From a reader:
Do you think it would be a good idea to give a parish priest and the curates a copy each of Redemptionis Sacramentum for Christmas or as a random gift? [Does that mean “anonymous” gift, or a gift outside the usual gift giving circumstances such as birthday, Christmas, anniversary of ordination, Father’s Day, etc. Not sure.]
I honestly don’t think most priests would have even heard of this document. In light of your recent post, I am thinking that with the current mindset, the new translation may not make any difference to priests who just do their own thing anyway. They need to be educated and (in)formed
I really want to do something to bring them round to the correct way of saying Mass.
Are there any really good books you know of which could be given to priests?
There are several factors here that must be considered.
First, the writer’s motive is to effect a change in the way the priests say Mass. Apparently there are some liturgical abuses there.
Second, if the priest in question doesn’t seem to care what the Church’s laws or texts are, what difference will it make to give him Redemptionis Sacramentum?
Perhaps you and others need to work on him from the pews with the laser beam of prayer, especially involving the priest’s Guardian Angel. Pray for the priest all through Mass. If he continues with liturgical abuses, add fasting and almsgiving to your “correction” of the priest.
That said, assuming there is a reasonable chance that the priest can be reached by more human strategies….
People are within their rights to make known their concerns about liturgical abuses. That is made clear in the aforementioned Redemptionis Sacramentum. RS also says that, while people have the right always to address their concerns directly to the Holy See, they really ought to try to address them first at a lower lever. Thus, putting RS into the hands of the local priests who are not entirely precise in their celebration of Holy Mass may be a good thing.
But how to do this without giving offense, which will undermine the purpose of giving it?
Giving such a “gift” would require real tact and the right moment. Giving just RS would send a very strong message indeed. You have to ask yourself: would that message be well-received? Perhaps RS could be included with several other things concerning liturgy. Perhaps along with Joseph Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy and Feast of Faith and A New Song For The Lord. There is Athanasius Schneider’s Dominus Est. You might also include John Paul II’s Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum caritatis.
If RS is in large part about correcting liturgical abuses, Sacramentum caritatis is useful for instilling in a positive way a new “ars celebrandi… art of celebrating”, a new view, attitude, approach.
Otherwise, there are all sorts of good books priests could find useful. I am sure some priest readers here could chime in about them. It could also be possible that the priest in question could create a reading list/wishlist you and others could work from. He might appreciate your interest and you could supplement the list with offerings of your own.
But do be careful about giving a “gift” intended to fix or correct a priest, or anyone else for that matter.
Gifts with agendas can backfire.
I must admit to never having given any priest a copy of Redemptionis Sacramenteum, which as a mere layman I had eagerly devoured and absorbed before noon on the day it was published on the internet. Perhaps partly because I would not know where to begin with a priest who even today, over seven years later, is not familiar with such a key Church document.
I assume that bishops forward such important instructions to their priests, but how can a priest be forced to read and absorb them? I have heard of priests who claim they have not read a new book since graduating from the seminary, and in some cases such a claim seems believable.
How about ‘The Liturgy Betrayed’, by Denis Crouan?
Despite the provocative title, and the picture of a priest being stabbed in the back on the cover, it’s quite a good book in many ways. It has its flaws though.
I don’t think you can ever change a priest who insists on changing the Mass to suit himself. To try to change is bound to end badly for the lay person. Priests have absolute power in most ways, some of them good but some of them bad.
I was reminded by a priest once that it is considered a mortal sin “to say anything against a priest.” So as long as that attitude prevails you will just have to pray.
I know of many priests who can just barely read or write (and I am not exaggerating). The standards in seminaries really did slip after the Council. By contrast most of the very old priests who were educated in pre-conciliar times (and therefore drilled in Latin) are usually very articulate and well-read.
From my experience if a priest doesn’t have the right attitude to the liturgy there’s not much that can be done. I have got into some very heated debates with priests on liturgical abuses and in retrospect it was all just a waste of time. The vast majority of priests today were formed in the 70/80s/90s – a time of doctrinal and liturgical anarchy.
Thanks heavens for the internet.
Banjo pickin girl: “I was reminded by a priest once that it is considered a mortal sin “to say anything against a priest.” So as long as that attitude prevails you will just have to pray.”
One of the few positive legacies of the sex abuse scandal is that such obscurantist authoritarianism- to which ‘progressives’ are every bit as prone as traditionalists – is no longer considered acceptable.
Indeed I’ve often wondered whether the revelations of child abuse and cover-up has actually helped the traditionalist cause— or at least disarmed its opponent. The Church Establishment which once actively persecuted traditionalists is now discredited and that Establishment is overwhelmingly progressive by inclination.
Well whatever you do, don’t nail a copy to the church door.
The sad thing is, I (the reader concerned) am considering leaving my parish. There are a few priests. It’s like a lottery. One priest is OK-ish but I usually never ‘get him’. The others are not. I leave Mass angry and upset. Why’s it so hard to just say the black and do the red? How about giving such a priest one of Fr. Z’s mugs?
The really upsetting thing is that this is affecting my progress in holiness. I’m not making any. The abuses are so widespread and intolerable, it is just such a joke. And this is Ireland I’m talking about, btw.
What gets me Father Z is this: we can read your blog, we all know what’s wrong and what needs to be done, but on the ground, outside the blogosphere, it’s like we all just have to pretend it’s still 1970. So much of what you’ve posted on your blog applies to my parish. Well, we don’t have puppets.
On Palm Sunday 2010, my parish was treated to a homily given by a layman at each of the three weekend Masses. I was so bothered by the whole situation that I wrote a letter to the pastor, with a copy to the associate, and placed in it in each of their office chairs late one evening. (I copied the associate, because both priests were present in the sanctuary during the lay-pontificating.) I also attached a hard copy of Redemptionis Sacramentum, as well as the relevant paragraphs from the GIRM and the 1983 Code that expressly prohibit lay people from preaching homilies during Mass. The tone of my letter was: “It seems to me the Church says repeatedly that we shouldn’t do X, yet we do X at this parish. Can you please explain? Is the issue more complicated than I, a mere layman, am able to understand?”
I never received a response or even an acknowledgement of my letter. However, no lay preaching has occurred since then.
I truly sympathize with those–as represented by readers and the person who posed the question at issue–who feel so strongly about the state of the liturgy and the abuses that happen so often. And one of those frustrations is, why do priests behave this way?
Let me attempt an answer. There are multiple explanations.
Some priests are simply misinformed. A lot of priests do not add much to their knowledge of various subjects, beyond what they learned in the seminary or at the last big conference or event they attended. I include myself: I do not regularly read up on every matter I studied in the seminary; it’s just not feasible. So, I tend to read more on those subjects that interest me. Since the liturgy interests me, I read more on that subject.
So…you have priests who really don’t know much more about the liturgy (or any other subject) than what they learned a long time ago, because it isn’t a subject of pressing interest. That may sound like a criticism, but I don’t mean it to be. I can understand a priest being more interested in other subjects. The subjects I don’t read much about are important too.
So you have a fair number of priests who are doing things–or exercising discretion–that they were told was appropriate. Many take the view that the liturgy really was supposed to be largely reinvented after the Council; or they take the view, I think, that the “essence” of the liturgy is sufficiently maintained in such widely divergent practices: i.e., if you ask them about some whack-a-doo liturgy, they’ll shrug and say, “it’s still the Mass”–which means, I think, that something recognizable as the two principal parts, or else it means the Mass in question was, at minimum, valid.
Other priests will take the view that in allowing or even fostering liberties with the liturgy, they are serving other noble purposes, purposes that serve the salvation of souls–such that they will protest that being “rigid” about the celebration of the liturgy “excludes” or puts people off and therefore damages the cause of salvation.
What’s funny is that sometimes, so-called Vatican II priests are actually applying a mindset that is attributed to the “bad old days” before the Council. Remember the principle of “ex opere operato”–concerning how God certainly acts through sacramental action, regardless of the merits of the minister, or the quality of how the sacrament is celebrated? I can remember being taught in the seminary that we shouldn’t be “minimalistic” about the liturgy–i.e., merely being satisfied that it’s “valid” and “the work worked”–but to have the liturgy be what it should be. (And I agree.) Yet, is this not the mindset when someone waves off a concern about an abuse, by saying, “well, it’s still the Mass”?
Something similar happens, I think, when some priests celebrate the Mass, not so much authoring bad practices so much as going along with them. They come into a situation where bad practices have gone on, and they do little about it. They do little or nothing to change things. “It’s still the Mass.” To be fair, it isn’t just priests who promote liturgical abuse. We will answer for our bad ideas, but many priests get pressed constantly to allow something, and sometimes, even the best of us, yield when we shouldn’t. When you have someone who doesn’t think it matters all that much, they will give in a lot more.
Mind me now, I’m not accusing these priests of saying the Mass or the liturgy doesn’t matter. But rather that this or that “view” of the liturgy doesn’t matter. Following every rule doesn’t matter. Being stiff about it doesn’t matter: because “it’s still the Mass.”
Finally, I will highlight those who have reason to know better–and yet they diverge from what the norms are. I think of a priest at a recent seminar about the new translation. The speaker was taking us line-by-line through a particular Mass collect, comparing the Latin with both the lame-duck and new translation. One of my brother priests erupted in complaint: not against the accuracy of the new translation, but against the ideas in the underlying Latin, which he disliked, and he thought the lameduck prayer had much better ideas to express! My point to him was that if there were problems in the underlying Latin prayers, it wasn’t the translators’ job to fix them, but the bishops.
It is very hard for me to understand this mindset, and I don’t wish to be unfair to the priest I mentioned. But it sure seems like a utilitarian mindset: let’s keep a translation we know is wrong, because the mistranslated Mass has better values than the Mass accurately translated. I might add that this priest himself can be very exacting about liturgical norms as he understands them.
I don’t know if this helps?
Perhaps priests who choose liturgical abuse before faithfulness to the dignity of the Mass have merely been taught by others to do this and have never ever heard anything otherwise. It’s hard to envision someone completing training and being ordained (I guess this would assume that the ordination itself also gives license in one way or another since that would be an opportunity at least once to be a part of a reverent, abuse free liturgy?), hard to imagine one could complete all of this and still not even have the slightest clue. This would assume that certain texts and resources available to the entire English speaking world are, banned or prohibited in effect, and that people are not free to have wide ranging discussion on any number of topics. It also would assume the priest has no or little access to media, diocesan even, or internet. I guess it’s hard to imagine it but maybe it does occur yet.
More likely one is told or taught to do it by others and shamed into believing that through a mysterious divine mandate they must obey without question or derivation. Where I am even seminarians seem to be ready with a diocesan newspaper article listing all of the latest critiques of the new translation, before we have even had a chance to pray it. This is to appear “with it” and as someone who refuses to obey blindly. Without acknowledging that it invests a weird power to subvert and undermine. Thus infected, in some months we will pray it but not without the dose of healthy skepticism whispering in our ear to resist praying it and enjoining us to not believe with faith even one word. Thus rendered two-faced, we will say, “And with your spirit”.
One who has personally chosen to alter the way that he says the Mass will regard the way that he says the Mass first and foremost as an extension of and reflection of self, self’s special and admirable choices and unique and of course adorable personality. Understandably, such a one will be emotionally defensive and personally invested when someone with the mindset that the Mass is much much much bigger approaches to discuss nuts and bolts. To us they are nuts and bolts, black and white, and worth adhering to so as to safely and securely give God the widest leeway in which to work. Such a one regards it as his canvas for his finger painting as he will, and we regard it as not a thing to be possessed by one person or attempted to be rooted in the expression of any one group’s political choices.
Having received from superiors the mandate, when “one person” arrives asking to read something or with a query, it is then easily portrayed as nothing more than personal criticism by one “disturbed” person whereas everyone else (and you don’t see them complaining) only enjoys what is done (and even though they aren’t asked or know not the difference apparently still affirm the product in all its glory). It is easy to then blast away at the one person to get rid of the criticism and no one need know that the fuel for the “critique” is not another person’s just as valid preference or even relative opinion but the fabric itself upon which all our weavings are based and interact. Or that in other places Mass is said in precisely this way and people with good reason have an expectation that wherever they go it will be in the essentials the same. That the Church has endured and existed over millennia exactly because despite sin and human scandal the authority of the Church continues to guard over, protect and transmit the essentials in the celebration of the sacraments and not see in them only or first and foremost things which reflect one person’s taste and choices. That the authority already has a somewhat workable mechanism for responding to the times and places where situated, which is responsive, though it may not always be as optimal or efficient a machine as we could imagine after and is not like a theological gumball machine which spits out solutions for our every need and design even some of the most vexing ones. That the truth will inevitably win out regardless though we might have to be patient and wait around for some things to happen. And wait. And wait some more.
I agree with Fr. Z. Set phasers to pray. It is kind of like, in making certain choices, the priest is speaking in his own made up language which is known to him alone — how can one have a discussion or a dialogue on such terms. His working assumptions are not in fact shared by the universal Church though he very well may have been taught and even dictated that whatever he wants to do will be kosher and good enough for all “no matter what silly little things” like RS says. If he wants to communicate the essential mysteries of the sacrament of the universal Church, with God’s grace, then he will. Pray, fast, give alms, wait with so much patience as possible.
We have a slight ad-libber in my parish. At a Bible study he was leading, something came up about priests changing the Mass. He had an instant reaction of horror that someone would ‘change the Mass’. I’m sure he doesn’t consider what he is doing as ‘changing the Mass’. Perhaps this is why so many priests get offended….
“Gifts with agendas can backfire. ”
Unless someone has a good relationship with the priest in question (in this case I’m guessing not), he could easily take this as a passive aggressive attack. Most of us prefer a straightforward critique – and charitable direction even better. But that isn’t always an option with priests, especially when we have ideas of our own (and sometimes, bad experiences with parishioners who give feedback). Charity and prayer will benefit everybody involved.
Years later, I still shudder when I remember bringing up Redemptionis Sacramentum the one day a priest showed up at the RCIA class I attended in my pre-conversion days. It seemed to me to be a very neutral question and asked in a pleasant, hypothetical manner.
“Father, does Redemptionis Sacramentum give guidelines to help you figure out how many EMHC you need for a given size congregation?” Given my technical background, I was just curious if there was some formula or rule of thumb. The rage of his response was astounding.
All that to say, the Cubs will win the World Series before I sign my name to the gift card for the book!
Thanks to Fr Z, the other priests, and readers, for your comments.
The thing that interests me, from a psychological aspect, is the anger that is provoked. I understand that when rage is present it tells a person a lot about themselves, at least if they were open to being enlightened. If a person is humble, they receive correction with docility and without anger; if they are proud, they react with anger and rage. Am I wrong?
I know why these priests behave the way they do – they were malformed in seminary. It seems really upside down to me though that so little can be done about it now. I’m sitting in the congregation with my knowledge and no way of imparting it to effect change. Frustrating. Is this one of my crosses?
I should say it’s not just me; other people comment on various abuses and malpractices, but none of us feel free to approach the priests. I might, if I can figure out how to do it, and hopefully have some support from others.
Paul, this is why I usually do not converse with priests, even or especially those whom I respect. It is too easy, as a clueless layman, to say something that means one thing to me but carries a whole lot of different baggage to him.
“It’s still the Mass.” “It’s still Jesus.” I have heard that so many times, most recently by no less than my pastor, at this supposedly super orthodox NO parish. Oh well.
And about the mortal sin speaking against a priest thing, this was probably how the scandal in Boston started, when parents of abused altar boys complained to Cardinal Medeiros, according to the investigation by the Boston Globe, he told them to say anything against a priest was a mortal sin and to go home and pray. This may be an exaggeration but one can see how this can no longer be our attitude. But it still is. There is a whole page on it in the ever-popular Pieta prayer book.
Another explanation for the surprising rage could very well be that the priest has endured many uncharitable, angry, accusatory corrections on various topics and because of this overreacts.
I have heard that suffering liturgical abuse is a sort of bloodless martyrdom.
But I did buy three of Fr. Z’s mugs. My plan was to give them last Christmas but I didn’t quite know how to word my card so they would not be seen as a “passive-aggressive attack”.
So, I have decided to wait till near the beginning of advent and give them with a card that commiserates with them for having to go back to reading everything like a newly ordained but encourage them with something along the lines of, “Don’t get discouraged just say the black and do the red”.
This is my plan but if anyone thinks it will backfire, let me know or give me a better idea…..Thx
Fr. Martin Fox, Thank you for taking the time for that explanation. I found that very helpful and interesting. I am fully steeped and even enthused about a lot of lore of what are now becoming “the old days” and I can comprehend the shrug with the “It’s still the Mass”. I don’t fault the infancy of that notion but the full blown but still diapered walking around and talking hairy man that it has become when it still is said to the concern about, just about everything and anything. And I also get the impulse away from all that we now despise and mistrust as “authority, the law, the pigs, the cops, the military, the committee to re-elect the president, the watergate” and the beauty that was the woodstock. It all played out didn’t. Now not only do we hate politicians but now we can add onto that lawyers and journalists…At any rate, the Church is not the state and is very different. A sacrament is not a rock concert. But the rubrics are not just a canvas or a writing tablet for embellishment by the priest and, us. The rubrics are living and are informed by faith. Things like the constitution, a free press, these are different and not invested with faith, and they play out the way that they do because they are devoid of faith, they are just documents that govern possessions and behavior, sort out rights in the inevitable event of disputes. It is not the illicit embellishment or the priest’s little personal innovations that effectuate grace and there are worthy and good reasons, which go to belief and faith, for why certain things are deemed “illicit” even if it’s “still valid”. Illicit but valid in current form is no longer inventive and interesting, or attractive but banal, uglified and stuck in its ways. Often rather angry and coarse, lacking in the charity of reverence. And it seems that the illicit has in fact led to the place where we ought not be, invalid. Whereas conscious attempt to be faithful does not naturally or easily lapse into invalidity. When it comes to the validity aspect, in terms of salvation, a generous, merciful and meek soul ought to favor rendering something which has “maximum” validity, because of God, first and foremost, and because of God’s loved ones by extension.
I can certainly sympathize that priests often do not have time to look into much different or are excessively pressured by certain voices that want things that other, perhaps even non-Catholic churches are into. Still there is one disconnect that is very jarring, one that no one will discuss where I am yet it is like the elephant in the living room…the Haugen and friends Masses really really contrast with the reverent televised Masses on EWTN. Or, the local televised Episcopalian service (yes that is happening). And there is this very commonly encountered phenomena whereby if a person just acknowledges something redeeming or helpful one watched or listened to on EWTN that one will get all manner of negative reaction even from priests ranging from actively discouraging one from watching (without giving a reason or any rationale whatsoever) to pretending as if it simply is not happening (the Denial). Now I certainly don’t expect priests even ones who would feel EWTN or Salt and Light are good things to have the time to watch the Mass regularly at all. But if one is just flipping through the channels, maybe one would get a glimpse. And as so many here point out, well, it is the NO. Or, from time to time one might catch a glimpse of a Mass from another part of the country. Or world. Or the National Cathedral. Or St. Peter’s. One does not have to watch regularly, or travel much, or read, or get out much, to comprehend that yes maybe there is a contrast in terms of reverence, transcendence.
I will also say that over the span of decades that the more locations I have visited I feel much more connected in prayer and solidarity with other believers where I attend Mass where the foolish illicit things and liturgical abuses are minimized or do not happen at all. Whereas the illicit things just bring focused attention on the clerical state or the lay liturgists and the choices, they tend to take on a life of their own, kind of take over when I don’t think at the end of the day that Our Lord intended that it be all about “them”.
I strongly advise against giving SR as a gift to your ad-libbing pastor. It will almost certainly be taken as a passive-aggressive gesture. Ad-libbers don’t care about “the rules.” If they did, they wouldn’t be ad-libbers.
Another piece of IMHO: avoid–at all costs–including copies of rules, canons, papal decrees, episcopal pronouncements, and ancient tomes of liturgical lore in your letters. They will go unread. Instead, go for the heart; that is, speak/write from your Pain, your Confusion, your Utter Dismay and even Terror at the abuses. Talk a lot about “felt needs,” “feeling excluded,” “being denied your rights as a citizen of the Church,” and you might throw in a hint or two of your ethnic/racial/gender minority status, if such exists.
Fr. Philip Neri, OP
Interestingly, a nearby parish I attend for weekday services is celebrating a Year of Eucharistic Renewal, complete with a parishoner survey asking some great questions along these lines. (“Why do you go to Mass? What is the most important part of the Mass for You?
What distracts you most when you are in church?
How would you explain what the Eucharist is?
What part of the Mass, if any, is the hardest part for you to understand or relate to? Why?
What part of the Mass evokes the most feeling for you? Can you briefly describe the
How often do you attend Sunday Mass?
If you could ask one question about the Mass – what would be your question? “)
Because I am not a parishoner there I haven’t yet filled it out, but I’m thinking about it since I do attend Mass there regularly. Not that I think the order of the Mass should be decided by democratic vote or anything, but I appreciate that they are actively soliciting feedback in this way. It gives those of us who would prefer something more traditional to say so.
Thank you for your enlightening post. As a layman, I am often frustrated at Mass and feel helpless to do anything about it. I started a men’s Gregorian chant group 6 years ago, and that has helped a lot. We have actually been blessed with many opportunities to sing in the local parishes.
However, what really gives me hope is the liturgical mindset of the younger clergy being ordained to the priesthood and the younger music directors coming onto the liturgical scene. There is a passion for solemnity and beauty that God’s sanctuary deserves.
In a decade, the whole landscape will be very, very different.
I agree with Father Philip Neri. DO NOT give anything corrective to a priest who ad libs. Not only do they not care about “the rules,” they will use their version of “the rules” to retaliate against you.
I firmly believe that people need to express their dissatisfaction by voting with their feet and their wallets and let the chips fall where they may. I know of one particular ad-libber who pretty much ran off an entire parish in the 20+ years he was there and ran up a debt of over $1,000,000. When he was finally retired due to ill health, this parish has since experienced a resurrection thanks to the efforts of an orthodox pastor who offers extremely reverent and orthodox Masses in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms. Meanwhile, the neighboring parish with another ad-libber pastor has experienced a significant exodus from his parish. Sadly, these unfortunate occurrences are going to have to occur more often until somebody higer up (a bishop perhaps?) catches on.
I think ‘A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today’ seems like a very subtle corrective book. It also fits in with the new translation, evoking the idea of the need for a ‘new song’ and with it, a new heart…
A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today, by Pope Benedict XVI
The best way to correct an erring priest is to inform the Bishop and let him do it.
I first told the priest that he needed to stop something according to RS. And he defended his actions. When I saw that he wasn’t going to change because he believed he was doing nothing wrong, because he was being very careful. I then wrote to the auxillary bishop, who was the person responsible for the Sacraments in the Archdiocese. Nothing Changed.
Then I wrote the New Archbishop, pointing out that according to RS, I was doing what I was charged to do, and that I was further charged to go all the way to Rome if need be.
The different aux Bishop was placed in charge of the area and when he, came to rededicate the church ( it had been almost completely restored to its earlier glory- even the plaster was new, and therefore needed a re-dedication ), and told him in person it was to stop.
And it stopped.
RS compells the faithful to stop liturgical abuses, and if the priest won’t stop and the bishop won’t stop them, inform Rome.
But do so with charity.
I hated writing every letter. I prayed about each and every word that I wrote. I detest being “liturgical police” but if the priest is pouring the Most Precious and Sacred Blood of Our Lord from a crystal flagon into chalices for communion under both species. And RS tells us that it must never happen and charges us to stop it. What else could we do?
I have no idea if this is clear, but I need to go…
How about…. ‘A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today’ AND one of Fr. Z’s Roman Missal ‘Say the Black, Do the Red’ mugs? Is that still subtle? =p
It’s really a conundrum. We have three priests in our huge parish and they all ad lib trying to incorporate everyone in the prayers, i.e., peace in our communities, peace in our families, a huge list of all the places we want peace. I won’t go into all the other liturgical abuses. I do believe their hearts are in the right place and they don’t know any better and the whole diocese is this way. So I close my eyes and sit in the back through the Mass which I attend daily. And I’m looking for a place to move to since this is a small town and the nearest TLM is 250 miles away. I am retired and am honestly considering moving although it would have to be a large city to be able to find at least one orthodox parish. That’s really a shame.
I’m curious to know if priests ignore anonymous ‘presents’ like RS? That would seem to say something without confrontation.
If I were to give such a thing to my pastor, he would ignore it, along with everything else that comes from Rome. “We just close our eyes”, and RS would probably end up in the circular file.
Thanks for the kind comments.
Back to the question, or a variant on it…
If you want to have an influence…if you want to be heard…may I suggest a better approach would be to get to know the priest in question, be a friend, invite him to spend time with you and your family. Genuinely and disinterestedly offer fellowship; that is to say, be prepared to spend time getting acquainted, as opposed to grilling him or putting him on trial.
Of course, he may not accept your invitation; but he may. You may find you will come to understand him better and appreciate his situation. You may find that he will listen better to your questions and concerns with less defensiveness. You may exert some influence. And you will come to appreciate more of his virtues, offsetting the things that are disappointing. How about that?
This is a perpetual and chronic issue since 1965. Let’s see…what else started happening in 1965?
Once upon a time, almost all priests were professional and conscientious enough to follow principles laid out in classic and comprehensive works pertaining to liturgical rubrics, such as J. B. McConnell’s excellent “The Celebration of Mass” (622 pages!). There’s never been anything similar for post-Vatican II “liturgy”, and certainly there’s never been any expectation that it should be followed, were it available. It shows. It so very painfully shows.
Reform by voting with your feet and pocketbook.
Fr. Fox, I use your approach but sometimes even that doesn’t work. In my case one priest was so angry and defensive that he went on the attack the very first thing and I couldn’t even have a normal conversation with him. He told me right off that he lives his life according to a book called “Aikido in Everyday Life” because it enables him to turn people’s words against them so he can always win. I must have missed that part in the Gospels. I don’t know Latin but I guess their order’s Latin motto means “winning is everything.” Oh well, I tried. I have not encountered such personal anger before in a priest and I was scared. I pray a lot about this. Things are very wrong when a priest feels he has to live a life based on a pagan martial arts philosophy of win at all costs.
TNCath is right. There is just nothing to be done. I am in the process of writing my will and originally was going to give it all to the diocese, the parish and their order but now have changed that to some other Catholic organizations which seem more serious about acting Christian. Actions have consequences.
My personal suggestions:
-1: If you send a letter, avoid aggressive tones, as others have suggested. Also, sign it, sign it, sign it. Most priests will simply toss away an unsigned letter.
-2: I do not mind being corrected – I don’t like it, necessarily, but it’s for the best. There’s some parishioners who can have a bit of a rough edge, but I’ve known them for a while, and so we understand and appreciate each other, even like one another. They can say things only someone who’s known me can, and get away with a lot more. We priests all know at least one Latin “babushka” who comes to us with one thing or another, but generally, I get along with them. But if I’ve barely known them and they go attack mode, it can take me aback.
-3: That said, do not go over the priest’s head (or anyone’s head) as your first act, unless it’s something extreme. Fraternal charity and correction demands that you confront your brother and correct him in a spirit of love and truth. It’s certainly not fun — love sometimes isn’t.
Here I am #33 and not sure if anyone will read this. When I arrived in this parish, one of the priests NEVER did the lavabo, NEVER. I made it a point to get to know him a bit first before I said anything. I did ask him if he was aware of the error. No response. Over a period of time, I did write to the Archbishop and whether or not any thing was said to him. His actions never changed. What did happen was, I developed a reputation in the parish for being a whistle blower. That priest is no longer here for quite some time now.But once the ordained has it in their ways that they do not follow the Liturgy of the Church, they will not change (they know better than anyone). They really dont care or have the praise glory and respect for the Liturgy the Church warrants.
Skull Kid: This may sound like a cop-out, but PRAY. It worked for me. For various reasons, I need to go to my own parish for mass. The priest has many good qualities, but he ad libs a lot, likes “inclusive language,” and skips the creed about 1/3 of the time (but never ANY of the long, banal songs). Ad that to the “we are the best people in the world!” music and I used to feel, literally, as if I were being attacked at mass. I spoke to another priest about it, who told me to pray and meditate on the words “Lord, You are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness.” I don’t know if those words were particular for me, perhaps a different prayer would work for you. Anyway, I would pray about this whenever I remembered it, in the pew before mass, and even DURING mass whenever things got too nutty. And after several weeks, the overwhelming feeling of oppression did go away. I was more focused on God’s presence and the rest seemed more of a distraction. I started to be able to hear that the rest of the prayers were still there, that the mass was still going on, that the miracle of the Eucharist was still happening, and I am able to see a lot of what happens at mass with more charity. I am not saying that these things don’t matter, and that they shouldn’t go on. I am not saying that my pastor should do what he does. But I was not in a position to go find the “perfect mass,” and as upset as I got I also discerned that the problem might be as much with me as with the priest.
And don’t think I used the word “oppression” lightly just now. I frequently would pray “Deliver us from evil,” just in case…
Finally, whoever above gave you advice not to use the documents but to talk about your feelings was dead on. Some people, and my pastor is among them, have been trained to respond to people’s feelings. Think about it. There is NO support anywhere in any documents for “inclusive language,” but many priests have adopted it because they think it hurts people’s feelings to say “man.” They may have been attacked by outraged women, or subjected to weeping women — and I say this as a woman!!! They may have been, as I witnessed once, attacked by MEN whose daughters and wives are supposedly harmed by the all-male hierarchy. If you are talking with someone who has obviously disregarded clear instruction because of emotional demands, your best bet is to make an emotional appeal. You don’t have to have an emotional fit yourself; just communicate that whatever it is makes you feel uncomfortable or upset.
Gail, it has taken my unfortuate experience to learn that prayer is the first resort and not the last when dealing with mean people. And even not so mean people.
I talked about feelings, taking your approach, but that didn’t work in my case because “Fr. Aikido” had his own agenda of bullying people. But your approach of talking about feelings should almost always work.
As a sacristan at my parish I hear my share of venting from the clergy who find themselves cornered by scolding parishioners. It usually begins with the rolling of eyes as they return to the sacristy after Mass, followed by, “what is that woman’s damage?”, or “what is wrong with that man?”
The problem is that, more often than not, “that woman” is damaged and there is something wrong with “that man”. There are worshippers who do complain to priests when they shouldn’t, because their concerns are not, in fact, legitimate. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] I have seen my pastor publicly scolded by an angry parishioner for “not using incense ever”. Bear in mind that this person only ever goes to the cantored 4:00pm Vigil Mass on Saturday, and never to the solemn choral liturgy on Sunday. Alas, there are always people in the pews who think they know everything and who look for things to gripe about every week. Along comes a level-headed somebody with a legitimate concern, for once, and it’s only natural for the priest to lump him in the same category with the cranks.
It might be more effective to praise the clergy when they do things right (however rarely that might be in some cases), than to pretend to correct them (from our position of non-authority) when we feel they’ve done something wrong (especially when we aren’t as informed as we think we are, or when we don’t understand directives from the Holy See as well as we suppose we do). [Yes.] At my parish, we have a pastor who actually does celebrate Mass correctly (if not splendidly by any means) and I have made a point of expressing my appreciation of the good things he does, even if his manner of celebration isn’t quite as traditional as I would like it to be.
Praise hits home. People like it and react well to it. If you praise somebody for doing something right, they’re apt to do it again, or even to keep doing it. I never belligerently criticize things I don’t like at my parish (I may jokingly kvetch to sympathetic ears), but I always show my appreciation for things I do like. “Father, I love the fact that the choir is singing the ‘Kyrie’ in Greek and the ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Agnus Dei’ in Latin; what a nice touch! I hope they keep doing that.” “Father, I appreciate the fact that you always read the texts in the Sacramentary and don’t make prayers up as you go along, the way some celebrants do; I really value that.” “Father, that cope you wore for Lessons and Carols looked great on you! It looked much nicer than the overlay stole you wore last year!” Of course, such praise is offered incidentally in the course of normal conversations; I’m not a complete Eddie Haskell about it. I hope.
I have fewer opportunities to praise our weekend associate, who really does make up everything as he goes along (while wearing hideously ugly vestments on top of it). Fortunately, he has a good sense of humor, and I take advantage of that to tease him about his errant ways. “Great sermon, Father; it was almost as original as your Preface.” “Boy that’s quite the stole you’ve got on, Father; I didn’t realize the Highway Department made vestments.” Good natured jibes like that really can send a message, though, over time, if you’ve nurtured that sort of a rapport. The priest in question no longer picks out his own vestments when I’m on duty. He makes some smart-aleck quip about my “fashion sense” and then tells me to pick out whatever I want (which is what all priests should tell their sacristans!!!).
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Correcting people who you aren’t in any position to correct is seldom effective, but humor and praise often are. Instead of handing your clergy a copy of something like “Redemptionis Sacramentum” and inviting them to read it and learn the error of their ways, it might be more effective to transform essential points in the form of wit or of conversational pleasantries designed to subtly hit home. A little politics and diplomacy can go far. Cleverness gets more results than self-righteousness.
\\I really want to do something to bring them round to the correct way of saying Mass.\\
Make sure that you yourself know the correct way of saying Mass.
Remember that with the best will in the world, a priest might misread something–even for a long time–or stumble over words occasionally.
Stumbling over words is certainly no big deal. Priests can and should by all means be real people. As Fr. Z says “do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. It’s not perfection, it’s transcendence. But perhaps when one has never before experienced it there is no ability to recognize at all and this could go for priests and laity alike.
I can pretty much guarantee at this point that where there are liturgical shenanigans and the embrace of the Haugen and friends to the exclusion of pretty much all else, it goes hand in hand with the celebration of the culture of death. No, the bulletin will not say “We celebrate the culture of death” and but nonetheless the message will be asserted and served up at every turn, that we must give way to the choice which comes first and foremost, over the life itself. So at that point in essence we are no longer worshipping God but, something very different, something that is not healthy nor means well or intends good for us. It’s very sobering and must be recognized for what it is. Another excellent reason why Fr. Z is quite right that we immediately need a Marshall plan, asap. To prevent further scandalizing of young people by the distorted 70s celebration. If a parish is not actively fighting and resisting against the culture of death in clear and explicit, intentional, communitarian ways and through leadership, then it is doing something else…pretending, denying, entertaining, accepting, cooperating with, even actively supporting, something else. Perhaps attempting to use reason on something which is inherently unreasonable, insatiable, and evil. Inherently, not relatively. If people are afraid of speaking the truth then they are afraid. They put their trust in money and other things, attributes of worldly success but not in the Way, the Truth and the Life.
If we are irreverent before God, if we handle Our Lord with something other than gentleness, kindness, meekness, charity then we will simply be unable to show reverence, kindness, charity, to another human being. And if we wish to be assertive, to control, to boss, Our Lord, then we also wish to be able to choose to torture, condemn, and finish off another human being, even if innocent, and helpless, ensconced in a place intended to be entirely safe and supported. That is why in such a place, no amount of social justice acts, no amount of political activism, no degree of joy and demonstrated rejoicing will be God’s same reality. Can people have a good time without God? Of course. But to show extraordinary virtue, to be strengthened to show charity when the boyfriend has said he won’t support this baby and to kill it and there is nowhere to turn, to take courage and say an unpopular truth, to forgive one’s enemies, perhaps an atheist without any benefit of grace can stumble upon these or do them with intention and that would be admirable. But to overcome, it will be impossible without assenting be led by God first and foremost.
Banjo pickin girl – I can relate. I’ve been screamed at by priests for expressing reservations at their requests that I take a part not suited to me in a liturgy that wasn’t appropriate and not even permissable on the day in question, and been humiliated in front of others for suggesting that a Magnificat could be sung in Latin. There were only so many tears I could shed before I fled, but then I’m a weakling with no backbone and less stamina, unfit for the fight.
I keep in touch with some people in that parish – and guess what? The place is just as anti-tradition as ever. The sooner I’m geographically out of the place, the better. Let’s pray for each other.
Cazienza, I am luckier than most. My parish is still very orthodox and fine and the people are friendly and nice to converts like me. I believe what we have at my parish is an anomaly left over from the days of extreme clericalism (and I never even knew that word until 6 months ago) and will be righted soon. We are supposed to be the refugee parish in the diocese after all. And compared to the parish that brought me into the Church with its pastor who openly favors the ordination of women, etc. my current parish is heaven on earth with the altar rail, altar BOYS, daily confession, etc. But there are some people issues that need to be addressed by the people in power lest the little people fall through the cracks. We need to most of all pray for the people in power for they are the people upon whom everything lands. I am a nobody and can hide under the pew until the fighting stops.
A friend put it very well, some of the nicest people are harder to spot because they are mostly not moving and shaking.
Centristian, I think it’s very interesting what you say. I think in addition to that it is quite easy to discount the fact that there are very vocal people, who also may be unhinged and damaged as you describe, or who may be quite well-read, who ingratiate in another location at the parish crossroads and may at first propose some rather innocuous looking, sort of beige or lukewarm ideas, or even politically correct housedressing which will make things appear agreeable to the expectations of a certain mindset used to making consumerist judgments…once established the ideas do in fact influence and inform the liturgy in the pursuit of something that seems ‘nice’ and nothing more when in fact in practice, in reality, in fruits, in terms of the opportunity for prayer what occurs is not what was intended and sometimes winds up quite astray.
I in fact have never confronted a priest or liturgist about an issue observed, ever. With the ones I have observed who commit liturgical abuse as a matter of fact my gut feeling is that if they treat the Lord in that way that they would never listen to or show respect towards a lowly one such as myself, a relative nobody with no dazzling titles, power or money. Possibly others feel this way as well. I simply don’t bother. In some places I have been quite patient and have waited things out, refused to attend to the strange things, hoped for the better, prayed, wondered why, looked for answers, and then simply give up on it. In a place where the Mass is reverently prayed (and I have in fact found, a few in far flung places to great relief) I feel in turn completely respected there.
One could ponder it, that reverent celebration of the Mass is a work of mercy and an act of hospitality to the weary on the way. It has been said to me, quite recently, by someone I greatly respect, of the situation, that when one does encounter priests who faithfully and reverently celebrate the sacraments, it is so greatly appreciated, and because of how things are we tend not to take one drop of water for granted. So to all priests who attempt to be faithful, who attempt reverence, even under great strain, or if misunderstood, or ridiculed, persecuted, marginalized for this, I say to you: thank you for all that you do for our Church. It is noticed and known and there is gratitude for your courage, devotion and witness.