Weigel’s piece in First Things… then Fr. Z rants

Preface: I urge priests and bishops reading this to at the very least skip to the last part if you think you don’t have time to read the whole.


George Weigel has a piece in First Things which merits a reading.

I teased out a few salient points for you atention.  I will add something at the end.  My emphases and comments.

The realization among serious Catholics that this is not 2002 and that things have changed dramatically since 2002, has led to a far more confident effort to fight back against misrepresentations such as those the Times perpetrated on March 25. There is a danger here: to recognize that this is not 2002 cannot blind us to the fact that there are wounds that remain to be healed, reforms of priestly formation that remain to be completed, ["Amen!" to that!] bishops whose failures remain to be recognized and dealt with, new norms for the selection of bishops to be implemented, [?] and accounts rendered as to why the Vatican, prior to Ratzinger’s taking control of the issue of clerical sexual abuse in the late 1990s, was sometimes sluggish in its response to scandalous behavior by priests and deficient leadership by bishops. …

Nailing down that counter-narrative would be considerably aided if, in the coming weeks, a comprehensive and documented narrative of the case of a predatory Munich priest which was mishandled during Ratzinger’s tenure as archbishop there—the revelation of which was the European ground zero for the latest set of explosions—would be published. It would also be helpful if the Holy See would provide a user-friendly explanation of how abusive priests are laicized, and how this process has been streamlined and accelerated, again under Ratzinger’s leadership. …

In the face of all this, [UK readers take note…] the bishops of Britain must recognize that scandal-mongering has now metastasized into a full-scale assault on Catholicism itself, and ought to devote the next four months to the most vigorous defense of the truth of Catholic faith. …

Yet if 2010 is not to become 2002 redivivus, the Holy See must make unmistakably clear that it is serious about dealing with malfeasant bishops: [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] that, in addition to swift action against abusive priests, the Church is prepared to take swift and decisive action against episcopal misgovernance. …

Cynicism and irony are powerful corrosives in ecclesiastical life. [Read closely…] Yet they cannot withstand the power of radical conversion, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. [More on this below.] In North America, in Great Britain and Ireland, in Germany and Austria and the Netherlands, indeed all over the world Church, these are the most effective counters to the current wave of Church-bashing and Catholic-baiting.


I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to connect the wave of attacks on the Church and misrepresentation to the attempt to divide and subborn Catholics – through the crack of weak-identity liberal Catholics – undertaken by the present White House administration and its willing enablers, such as the administration of the University of Notre Dame.  I think the larger view of seemingly isolated incidents suggests that there is a connection.

As a result, and picking up on what Mr. Weigel wrote at the end – about the power of joyful evangelism – I will add here below with a few edits part of my Liturgico-Political Manifesto I wrote after the the Debacle at Notre Shame.

I urge all priests and bishops who read this blog with any slight quaver of resonance or benevolence, to consider this with care:

If you sense that something quite serious and important is going on right now, for the love of God rethink your approach to how you foster Holy Church’s proper public worship.

Do all in your power and through your influence to foster a worship of God which conforms not to worldly goals – as praiseworthy as they may be in a world still dominated by its dire prince – but rather to the real point of religion: an encounter with mystery

Our worship must become more and more focused on the one who is Other.  Seek what is truly above in your rites and raise people to encounter mystery.

You will be challenged and reviled, blocked and attacked as you do.  You will be worn down and afraid under the weight of resistance.

But I think that to save the world we must save the liturgy.

The present round of attacks on the Church, which suggest a deeper agenda, confirm this.

Secularist and secularizing forces can’t compete with the fullness of Catholic liturgy and sound preaching.

Reforming the liturgy along the lines Pope Benedict has proposed may be the most loving and effective option we have in these ever hotter times.

People will have to keep working very much in the sphere of the secular.  Of course!  Our inward Catholic Christian identity must find outward expression and bring concrete fruits.

But I think the real work now – where we will make some effective headway – must be done at the level of our public worship.

In the present circumstances, we are not going to argue most people out of danger or error.  But together we can draw them in and along and back through worship.

So long as we remain doctrinally faithful and active in works of mercy both spiritual and especially temporal, if we get our public worship together we will have a mightier argument against error. 

Holy Catholic worship will be an attractive force for conversion.

We need to foster worship which stuns, which leaves the newcomer, long-time practicing Catholic, above all the fallen-away simply thunder stuck.  Worship must at some point leave people speechless in awe.  We need language and music and gesture which in its beauty floods the mind with light even while it swells the heart to bursting.

The more people encounter mystery through liturgy, the more hollow will clang the false or incomplete messages of those who have strayed from the good path, either to the left or to the right.  

Our goal must be that which is good and beautiful because it is true, that which reflects what is of God, not man’s image merely.  Give us mystery, not fabrications smacking of the world, fallen and transitory.

Fathers, and you Reverend Bishops, if anything of alarm has sounded in your hearts and minds of late, rethink your approach to our worship.  Examine your approach with an eye on the signs of the times.  Take a new approach

The approach we have had least last few decades isn’t getting it done.  Really … it isn’t

Going neither left nor right along the road toward the Lord, even as He comes to us, take the flock now deeper, now higher on that path, but always to encounter the mystery which distinguishes truly Catholic liturgy… and therefore true Catholics.

Lines are being drawn, sides taken, choices made.

More than ever we need what Christ, the true Actor of our liturgy, desires to offer us through Holy Church’s worship.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Biased Media Coverage, Clerical Sexual Abuse, Our Catholic Identity, The future and our choices, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Joseph says:

    As human misery is an opportunity for us to show our true humanity, the trouble within our Catholic church is a good time to strengthen our faith and practice. Just when it looks the darkest, the light always shines brighter.

  2. gmaskell says:

    Thank you Fr. Z, Your statements are stupendous, awe-inspiring, and Vince Lombardi-ist. I hope priests get it. This goes for us laymen also. We need more of THIS! We need to get right-sized!

  3. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Fr. Z,
    I’m afraid I disagree. Some of the chief failings during the sex abuse scandal have been the criminal secrecy, misdirection, and smoke screens employed by the bishops. Won’t any reactive liturgical change be seen as a continuation of misdirection and another smoke screen, a way of diverting attention? I’m not talking about the upcoming translation; that has been in the pipeline for years and can’t be seen as a reaction to the sex abuse crisis. Although I do not think that there is a liturgical practice that you champion for which I do not also share at least deep sympathy, I worry that the liturgical rituals that we cherish will be seen as a ruse or as propaganda and will be conceived of as symptomatic of the problem and not part of the solution.

  4. poohbear says:

    Faithful Catholics need and WANT strong Bishops who not only preach the truth of the faith but stand up for it it public. We need Bishops who will remove the Catholic name from dissenting organizations and refuse to allow dissenting religious orders to remain in their dioceses. This lack of strength and unity only confuses people, and we will never be able to correct the errors taught by these dissenters without strong moves by our Bishops.

  5. I pray your priest readers take heed of your encouragement to save the world by saving the liturgy.

    On the matter of “malfeasant bishops” there seem to be two things in play here; most importantly the way in which the Holy See deals with them, as Weigel says, but also, how the Bishops’ Conferences deal with the issue as a whole as well.

    Take the USCCB for example. All indications at this point are that they are prepared to accept the “findings” of the John Jay study; namely, that the molestation of adolescent males is not a sign of homosexuality.


    When Weigel talks about the “wounds that remain to be healed, reforms of priestly formation that remain to be completed, bishops whose failures remain to be recognized and dealt with…” part of what he’s addressing is the fact that a certain number of the bishops are at the very least sympathetic to the gay agenda. What number? I don’t know, but in terms of influence, it appears to me that they have been able thus far to steer the USCCB away from recognizing and addressing the homosexuality link to abuse.

    Yea… we know the USCCB is a bureaucracy that doesn’t speak for the Church, but it does seem to have the ability to make individual bishops reluctant to contradict the “party line,” and you can bet the MSM and others will use this denial of homosexuality as a key factor as a wedge to “divide and subborn Catholics” as you say.

  6. B16generation says:

    Ok, Fr. Z and all you good folks… let’s get going over to the website: supportthepope.com and sign the petition, join the facebook page, and pray!! Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder with are magnificent Pope!

  7. DisturbedMary says:

    Pray for beloved Pope Benedict as he travels to Malta April 17-18 and Fatima May 13.

  8. beez says:

    In support of your call for a renewed understanding of the liturgy, I would like to tell you about an experience I had this Triduum at a parish in Richmond, Virginia.

    The Mass of the Lord’s Supper was superb. With six touch-bearers, two acolytes, a Master of Ceremony, Assistant MC, three seminarians, a priest and a deacon, the beauty was clear even before the procession.

    First, a soprano with a gorgeous voice chanted the INTROIT in LATIN. Then, a solemn processional hymn accompanied the long procession to the sanctuary.

    The priest started the Mass with the older form “I will go up to the Altar of the Lord” to which the trained Altar servers responded, “The Lord who gives joy to my youth.”

    The Mass itself was celebrated in the vernacular with Latin parts (Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus, Pater Noster) as well as use of “Dominus Vobiscum” and Latin responses. (Nothing like hearing Verbum Domine after the readings).

    With the commencement of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest turned ab orientam for the celebration, which introduced both a sense of leadership in common prayer and a sense of mystery, especially in the elevation.

    Communion was offered under both species, with the priest and deacon giving the host at the altar rail. People were able to receive either kneeling or standing, on the tongue or in the hand. I found it interesting that there were all possible permutations of this option!

    The Mandatum was strictly men, and two of the seminarians in attendance were “conscripted” to fill in when two of the men from the parish didn’t make it to Mass.

    The Eucharistic Procession left the main altar and circled the Church to a side altar (the Church itself is nearly 100 years olf and didn’t suffer in the reckovations of the 1970s) where our Lord was reposed for the night.

    I can’t fully express the sublime nature of this Mass, which combined all the best of the renewal of the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council and the great liturgical traditions of our faith. Nevertheless, it was the finest Mass according to the Roman Missal of Paul VI I have yet experienced.

  9. Scott W. says:

    I worry that the liturgical rituals that we cherish will be seen as a ruse or as propaganda

    Did you read Fr. Z’s comments asking for Amens on dealing with bad bishops? It’s “both/and”, not “either/or”

    We have to do what is right rather than worrying about how it will be seen. How were blacks “seen” in the 19th century South? How were Jews “seen” in 1939 Germany?

  10. Randii says:

    I disagree. All the reverent liturgies in the world will do no good if the shepherds are not protecting the flock. Which many aren’t. Too many have been in cover-up mode. The mention above of efforts by the bishops and USCCB to steer blame away from the large homosexual element in the church tells me nothing has really changed.

    The problem is that there has been so much compromising and cover-up by American bishops and failure to teach that it will take generations to get past this. The current issue of Catholic World Report has a telling piece on the (lack of) faith of catholics coming out of Catholic colleges and how the colleges are obfuscating the Pew study showing this and bishops are doing nothing about it.

    Reverent liturgies by themselves are simply a cover-up that will not stem the collapse of the US church – IMO.

  11. Henry Edwards says:

    Randii: All the reverent liturgies in the world will do no good if the shepherds are not protecting the flock. Which many aren’t.

    Can you cite any evidence that bishops in recent years have failed to “protect the flock” effectively? On the statistical surface — precisely 6 credible accusations in 2009 with 45 thousand priests in the U.S. — it would appear that an extraordinarily fine job is now being done, probably far better than any other identifiable group or institution in our society is doing.

    But so far as the past is concerned, I’d suggest that disintegration of the liturgy and predatory homosexual abusers are two aspects of the same problem. And indeed that solution of most if not all moral problems in the Church starts with reformation of the liturgy (the “source and summit”, etc).

  12. I agree with your’?’ regarding Weigel’s point on the norms for the selection of bishop. I wish he would be clearer on this point. What I hope it means is that nuncio’s will look well beyond names submitted to them by bishop’s conference. Until this happens, we will continue to get more of the same. This especially applies to the appointment of auxiliaries. All to often they just contribute to the ingrown episcopal culture of large dioceses which then spreads throughout the region.

  13. JosephMary says:

    There is an item today on Rorate Caeli entitled: “Creative liturgy… alienates us from God and draws us near to sin.”


    I do think there is a link between the so-called ‘creative liturgy’ where Mass is a “gathering of the assembly” to talk about peace and justice and the truths of the Church take a back seat and the behavior and tolerance of evils that has been exhibited. We lost the idea of sacrifice and knowledge of the cross. I read a presbyter profile from a diocese once all about personal worth and self esteem and rhymatically loving your frieds and looking to yourself for affirmation and ad nauseum. No mention of Christ. No mention of the Cross. No mention of the care of souls. Those attitudes showed in the liturgies of the diocese where the bishop invited all to stand at the consecration and so on and where the priest could do or say whatever he wanted and ‘go ahead and tell the bishop’. Those attitudes, reflected in the liturgy, contributed to the looking the other way as homosexual activists were ordained, as children were abused without concern for their soul, and generations of Catholics have gone uncatechized.

    This is not to say there was not the fomenting of dissent during the time when the TLM was the Mass! We know the devil is patient and modernism was just below the surface for a long time. But when the guard was lowered, experimentation encouraged and our Mass replaced by the liturgy from the book of common prayer with adaptation, then the rock of the church was like shifting sand with the loss of countless souls.

    How often to we meet someone new who will tell us they were ‘raised Catholic’ but no longer are” How many dissenters in the public sector, whether academic or political, can call themselves Catholic and yet thumb their noses at Church teaching. And they hate the TLM, hmmm.

    Hard sometimes to say which came first-the chicken or the egg but all these things are tied together.

  14. orthros says:


    You were at St. Benedict’s, eh? :)

    It’s been 3 years since I’ve lived in Richmond, but I’d recognize the description anywhere.

    I’m willing to bet my full year’s salary that it was NOT St. Michael’s in Henrico =D

  15. beez says:


    Please don’t mention St. Michael’s. I went there for a funeral and, oh, my liturgist heart broke.

  16. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    The news and events of late just do not seem random, in fact they seem quite sinister. I am scared and fearful, even in this season of joy. I want strong leaders to be leading us, and there are not enough of them locally.

  17. juxta crucem says:

    People miss the point when they complain that improving the liturgy is fussing with details and avoiding the problems. While much human effort needs to be applied, this is primarily a spiritual battle that is beyond us. Reform in the Church will come about through prayer and reparation for sin. Reverent liturgies glorify God and draw people into prayer and penance in union with Christ for the sake of the Church.

  18. Kate says:

    These days especially, nothing refreshes my soul as much as attending Mass offered by a reverent priest.

    Thank God for our good priests; how difficult it must be for all of them right now. We’re praying every day for our priests and our pope.

  19. evener says:

    Just returned from travels back to the church I was confirmed in. On the big doors to enter the church are signs asking you to please be silent to enter, out of
    respect to Jesus in the blessed sacrament and to people who are praying. If all our churches put up similar signs, it could be a good start. If the morning bull sessions before mass stopped, maybe our priests would think some of us do believe HE is really there.

  20. polycarped says:

    Thanks Father. I agree with you about the need to restore, preserve, protect and promote the liturgy. I agree because it makes sense to me – deep down. It’s instinctual. I often have little choice but to attend Mass in a church which is an ex sports hall, where the chairs are ‘comfy’, where there are no kneelers, where the ‘band’ sits by the altar facing away from it playing excruciating ‘hymns’ of the 70s and 80s like “Colours Of Day” (what exactly is that about..?!), where tea and coffee are served from a hatch IN THE CHURCH immediately after Mass, where there is no silence in the church before or after Mass and where (surprise, surprise…) the children (and scarily, perhaps also even their parents) have no idea what is actually taking place on the altar or what they are receiving in Holy Communion. Of course, these parishioners are (truly) lovely people and very welcoming. So no-one understands my issues at those times when my lip gets too painful to bite any longer. So…for people like those attending that church (and I assure you there are many like it) can you take this a bit further please? WHY do we need to go back to the true liturgy? WHY is the liturgical tradition important? Surely it’s all relative and the main thing is to keep the young people who are leaving the church in droves interested and engaged (yes, this is an intentional provocation!). Mainly out of desperation at how things are going in mainstream Roman Catholicism in middle class western Europe, I have become increasingly drawn towards the Orthodox Church in the past few years. This is largely because of their faithfulness to liturgy (they do not question for a minute that its power transcends time and trend) and tradition in general but not only. I also believe we (RCs) have a great deal to learn from the Orthodox clergy – many of the Bishops in my experience are first and foremost men of prayer and of spiritual wisdom (which is the fruit of that prayer). The Bishop is part of the community, a revered source of guidance and holiness who is at the centre of liturgical life, as intended. They are not, (like so many of our Bishops) administrators, chosen for their managerial skills and living very privileged existences. The primary role of a Bishop is to shepherd and to TEACH. How often do we hear our Bishops teaching?! Having said that, my biggest fear with some of them is that, even if they did, it would probably be so off-track that it would be better they didn’t anyway! That’s what we RCs so desperately need – solid teaching. Clarity. How many people would return to the faith if they could receive the clarity they so desperately (and perhaps unconsciously) yearn for. Leave the Bishops to pray and teach. Lock them in the monasteries between 9 and 5 and leave the administration (including child protection procedures!) to other people! Rant over. Bedtime. But please, Father, if you can return to this and go deeper into the WHY – that would be very helpful indeed. God Bless.

  21. ssoldie says:

    Well said, JosephMary.

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