“Please, Father, Help Me To Be Holy”

Here is a piece from a blog of Edward Mechmann hosted by the Archdiocese of New York.   Mr. Mechmann in the archdiocesan Respect Life Office.

My emphases and comments.

Please, Father, Help Me To Be Holy

August 19, 2009

I’m trying to be holy.  I try to set aside time for prayer, and I particularly try to be attentive during Mass.

But, the basic problem is me.  I’m just very, very easily distracted.  [Welcome to the human race!  o{];¬)  ] My mind whirls around, thinking about what I was doing, what I’m going to be doing, the current list of things I’m worried about, and on, and on.  I just have a hard time focusing during Mass.  [Note: This is why I say that paying attention, listening attentively, is far more challenging than singing and carrying stuff around.  ]

That’s why I follow along in a missal, so I can concentrate two of my senses at once on the prayers of the Mass, and try to get my heart and mind to join in those prayers.  I’m trying to actively participate in the Mass, instead of just being there and mouthing the responses.  By doing this, I have come to appreciate the beauty and noble simplicity of the prayers of the Mass, and they draw me upward to God — after all, He’s the one we’re addressing our prayers to.

That’s also why it’s a disaster for me when the priest change the words of the Mass.  It throws me off, takes my mind out of the prayers, and adds yet another layer of distraction.  The human element jumps in front of me, blocking my view of the divine[Well… I don’t want to cede the idea that the present, lame-duck ICEL translation has anything of the divine, but you get his point.] 

This rarely happens at my home parish, or at the parish where I attend daily Mass.  But it has happened on occasion when I’ve been travelling.  For example, there’s the priest who seems to make up the words of the Eucharistic prayers as he goes along[He should be reported to his, pastor/superior/bishop.] How can I join my prayers to his if I have no idea what he’s going to say next?  Or the priest who decided to re-write the Eucharistic Prayer so that it was in the form of a dialogue — some parts he said, and others were said by the congregation.  I can’t even tell you what a strange experience that was.  Or the priest who decided last weekend to use the Gospel reading from Saturday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, instead of the regular Sunday Gospel.  That totally threw me off — I love Mary, and I’m sorry that the Assumption wasn’t a Holy Day of Obligation this year, but for goodness sake, the Sunday Gospel was the climax of the Bread of Life discourse from John 6, perhaps the most important thing that Jesus ever said.   [There are occasions when substitutions are permitted.  However, we can admit that getting a curve thrown at you is a distraction.]

It’s particularly difficult when the priest chooses a manner of speaking as if he is having a conversation with us[Remember that comment Bp. Slattery made in his explanation of why he is opting for ad orientem worship?]  That’s even more distracting.  I can’t help but thinking, why are you talking to me?  Shouldn’t we all be talking to God?  

I know that this kind of thing is usually done with a good intention, to make the Mass more open and inviting, or to make the congregation feel more a part of the Mass.  But it has the exact opposite effect on me — it pushes me away, and makes it much harder for me to actively participate in the Mass.

I’m not a regular at the Traditional Latin Mass, but I imagine that this is not a problem — unless you’re an exceptional linguist, you probably couldn’t ad lib in Latin.  There’s also the old instruction to the priest to "do the red and say the black"  [HEY!  I know that one!] — do all the required movements and gestures, which are written in the Sacramentary in red, and say the required words, which are written in black.  The few times I’ve attended the Extraordinary Form, it actually helped me that it was in Latin, because I had to concentrate harder to follow along, [yes] and I felt myself entering into the prayers more[yes indeed] and joining the priest in offering them[Do I hear and "Amen!"?] That experience has helped me be more attentive and focused while attending Mass in the Ordinary Form. [Gravitational pull, folks.  And this serves to demonstrate what I have been talking about all along.  Familiarity with the older form of Mass will help our celebrations of the newer form.]

I don’t want to be critical of our priests, whom I love and pray for daily.  And I don’t want to be some kind of "liturgical police", constantly looking for problems at Mass and acting like I’m more Catholic than the Pope.  That’s not my job, and I wouldn’t want it anyway.

I’m just trying to be holy.  But I’m a weak, restless person who has a hard time concentrating on the Lord during Mass.

So, I’m begging.  Please, Father, help me be holy.  Please don’t change anything


Kudos to the writer!  Keep up the good work!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. archambt says:

    This guy gets it!

    My question is, how does one go about correcting various liturgical issues as it relates to a monastery. I know of one place where, depending on the priest, you get any number of various to the Eucharistic Prayer or the Agnus Dei (along with variable lay servers who have no real liturgical sense…or a sense of when, how long, and how many times the bells during the the EP should be rung).

    Talking to the Abbot is out, as he’s part of the problem as well.

  2. P.McGrath says:

    I happen to know Ed. He’s good people. I’m sure he’ll appreciate your thoughts, Father Z.

  3. JohnE says:

    “That’s why I follow along in a missal, so I can concentrate two of my senses at once on the prayers of the Mass.”

    Our pastor has told us that to be following along in the Magnificat during the readings and Gospel at Mass is like reading the newspaper during Mass. I couldn’t follow the reasoning and assume there must be some other hidden reason, but when he says Mass I put it aside out of respect and obedience.

  4. Therese says:

    “That’s also why it’s a disaster for me when the priest change the words of the Mass.”

    We too find this distracting, to say the least.

    We have a daughter with mental illness. Changing the texts, altering the arrangement of the Mass, and even the presentation of the priest facing the people is HIGHLY disruptive to her prayers.

  5. Navarricano says:

    As I said yesterday about the artilce by Bishop Slattery … wow.

    You know, one of the great things about the internet is the fact that it is now so easy to get in touch with other people who are thinking and feeling and experiencing the same things. Pieces like this one and Fr. Z’s blog are an enormous consolation.

  6. Joan M says:

    There’s also the old instruction to the priest to “do the red and say the black”

    I would dearly like to know where that old instruction was and if I can get a hold of it – my Parish Priest is amenable to my teaching the readers how to read correctly. Part of that will be “do the red and say the black”, as most of them say “The First Reading” etc and then “A reading from……”. However, the Parish Priest frequently (not so much these days, thankfully) reads the small quote from the Gospel that is printed in red immediately above the Gospel reading. So, before I start to make any plans for training the readers, I need to discuss my approach with Father, and that will include the “do the red” part, which he may not like. He tends to become defensive if anyone even alludes to his not doing everything perfectly……

    I would much appreciate being able to show him, should he require it, an actual document where this instruction is included.

  7. kal says:

    Excellent article! I related to the following excerpt in a little different way:
    “it actually helped me that it was in Latin, because I had to concentrate harder to follow along, [yes] and I felt myself entering into the prayers more, [yes indeed] and joining the priest in offering them.”
    We have several new priests/seminarians from Latin America in our diocese (Saginaw, MI). While their English is coming along, they still have heavy accents. To understand what they are saying at times takes careful concentration and attention to the prayers and the homily. I find I leave Mass drained at at times, in a good way, just from the work it takes to concentrate and participate. I’m sure this is a similar experience to what the writer is refering to about hearing the Mass in Latin.

  8. mpm says:

    The proof is in the pudding. Why is that man, Edward Mechmann, smiling?

    Joan M,
    Apart from WDTPRS, I think it is not written, but an oral instruction to priests learning to say Mass (the horror, I used “say”), as to why the Missal is printed in two-color type. “Rubric” comes from “red”.

  9. FrCharles says:

    I work in a parish of the archdiocese of New York, so I know Mr. Mechmann. He’s the real thing. Good for him.

  10. albizzi says:

    I had the same experience when I went last year to my first Latin Mass since the early sixties:
    In that time I found the mass boring.
    Last year I went to mass with my old mother (who much encouraged your young priest, Fr Lucchesi, to begin the latin mass once a week. She brought an old 1962 missal for me and I was amazed being focused on the prayers whereas I was obliged to read their translation if I wanted to follow them properly one after one.
    Then I reminded that in my youth the priest said aloud the first 3 or 4 beginning words of each prayer, to be further helpful to the attendants. Of what I was thanked by Fr Lucchesi when I recommended him doing so.

  11. JPG says:

    He does not wish to be part of the Liturgical police and neither do I . I purchased some years ago a Missal for nearly the same reason. This abuse in particular is almost at every Parish. In contrast to the writer I purchased the Misaal to learn what ought to be said because of the myriad of liberties taken. I find the inclusive language impulse most irksome. However I think that what is needed is a liturgical police if you will. I think more urgent legislation than Redemptiones Sacramentum is needed. This document covers all these issues and is widely ignored. I do not pretend to know how to put teeth into this document but clearly many Bishops who already have much of which to be concerned do not feel the need to address this.

  12. jfk03 says:

    The orans posture is very ancient. The catacombs in Rome are full of art showing the faithful in the orans position. The posture is commonly used in the Eastern and Orthodox churches. Holding hands, however, is another issue; it is a sentimental practice of recent origen.

    The first thing one notices when entering an Orthodox church is the absence of pews. (Pews are as post-medieval innovation in the West.) The congregation STANDS during the entire Divine Liturgy; but the faithful bow from the waist during the anaphora, and prostrate themselves during the epiklesis. In most Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, the faithful stand in the orans position as the Our Father is sung.

    So I don’t think it is appropriate to condemn the use of the orans posture. It does not represent the faithful mimicing the priest; it is an ancient posture of worship going back to the apostolic era.

  13. Marcin says:

    it actually helped me that it was in Latin, because I had to concentrate harder to follow along, and I felt myself entering into the prayers more, and joining the priest in offering them.

    Right on target. The same goes for the readings. The way they are usually read at OF Mass is as if they are a bedtime stories and the outcome is often boring if not appalling, effectively turning them into a non-message. Lay readers tend to be masters of that “art”, clergy being close second. I think they have been all taught some “proper, personalized” delivery.

    It’s a non-brainer that the readings should be chanted exactly because it requires attention from listeners.

  14. Kimberly says:

    A good freind of mine put the old missal in my hands about a year ago. It wasn’t until I began using the missal that I realized how, at the NO, that I was just “repeating” the responses out of habit instead of understanding the depths of the words used. Besides, the missal is a beautiful catachism unto itself.

  15. Scarlett says:

    When I was living in Italy for a semester, I realized how much more aware I became of everything that went on during Mass because I had to concentrate intently to follow just what was being said and what I was saying, myself. I’ve had similar experiences, too, in attending Mass where the priest has a heavy accent. In this world, it’s extremely rare to ever focus on just one thing, and I have trouble with it even during Mass. I often walk away from Mass said by a priest with a heavy accent – assuming I actually was successful at following him – feeling more refreshed than usual.

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