepare the altar and the sacred vessels and, if it is necessary, as an extraordinary minister, to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful.”Only men can be instituted, using the proper ceremony for this. This came into effect in 1973, with the Motu Proprio MINISTERIA QUAEDAM.
    “100. In the absence of an instituted acolyte, lay ministers may be deputed to serve at the altar and assist the priest and the deacon;” So regarding acolytes, it seems there was observance of the Ceremonial of Bishops, n. 28: “But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that all such ministerial functions be carried out by formally instituted acolytes, ..;.”.

    But the same things were not followed regarding Instituted Lectors. According to the article: “But lay people also played high-profile roles, reading the Scripture and serving as cantors and petition readers.” And as Fr Z commented: “And I don’t think they should have. This was a sore spot in the Mass: …”.

    I certainly agree with Fr Z as far as reading the Scriptures in concerned. From the GIRM: “99. The lector is instituted to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, with the exception of the Gospel.”
    And “101. In the absence of an instituted lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture.” And from the Ceremonial of Bishops, n. 31: “But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that readers formally instituted proclaim the readings …”.

    Being cantor and reading the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful I see as optional for ordained or instituted ministers. From the GIRM, n. 99, about the instituted lector: “He may also announce the intentions for the Prayer of the Faithful and, in the absence of a psalmist, proclaim the Psalm between the readings.” And from n. 71: “The intentions are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the deacon or by a cantor, a lector, or one of the lay faithful.”

  30. Mary says:

    I’m so glad there were no laymen distributing Holy Communion. Maybe in two years the next time there is something like this we’ll all be receiving on our knees.
    Doesn’t hurt to dream.

  31. Dennis says:

    Paul S

    I teach ccd grad 5 and assist gr 8 confirmation prep. the majority of these students are clueless when it comes to their religion. 8th grade students we took to confession 4 days before their confirmation can not recite an act of contrition and kids on the confession line would ask me what they were to do when entering the confessional. My 5th grade students, when I asked how many attended Easter Mass only 4 of the 14 in my class, went to mass on Easter Sunday. Most find the idea of communion on the tongue as being odd. The idea of tradition is very foreign to them.

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