Archive for July, 2010


Having a “Vested” Interest in the Mass

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Last Sunday my family had a most spiritually uplifting experience at a parish church we were visiting. As we discussed our experience we came up with many things that we liked, including the beautiful church building, traditional music, solid homily, and overall sense of reverence.

My children noticed one additional factor that made a difference to them (and to my wife and me). Namely, the faithful in the pews were dressed modestly and well–in their “Sunday best”–a phenomenon not experienced in many parishes anymore.

There are many motives for dressing up for Sunday Mass. We want to make the Lord the priority in our lives. More specifically, we understand Sunday Mass to be the high point of our week. What does it say when we put more effort into dressing up for work or school or company than we do for the Lord Himself?

The Catechism discusses the issue in the context of preparation for the worthy reception of the Eucharist: “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (no. 1387).

Further, a restored sense of modesty should inform the way we present ourselves in public, especially at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. During the hot summer months, there is a tendency to “underdress” for Mass, and pastors and parents alike do not sufficiently address this issue. (Bishop Yanta did do a very good job of this a few years ago in this pastoral letter.)

Here I would like to provide an additional incentive to dress well for Mass. I suggest that we consider our Sunday clothes to be a kind of vestment. We rightly associate “vestments” with the special clothes worn by the priest and other ministers on the altar. Yet, the word “vestment” comes from the Latin verb vestire, which more generally means “to clothe.”

How would we feel if our parish priest processed down the aisle at the beginning of Mass wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops? Of course we’d be offended, and rightly so. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides, “vestments should . . . contribute to the beauty of the rite” (no. 297). The flip side is that the lack of appropriate attire on the part of the priest takes away from the beauty of the rite.

When it comes to the lay faithful, the Church in our time has emphasized that our common Baptism is ordered to our full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy. How we conduct ourselves, even the way we dress, is an outward expression of our interior disposition to enter fully into the liturgical action as a participant, and not as a mere spectator.

So, I would suggest that instead of merely throwing on a t-shirt and jeans that we would see getting dressed for Mass as a type of vesting. It can be part of our proximate preparation for Mass and indeed a concrete way in which we prepare to offer ourselves in union with Our Eucharistic Lord (Rom. 12:1). And surely the way that we prepare and carry ourselves can be an edifying witness to others, who in turn may be encouraged to follow “suit.”

Do clothes make the Mass? No. But how we prepare ourselves, including conscious decisions regarding our attire, is an important first step toward fostering a renewed sense of reverence in our own backyard and indeed in our own hearts.

This article originally appeared, in slightly modified form, over at the CUF blog.  

Leaping to Action

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Like St. Matthew’s Gospel, each and every Mass ends with a commissioning, as we’re sent to bring the light of Christ to all the world. We’re not supposed to keep our faith to ourselves or under a bushel basket, but instead it is given to us so we can give it away. Faith without words, without actions, is dead (cf. Jas. 2:17). As Archbishop Chaput says, it’s not an accident that the book of the Bible is called “Acts of the Apostles” and not “Pious Sentiments of the Apostles” or “Good Intentions of the Apostles.” Our faith impels us to act for, as recent popes have stressed, the Church by her nature is missionary.

I like to use the following riddle with my children: Three frogs are sitting on a log. Two of them decide to jump into the water. How many are left on the log? [more]

The answer, of course, is three, because there’s a huge difference between deciding to jump and actually jumping. Good actions come from good intentions, but are not their necessary consequence. Sometimes my kids will very sincerely tell me they’ll clean their room or be attentive at Mass, but something is lost in the execution. At that point, I tell them to be “wet frogs,” and they finally begin to put their good intentions into action.

Jesus warns all His disciples, both through parables and explicit exhortations, that one doesn’t dabble in Christianity. If we’re truly with Him and His Church, we must jump off the log and bear witness to Him in word and action.

One management principle that has a significant application to the spiritual life is distinguishing outcomes (which are out of our control) from behaviors (which we can control). Let me explain. Every day we hear about scandals and abuses of authority, as well as tragic stories of loved ones leaving the Church and many other heart-wrenching concerns. Any Catholic with a pulse would want to do something about these problems, but what?

We can’t make scandals go away. We can’t make a bishop or priest address a particular problem in the Church. We can’t make our loved ones return to the fullness of the Catholic faith. These are all desirable outcomes which, through our cooperation with grace, we can influence. Still, these outcomes are largely outside our direct control. What we can control–and what has, in the long run, the greatest salutary effect–is our own response to the call to holiness. Saints are not as glamorous as gunslingers, but even Our Lord’s recommendations for the really tough situations are prayer and fasting (cf. Mk. 9:28-29), two of the most powerful weapons wielded by those who really want to be of service to the Church.

Imagine there’s a mishap on an airplane and the craft begins losing cabin pressure. In the face of such a calamity, most of us would want to be courageous and help as many of our fellow passengers as possible. Yet, if we don’t use our own air mask first, in a matter of seconds we’ll be of no use to anybody. We would be among the first casualties.

That’s why as lay people, as Christians with the mission of bringing the Gospel to the world, our principal concern is the continual transformation of our own hearts, allowing Christ to make all the difference in our lives. If we seek first the face of Christ and the life of holiness, then we’re equipped to be His agents in a troubled world.

Is Liturgy Possible?

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

In late June, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. of Denver gave a stirring address entitled, “Glorify God by your life: evangelization and the renewal of the liturgy.” The address was the Hillenbrand Distinguished Lecture, given at the Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Chicago, IL. Here is the PDF version.

Archbishop Chaput”s point of departure was a letter from Fr. Romano Guardini to a liturgical conference held shortly after Vatican II published Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document that set in motion the liturgical changes and reforms of the past 40-50 years. Fr. Guardini was a significant player in his time, and his book The Spirit of the Liturgy is now considered a classic. In his reflections on the liturgy, Fr. Guardino asked this stunning question: [more]

“Is not the liturgical act, and with it all that goes under the name ‘liturgy,’ so bound up with the historical background—antique or medieval or baroque—that it would be more honest to give it up altogether? Would it not be better to admit that man in this industrial and scientific age, with its new sociological structure, is no longer capable of the liturgical act?”

If that weren”t enough, Archbishop Chaput adds:

“So is Guardini right?  Does modern man seem incapable of real worship?  I think so. But the more important question for us is this: If he is right, what are we going to do about it?”

Archbishop Chaput eventually answers his own provocative question. I won”t quote what he said, because I think everything leading up to his conclusions should be read and contemplated as well. Especially moving are the various quotes and stories from the early Church that drive home the centrality and purpose of the sacred liturgy in the Christian life. 

As we read Archbishop Chaput”s commentary, it”s fair to ask about our own personal ability to enter into liturgy, the public prayer of the Church, where we pray as a body, including but not limited to others in the pews, where truly heaven and earth meet.

Am I aware of the divine presence? Am I open to God and invisible realities? Do I recognize the reality of sin and my need for Christ”s mercy and transformative love? Have I become my own pope–or even my own god? Do I strive for the “Lord’2012-04-24 18:35:56′s Day” or am I merely “working for the weekend”?

Read Archbishop Chaput”s address. You”ll be glad you did.

St. Maria Goretti, Chastity, and Modern Living

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Tomorrow (Tuesday) the Church celebrates the feast of St. Maria Goretti, a young girl who was stabbed to death, preferring to die rather than be raped. I thought I would offer five comments on this 20th-century saint.

(1) She is considered a “martyr” by the Church. That’s not a big deal at first blush, but think about it. She wasn’t asked to deny an article of the Creed. She wasn’t told by her assailant (who incidentally underwent a conversion in prison and was present at her canonization) to “reject Christ or die.”

Rather, she adamantly refused to cooperate in any form of sexual impurity. She accepted death rather than sacrifice her chaste virginity. She was a devout young lady who knew the seriousness of sins against the sixth and ninth commandments, how they are more than capable of severing our relationship with Christ. She died rather than compromise her relationship with Christ, and so is honored as a martyr.

From this it is easy to see why St. Maria Goretti is a fitting patron saint for today’s youth, whose faith is undermined not only by poor religious instruction and secularist ideologies, but often in more concrete fashion by the pervasive sexual immorality of our culture.

Yes, virtue still matters! [more]

(2) It follows from this that it’s extremely important to instill the virtue of chastity in our youth. Of course this has given rise in recent decades to classroom programs that provide “sex education” or “chastity education.” Some of these programs have thinly veiled anti-natalist, secularist, and/or pro-homosexual agendas, and they all destroy innocence. Elements of these poisons on occasion have found their way into” Catholic” programs, to the consternation of many parents.

Catholics United for the Faith has been a leader in upholding the Church’s teaching and pedagogy in this crucial area for decades. For more general information, check out these two “Faith Facts” available online at

Pure Biology? Effective Chastity Education

Chastity Begins At Home: Parental Rights and Chastity Education

(3) Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that classroom programs too often turn into a “how to” class rather than a “now not to until marriage” class. The former is the providing of information, in other words “sex education,” while the latter is “chastity education,” or training in virtue. But even “chastity education” programs at times overstep parental authority and provide graphic, private information at inappropriate times and in inappropriate ways.

When learning to drive a car or ski, the first thing we must learn is “How do I stop?” We are sexual beings. We are already oriented toward sexual activity. What we need is instruction and formation as to how to harness these natural urges in appropriate ways. Mere sexual instruction is simply throwing a child on skis down the mountain, often providing the very basis for a child’s becoming sexual active.

(4) This is an area where the “culture of death” is shown to be hypocritical and illogical. We constantly hear about the woman’s “right to choose” abortion. Society tells us that we must defer to the decision of the mother, who must be accorded unbridled freedom.

Yet, proponents of classroom sex education, who frequently are also Planned Parenthood supporters, tell us that young people can’t control themselves. They can’t be chaste, so at least we can help them be “safe” through extensive sex education. In other words, they tell us we’re only animals, that we’re biologically incapable of self control. They thereby encourage promiscuity, and then they introduce girls and young women into the horrors of abortion as a rational exercise of the “right to choose.”

Christ has much more to offer young women than that.

(5) The development of the virtue of chastity in our children is vitally important, and this does require a certain amount of teaching on the part of parents and those duly authorized to assist them. But even more, it’s all about our lived witness. We need Dads to avoid pornography. We need Moms to avoid soap operas and immodest dress. We need to be diligent in our own recreation and activities and habits as well as those of our children.

Growing in virtue is difficult work, but it’s also a work of grace. Let us today ask for St. Maria Goretti’s assistance:

source of innocence and lover of chastity,
you gave St. Maria Goretti the privilege
of offering her life in witness to Christ.
As you gave her the crown of martyrdom,
let her prayers keep us faithful to Your teaching.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

This article originally appeared on the CUF blog, but surely the content is still as timely as ever!