ASK FATHER: What to do if your parish is extremely liberal?

From a reader…

I am starting the academic year at ___ and attended Mass at the local parish for the first time this Sunday and was disheartened. The tabernacle is absent from the sanctuary, the church itself is round, and many practices during the liturgy felt/were irreverent: Singing a hymn in replace of the psalm, joining hands at the Pater and singing it to a tune vs chant, standing through communion, etc. I attend the Extraordinary Form back home whenever I can, but here there seems to be little to no opportunity to participate in the liturgy of our fathers. What can I do while here in ___ that can help me “get through” and feel as if I am receiving spiritual enrichment and nourishment that I do from the TLM?
Courage, Faith, and Honour,

In many places, there are options,even if those options mean driving a considerable distance or putting up with other unpleasantness. Sadly, there are also places where there are no other reasonable options or, if there are options, they all have considerable negative points. What’s a voter … errr, I mean, what’s a Mass-goer to do?

Prayer is always the obvious answer, but perhaps also the most overlooked.

Pray for hearts that have been deceived by the empty promises of liturgical experimentation, that they might be turned to a more orthodox, and effective approach to the worship of Our Lord.

Pray for others who have had to suffer, often for many, many years, putting up with banal attempts to make the Mass “more relevant.” Truly, in our midst, there are some who have attained the status of white martyrs for the pain and suffering they have undergone.

Pray for courage in the hearts of young priests as they face the daunting task of reversing unwise and unwarranted changes, often against hostile parishes, chanceries, fellow priests.

Pray for more vocations.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a simple, but not entirely unhelpful, prayer, originally composed by the American Protestant Divine, Reinhold Niebuhr.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

As you settle into this new parish, realize that, as a college student, you might be perceived as an outsider and a part-timer. That will likely minimize your ability to enact any real change in the lamentable liturgical life of the parish. Still, the parish is probably (like so many other parishes) eager to have young faces become active. Talk with the pastor to see if there are any volunteer opportunities that don’t hinder your first job… you are a student Learn!  You don’t necessarily have to single out liturgical roles or work.  Perhaps there is a food pantry that needs stacking, a CCD class that needs teaching, some gardening that needs to be done. Suggestions of liturgical change will come more pleasantly from someone who has an actual, vested interest in the life of the parish.

In the meantime, you can use a hand missal for the Extraordinary Form in your private time. Pray and reflect on the prayers of the Holy Mass. Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, before and after Mass. Unite your prayers with those of your brothers and sisters throughout the world who are even less liturgically blessed than you!  There are people in in mission lands who have to wait even months between Masses. Unite your prayers with those of your ancestors in the faith, with all the Saints who have gone before us.

As you settle in, you will likely come in contact with other Catholics who are similarly unhappy with the current situation in the parish. While it will be important to build good friendships with like-minded folks, it will be spiritually important not to settle into some unofficial Confraternity of Complainers. There may be much to complain about, but there is even more to DO. Take positive steps, with others, to make changes.  More importantly, take positive steps to become holier in your personal lives.

Holiness is the answer to all of the problems that the Church faces today. The holier we are, the better we will be able to weather the storms that are coming, and the better we will be able to rebuild the Church now and in the future.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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31 Responses to ASK FATHER: What to do if your parish is extremely liberal?

  1. rodin says:

    It is possible that there are other churches nearby that offer the Tridentine Mass. Check the web site for Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei at http://www.ecclesiadei.org.

    However, it may not be up to date. I just noticed that one recent change does not appear so you may want to double check with whatever church you find.

  2. Lavrans says:

    I have friends who seek to do something like Father Z recommends as well. And I support their efforts, with one caveat: Be a missionary (which is what they are…even if they are a missionary in the Church) while you do not yet have children. I did the same prior to my own children. It was exhausting and frustrating, but because I am strong enough in my own faith, and have learned it enough to know what is right and good and what is not, there was not danger of negative influence or damaging confusion. This is not true for children. I was raised in a confused and liberal parish, and it was one of the primary causes of my defection and flight from the Church for many, many years. There was no one to tell me that there was anything different. So, in short, be a missionary for the good, the true, and the beautiful in our ugly, liberal, and confused parishes when you are single or married without children. But when you have children in your care – souls you are responsible for – it is far too risky to be a missionary then. They will not know the difference, but rather will be faced with “truth at home; falsehoods at Church.” I have my family now stationed at a good, orthodox Catholic parish. Sometimes it would take us 45 minutes to get there and, sometimes, even longer to get back home due to traffic. But it is the price we pay. Another thing I recommend, but only with the utmost charity, is to respond truthfully to those priests and parishioners in your local parish when they ask why you do not attend. Perhaps the knowledge that your good, orthodox, and very active (physically and financially) family does not attend their parish because of their soul-crushing protestantism will plant a seed of change for another single Catholic or childless Catholic couple can use as missionaries (infiltrators?) to change their parish for the better. And I do recommend it! If you do not have young children, infiltrate these dying, liberal parishes and begin to work for change by doing what Father Z recommends above. Make connections, make friends, work the service tasks that may seem less-than-fun and oh-so-social-worker-like, but always with a smile and a nod, knowing that you are there for something bigger…to fundamentally change the parish back to what it should have been all along…Catholic!

  3. tgarcia2 says:

    Fr. Z is right. My old Newman center was ran by a liberal Franciscan but I became a Sacristan, Lector, and EMHC. I made small, but approved recommendations. Later, another Fransiscan came in (different order) and was more of a Traditional bent. Mass became much more reverent and even Holy Hour (which was not done before)!

    This same priest reminded me that even if Mass is done in a way I might not like, the words of consecration are what is important. Changes were made, but it took time and diplomacy!

    Good luck on your studies!!!!

  4. PTK_70 says:

    There are people, I think, in Alaskan villages – American citizens! – who have to wait months between Masses. But I suppose much of Alaska could be considered mission territory.

    “…..it will be spiritually important not to settle into some unofficial Confraternity of Complainers.” That’s gold.

  5. NickD says:

    Perhaps there’s a carpool that travels to a (relatively) nearby EF Mass. At the university I attend, there’s a small group of young men who rotate driving to a beautiful church ~45 minutes away.

    As an aside, where did you get that wonderful blogmast photo, Father?

  6. Benedict Joseph says:

    Not a sure thing, but scope out a local monastery. Discalced Carmelites are all over the country, some in unexpected sites, often quite muted liturgies. And almost always any monastic church or chapel is likely to be at least a bit more reverent than a parish on liturgical steroids.

  7. Blaine says:

    I’ve found that often at these types of parishes, there are multiple Masses. Usually (but not always) the earlier the Mass, the “leaner” it is. Less music, less EMHC’s, less hand holding, less off-topic rambling silliness. This might be an option.

    Go to bed early Saturday and hit up the 0630 Sunday Morning.

  8. AnnTherese says:

    Good advice, Fr. Z. I also attend a parish I can barely stomach… But I attend because no matter what the liturgical style, music, or preaching is like– God is ever-present in the Eucharist, Word, and community. I cannot NOT be nourished, unless I focus on the rest that doesn’t suit my Catholic “taste.” The heart of the Mass is the heart of the Mass– everywhere. While there, I also pray for awakening and change.

  9. ncstevem says:

    For the last few years I’ve had to go to a happy clappy NO Mass near the condo where my wife lives (250 miles from our home). I pray the Mass of the day out of my 1962 Missal and try to ignore the shenanigans.

    At first I’d sit in the vestibule where they have chairs set up for overflow or families with small children. Unfortunately they also have several wide screen TVs so the noise was beyond distracting. Most of the time I’d be in the vestibule alone so I’d turn the volume off the TVs. Obviously someone said something to the pastor because he asked me not to turn the volume off.

    Now I go down the hall from the vestibule where they have a cry room (actually it’s more of a play room) for the children. Since I go to the early Mass there’s rarely anyone there so I just pray the Mass out of my Missal there. I avoid the awful ‘music’ and no one try’s to shake my hand so I can mostly pray the Mass in peace. Only time I turn the sound on the speaker in the cry room is to hear the Gospel for the NO Mass and the sermon. Otherwise it’s nice and quiet.

    Thankfully my wife’s work contract ends in 2 months and I’ll be able to assist at the TLM 10 from our house.

  10. Sleepyhead says:

    NickD
    “As an aside, where did you get that wonderful blogmast photo, Father?” The photos are changing continually (in real time) and you would need to describe which photo you mean.

  11. johnnys says:

    Well you don’t have to hold hands during the Our Father and you don’t have to stand through Communion. To the extreme you could also kneel and receive on the tongue but perhaps tell the priest beforehand? Perhaps these people know nothing else so you might be questioned why you do not do (or do) these things and that will be your opportunity to teach.

  12. moconnor says:

    In similar circumstances, I’ve found you can always find a NO “low Mass”. Often it’s the early-bird Sunday Mass (or the last-chance Mass that evening). As a musician, I found that no music is often less antagonizing than none. Keep looking.

  13. Joseph-Mary says:

    Before we made the decision to MOVE away, we put up with all the liberal nonsense you can name. I would bring my Latin/English missal and prayed the Mass that way and in doing so, learned the TLM. I was active in the parish and got permission to start holy hours which the priests never took part in. I hosted Bible studies, etc.

    It is a crying shame when a parish that is to serve young students is of that liberal nonsense bent. They deserve more! And how many even arrive at that age now with some sense of the faith intact? And then to have to face a protestantized parish… Well, I guess this has not been uncommon for decades and the time will pass and hopefully with a faith stronger yet for having to survive a painful parish life. But many do it and not just for a couple of years either.

  14. hwriggles4 says:

    Here is one thing: it sounds like this college student went to a Parish near her school, and not the Mass at the Catholic Student Union. My suggestion is that it is early in the year, and I suggest the new student frequent the Catholic Student Union a few times. After a few visits, she can meet some students and see if the Catholic students are people that she wants to be involved with, and the Catholic Student Union may have a more reverent Mass. I have done my share of moving and there have been times where it took me a while to find a Church home, so I understand the amount of patience.

    The Catholic Student Union at one college I attended brought me back to the Church. Many bishops have been much better at assigning solid priests who have a good rapport with the 18-30 crowd (I go to 30 to include grad students and those like me who returned to undergrad at 25) and want to work with students. Most places (most, not all) 25 to 30 years ago was a much different experience. Therefore, I suggest trying out the Catholic Student Union for the first month or two.

    Hope this helps.

  15. Traductora says:

    Good advice. As much as I think good liturgy (meaning the EF, not just a better OF) would improve things for everybody, the problem is – as Mark Pilon, a writer on another site, said – that Catholics have simply lost the Faith. It’s not even orthodoxy that’s the problem; it’s simply that in the majority of parishes throughout the Western world, which I can say as somebody who travels a lot, nobody believes anything. And that’s why they’re emptying out, and why young people who – for one reason or another – actually have the Faith can’t find a community.

    Prayers for this person who wrote to you, and I thought your response was good.

  16. SaintJude6 says:

    I agree with Nick D. Contact the parish secretary at the nearest orthodox parish and see if she can send out an email requesting a carpool situation. Where you are right now spiritually is not necessarily where you will be after a year or two of campus life and its temptations. Be preemptive and avoid parishes where you might hear only low expectations. Those liberal priests can be quite convincing.

  17. Geoffrey says:

    I would recommend using a hand missal. It can keep one focused on what Holy Mother Church really expects to be going on.

  18. Absit invidia says:

    Try this Latin Mass schedule website:
    http://www.latinmassschedule.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=54&Itemid=2

    It seems to have some recent updates to masses.

  19. S.Armaticus says:

    Fr. Z wrote:

    “In the meantime, you can use a hand missal for the Extraordinary Form in your private time. Pray and reflect on the prayers of the Holy Mass. Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, before and after Mass. Unite your prayers with those of your brothers and sisters throughout the world who are even less liturgically blessed than you! There are people in in mission lands who have to wait even months between Masses. Unite your prayers with those of your ancestors in the faith, with all the Saints who have gone before us.”

    I will add. YES!

    And… READ THE MASS!

    As an old timer, who still vividly remembers the pre-Indult days, a good missal with the Sunday and liturgical year propers, read in a quiet, empty church (I personally liked side altars), even a space ship church, will do you a lot of good. And as Fr.Z said, we are expected to suffer for our Faith and consider this as just such an instance.

  20. NickD says:

    Yes, I just noticed that the pictures rotate… the photo of the EF Nuptial Mass

  21. un-ionized says:

    Anntherese, “I cannot NOT be nourished,” well said.

  22. APX says:

    When I was in college and situated in the Mormon capital of Canada, and the only Masses available were physically painful (it didn’t matter where you went because there only was one priest for three churches), and the average age of the parishioners was approximately 80 and was where new priests were sent to get practice in funerals, I used to drive two hours into the next city that had the FSSP every Sunday. Being a broke student, I stopped eating meat and gave up everything unnecessary in order to afford the gas to make the 400 km round trip each week, but it was worth it. I finally ended up just moving there.

    That being said, not evertone can do that. There are other options. While one can suffer through such a Mass and offer up that suffering, in order to fulfill one’s Sunday obligation, and then “attend Mass” online at http://www.livemass.org/LiveMass/home.html, which live streams various FSSP Sunday Masses.

  23. Maineman1 says:

    I personally believe it is detrimental to the soul to attend a worship community that is absolutely averse to your mind, heart, and spirit. My faith has rapidly disintegrated since attending modern churches, but I attend out of a sense of duty to my wife (who was only raised in the modern tradition). I am never close enough to attend a Traditional Catholic or Eastern Catholic parish. All of the parishes in western Washington, north of Seattle, were seemingly constructed or finalized by the 1960’s to the early 2000’s. The traditional parishes are buried deep in Seattle or south of the metropolis.

    If you find your faith deteriorating, get out of that parish! It is better to remain a faithful Catholic while not attending a church, rather then becoming a virtual agnostic and attending church, as has become my fate. Sorry to be grim, but that is my personal assessment.

    Of course, listen to the advice of faithful, holy priests, like Fr. Z. I am not minister of the Lord.

  24. Volanges says:

    Mormon capital of Canada? I wasn’t aware we had such.

  25. Giuseppe says:

    Blaine and Moconnor nailed it.

    Go to the earliest mass – it generally doesn’t have music, the priest is often very focused (as he might have to say 2 more masses that day, and he doesn’t want to dawdle), the crowd is less, there’s greater space between you and others, and there’s less chance for mischief.

    Low mass is, for me, almost always the most satisfying.

  26. APX says:

    The Mormon capital of Canada is in the very southern region of Alberta, around the Cardston area. Cardston has the first LDS Temple ever built in Canada and the Mormon immigrated to the surrounding area.

  27. WGS says:

    Several have recommended the use of a hand missal – whether designed for the O.F. or the E.F. If you have a good grip on your missal (or hymnal or other prayer book), you can avoid the hand holding at the Lord’s Prayer and the overly demonstrative signs of peace.

    You might also consider an Anglican Ordinariate parish or an Eastern Catholic parish.

    and as others have suggested – go to the earliest Sunday morning Mass.

    As for me, I have the advantage of a hearing problem. I can always unplug my hearing aids and read a good book.

  28. For most of my adult life, my expectations have been pretty low. For any parish to which I belong, and which would anticipate my time, talent, and/or treasure, my criteria is threefold:

    1) Celebrate Mass validly and licitly, with appropriate reverence,
    2) Preach in keeping with the teaching of the Church, without error, and
    3) The clergy of the parish act their age, and as if it’s not about them.

    Now, in some parts of the country, that’s a pretty tall order (or set of orders). That last phrase is especially challenging, often knows no distinction between orthodox and heterodox, and can probably be blamed on celebrating Mass “versus populum” more than anything else. In my diocese, the above is not such a tall order, but we do have exceptions, and I’ve shaken the dust from my feet more than once over any one item on the short list.

    My advice for anyone who is convinced that their parish, or even their diocese, is a danger to their souls, and the souls of their children?

    Move.

    That’s right. Get a job somewhere else. Leave the nice house at the end of the cul-de-sac and the golf club membership behind, use the magnificent internet to find another career opportunity, and go where you stand a better chance of reaching your true home. I’m convinced that I was led by the Almighty to where I live now, because the diocese where I grew up was a mere shadow of its former self.

    No, it isn’t simple, it isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. Neither is eternal damnation.

    But hey, that’s just me.

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  30. KateD says:

    There was a very pious woman who attended my former hippy-skippy parish in California. I asked her how she could sit through those awful liturgies and homilies?!? She said that when she asked God that exact same question, the response was that it is still the Mass and that she should be grateful for the Eucharist, focus on Him and pray through it.

    Because I had young children and was concerned for their formation and how they would develop repore with priests, we opted to drive hideously long distances for right worship.

    Had I been childless, I believe we may have stood and fought. And I don’t mean in a combative relationship with priest or parishioners, but as Father suggests, through prayer.

    When we decided to leave our local parish, I got the distinct feeling that I was abandoning Our Lord on the cross. I see those little (and large) irreverences as Christ’s scourging, or the blow from the guard or the spittle from the crowd…and I wondeed if we shouldn’t have remained there at the foot of the cross, despite the horror of these assaults on our sweet Jesus, to make reparation for these offenses and somehow bring Him comfort.

    Perhaps if there truly is no other option for fulfilling one’s Sunday obligation, this is a way to remain faithful?

    Often times as we travel we encounter bizarro liturgies. More than once, I have looked into the priest’s eyes and have seen deep anguish. I think perhaps they are as appalled as we are, but because of the dynamics within the diocese, strength of the “parish council” and music directors, even deacons, etc. they are powerless to do anything. Think of how awful that predicament must be!

    I’ve noticed on occasion, a spark of encouragement that flashes in their eyes when those beleaguered priests see my daughter and I with our heads covered,…sometimes it’s total amusement as they watch the heads of some of their parishioners twist off and explode at the sight of a veil…I guess what I’m saying is maybe your presence will serve as a salve to other souls in that parish who are also hurt by witnessing the abuses to Our Lord, but have no where to else to go?

    Go to Mass early, say some prayers (yes, through the awful howling of the ‘choir’ ‘practicing’) of repartition. I bet you find some kindred spirits.

    And remember, college is only 4 short years…

  31. jacobi says:

    I have this problem in the UK . Personally, I do not agree with lay readers or lay distributes of Holy Communion so, on the many occasions I cannot get to the Gregorian Mass,

    I receive on the tongue and only from the priest. ( as and when I receive and that is not every Mass)
    Always respond to the priest at whatever point in the Mass we are at.
    I always have my small 1962 missal with me a read the Introit and Gradual at least, at an appropriate time.
    Say my own bidding prayers, not determined by the previous evenings TV news.
    Bow and say “peace be with you” only to people adjacent to me and never accept a hand shake.
    Never say “ for thine is the Kingdom” but keep silent.

    Now this is personal and I would not even advise this on others . It is simply how I deal with a bad situation.

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