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Words matter. The Word matters. Especially at Mass.

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5

Over and over yesterday, in response to my “Losing My Religion” post, many people tried to convince me that a bad liturgy shouldn’t matter all that much in my faith life. Some who don’t know me very well — or at all — assumed (wrongly) that one or two bad homilies had sent me running. All that matters is the Eucharist, they said. And, I’ll give you this, the only reason I stayed seated in that church this weekend is because of the Eucharist. I would have been out the door before the homily was even close to over if not for that, but are we really going to pretend that the Word doesn’t matter? Because it does.

We come out of the Word. We are bound to the Word. We live by the Word. And if the Word isn’t being preached in a way that relates to people’s lives, well, there’s not much chance they’re going to find meaning in the Eucharist. And I’m not talking about myself here. I’m talking about the countless other Catholics who sit in pews week after week, hungry, waiting, praying that someone will feed them, and although they receive Communion they often leave feeling that same hungry ache in their soul. Yes, Eucharist is source and summit, but mere mortals can’t always get to that place without a little support and help and nourishment along the way. Enter the Word.

Let me ask you this: If Jesus just went out there and took some old message preached centuries earlier and read it to the crowds without relating anything to their day-to-day lives, do you think anyone would have stuck around? Do you think people would have given up everything to follow him if the Word didn’t matter? Do you think there would have been anyone sitting around the table for the Last Supper if Jesus didn’t first draw them in with parables and stories that connected their faith to their everyday lives? No.

As I tried to get across in yesterday’s post, my discontent with my current church experience is not based on a single homily or even a series of homilies or homilies in general; it’s based on the whole package. As a lifelong Catholic who’s been a Catholic journalist for almost 30 years, I don’t take the whole “losing my religion” thing lightly. In fact, just last week I went on a silent retreat specifically because I felt I needed to pray on this and spend time in solitude with God. So, if you don’t know me, try to understand that none of this comes from a place of boredom or single-homily frustration or from an unwillingness on my part to bring something to the table, as was suggested a bunch of times yesterday. This has been years in the making, thanks to one bad experience after another, and it is a cross for me. And what I said yesterday, I said out of love for my faith and my Church and my brothers and sisters sitting in the pews beside me and feeling just as alone and deprived.

When I go to church and nothing – from the six-verse processional dirge to the poor sound system to the inane homilies to the complete lack of community – seems to feed me, well, I tend to ask myself one question, “If I were coming to this church for the very first time, if I were a non-Catholic thinking about becoming a Catholic, would I ever come back?” And nine times out of ten, the answer is a resounding NO!

We need to do better as a Church, and if the only way to get the attention of those in charge is to pull our donations and take back our time and maybe just stand up and take that long walk of shame down the center aisle in the middle of Mass, then so be it. It’s worth it if it prompts even the slightest movement in the right direction.

As I told someone in a comment yesterday, I know my faith. I know my God. I’m not worried about that. It’s my Church I’m worried about, and that’s the truth. God and I are just fine, no thanks to what I’m getting in Sunday liturgies. But what about those folks who don’t have that foundation? What about the people who wander in hoping for someone to pick them up out of their darkness and lead them forward? For their sake and my own, I’m going to fight the good fight, even if it means ruffling some feathers along the way. People suggested I DO something about it. This is me doing something about it in the only way I know, using words, because words can be a lifeline to people, maybe the thing they grab onto until Eucharist takes hold and transforms.

And I’m going to hold onto the Word for dear life and refuse to accept that it shouldn’t matter so much if it’s mangled and mistreated at Mass. So often, when I have wanted to walk away, not just one Saturday night or Sunday morning but for good, I have come back to the words of Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

“You have the words….”  Words matter. The Word matters, even at Mass when we have the benefit of the Eucharist. Especially at Mass.

 

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  1. Gail Finke #

    “When I go to church and nothing – from the six-verse processional dirge to the poor sound system to the inane homilies to the complete lack of community – seems to feed me, well, I tend to ask myself one question, “If I were coming to this church for the very first time, if I were a non-Catholic thinking about becoming a Catholic, would I ever come back?” And nine times out of ten, the answer is a resounding NO!”

    I think that all the time. And like you, I stay because of the Eucharist. I don’t know what’s the matter, sometimes I think it’s a hollowness at the core of things, a part of our times that destroys faith and leaves the shell. Whether that shell is beautiful or banal, it’s still a shell. A lot of Anglican churches have much more beautiful services than we do, but they don’t believe anything… they are hollow in a different way.

    But I would like to suggest to people who answer such posts with comments like “the Eucharist is all you need, who cares about the rest?” that 1) they are either very spiritually advanced and need to remember that their brothers and sisters may need more help than they do, or b) they are blessed with a personality type that means that a lot of things don’t bother them, and need to remember that not everyone else has that type of personality, or c) that they might not be advanced at all, but might be indifferent. Whichever is the case, they are being indifferent to the needs of their fellow Christians, who are telling them over and over that they are starving.

    September 23, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thank you for that comment! Amen.

      September 23, 2013
    • Dr. Lawrence DiPaolo #

      Mary,

      Anytime you want to stop by my homiletics class at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston (WED, 0830-1000). You are cordially welcome. We do battle against the forces of inane homilies, pious platitudes and overall homiletical horror on a weekly basis. There is hope.

      Dr. D

      September 30, 2013
      • Mary DeTurris Poust #

        I wish I could join you!

        September 30, 2013
  2. Pam Janssen #

    As a 58 year-old woman, business owner, formation minister in my parish, I am writing to let you know that I am where you are… I was actually going to write something about the Liturgy of the Word being a core part of the community’s ‘re-membering’ of the Paschal Mystery at Mass, an integral part of Eucharist. It was good to see you address that so eloquently. Like you, I am not so much worried about my relationship with God, as I am with the disconnect of life-giving community, vibrancy (at times), and mostly, the Church. It’s there, but somehow it needs an ‘aha’ explosion… because it matters. And it’s breaking my heart.

    September 23, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write. We can support each other in prayer.
      Peace,
      Mary

      September 23, 2013
      • Laurie Francis #

        Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful! Our communities need to be on fire with the Spirit of Divine Love. Our priests need to be on fire with this Spirit, in order to lead us and challenge us to a radical living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as His Body here on earth. So let us pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us all and lead us beginning today. Wake up!

        September 23, 2013
    • Craig Martin #

      Liturgical abuses and vacuous homilies, yes, are rampant and are far too often the result of pride, narcissism and sloth on display by priests, music directors, cantors, lectors and others who have a visible role in the celebration of the Mass. To pray the Mass and think with the mind of the Church, as all participants are called to, requires a humility and corresponding obedience of faith that is often not exhibited by clergy and laity.

      God, however, and the Church can’t be divided. Either the faith of the Church is true, or it’s not. And that’s the reason one remains Catholic. That’s also why the Church, like each of us, is constantly called to conversion and reform.

      I hope that you direct your efforts and talents in that direction.

      September 30, 2013
  3. Mary thank you for your eloquence around all of this, thank you.

    September 23, 2013
  4. Frank #

    I read your post with saddness for you that you come to mass as do many others with sense that for thier spirtitual growth they somehow need to be entertained. Sad for you that you have lost or perhaps never had the great understanding of what is the mystery of the mass . The great miracle of mere bread and wine made by human hands becoming the body and blood of Christ. Heaven and earth joining with all the saints in heaven and on earth.
    To many have today have lost this sense and have instead comr down to what is in it fir me, make me happy, lift me up. You noticet the context is me, not on what is the focus of our Catholic church , community.
    Some how many want to be enlighted in a 10 min homily will complain if it goes over that time, won’t go to adult formation or retreats then critique that they are not spiritually filled. They do not set aside time to pray daily, read the scriptures for themselves and yet expect that an hour a week will feed their souls fully. The same do not sing in the choir, but are open to critique how bad the music is from their fellow parishioners. Won’t become a reader, won’t help with hospitality, won’t become an EMHC, basiccally they don’t partake of a wonderful meal before them and then complain that they are spiritually hungry.
    Finally many of these same people do not help in the works of the Church as Chrsit commanded and it is the fault of the mother church and not what they fail to do for their lack of spirituality.
    This may ormay not apply to you. Christ never promised that to follow him would be easy, he let us know that it would be sacrafice . The sermon on the mount was not to entertain, it was set out a miision.
    Follow that mission and you will find your spirituality

    September 23, 2013
    • naturgesetz #

      Frank, I think you are projecting what may be true of some people onto Mary. As I read her posts, courtesy of Deacon Greg Kandra’s link at Patheos, I get no sense whatever of someone seeking to be entertained. Being fed spiritually is not the same thing as being entertained.

      There is a fascinating book titled “rebuilt.” https://www.avemariapress.com/product/1-59471-386-3/Rebuilt/ I think this all has to do with the New Evangelization, which with Pope Francis’ example and encouragement should look a lot like the original evangelization, when Jesus walked the streets and hills of Galilee.

      What Mary wants — if I understand her correctly — and the Church needs is the kind of presentation of the Gospel which Pope Francis is calling for: a proclamation which energizes the faithful to be joyful witnesses to Christ in their daily lives and encounters. (Whereas entertainment is something demanded by those who see themselves as consumers, rather than channels of God’s grace.)

      It’s not about Mary nourishing her private spiritual life; it’s about Mary aching to see the whole Church energized, rather than shrinking.

      September 23, 2013
      • Mary DeTurris Poust #

        Thank you. Amen.

        September 23, 2013
      • Frank #

        A great deal of work is being done by the Church for both deacons and priest to improve their homilies. The problem is that not every one can be a home run and the clergy who gives it have their own limitations. There are some who do not give inspired homilies, but I believe there are a great deal more who work diligently to bring the word alive for today’s world.
        Some Slack needs to be given to our clergy and we need to understand the time restrictions upon most of them. Writing a homily is a prayerful, creative and spiritual process which takes work to do.
        My point before is that any Catholic who thinks they are going to be completely spiritually feed, by a 10 min homily once a week is very mistaken. It take works on their part as well, more than being in attendance.

        September 23, 2013
        • Frank,

          I agree, and disagree with your assessment. As parents, do we not answer our children’s questions with authority and even passion? Do we not admonish them with authority and even passion? The delivery of a good homily ought to FLOW from a priest’s prayer life, from his years of study, from his experiences in ministry.

          How many good, Catholic parents could get away with being so dull, insipid, and disjointed on such a consistent basis when teaching their children? We call these guys Father for a reason, and I don’t think it asking to much that they father a parish as well as we father and mother our children at home. Aother analogy…

          I’ve taught college students for twenty years. When students tell me they want to be writers, I reply by saying, “Great. What do you want to say?” That often gets met with blank stares and admissions that they don’t yet know. To be a writer, one needs life experience, reflection on the meaning of those experiences, and a passionate desire to communicate those thoughts. After four years of college, two years of pre-thology/philosophy, four years of graduate divinity studies and priestly formaton and a couple of years of pastoral ministry built on a solid prayer life rooted in the Liturgy of yhe Hours, I would expect a man filled with wisdom, insight, passion, and love in the pulpit. The fact that so few come close is reflective of something horribly, horribly wrong.

          September 23, 2013
          • That should have read “too much”, not, “to much.’

            Arghhh.

            September 23, 2013
          • Frank #

            You assume that a priest homily does not come from his prayer life? That would be an assumption in error.
            Every priest has his own style. Some of the driest homilies I have heard come from academics, yet they were the deepest in theology and I learned a great deal. On the other hand I have heard priest on fire with the Spirit , fun and exciting homilies, but I found them lacking in depth. They made you feel good but you were not satisfied.
            I have heard a great number more who do manage to combine both.
            Weather the homily is good or not is secondary to the mystery of the mass and should not effect ones spirituality.
            Mary DeTurris Poust is complaining that the homilies she hears to meet her modern needs. Her comparison “If Jesus just went out there and took some old message preached centuries earlier and read it to the crowds without relating anything to their day-to-day lives, do you think anyone would have stuck around” is calling the message of Christ centuries old and out of date, yet nothing is further from the truth.
            Christ message is about how to come to God, how to treat each other, how to turn away from sin. His message in the Gospel is the greatest homily heard in the mass. Every thing said does does relate to our day to day lives. the homily, no matter how good cannot compare.

            September 23, 2013
    • James K. #

      As a Diaconal Candidate in formation, and proud to learn how to serve our Lord Jesus Christ and His people, I feel confident to say you’ve hit the nail on the head… we are not here for “WE”; we are here for HIM; and to glorify His name and works by our’s!

      November 21, 2013
      • Mary DeTurris Poust #

        Blessings to you as you work toward ordination to the diaconate!

        November 21, 2013
  5. Bravo! Keep writing about this, Mary. Let’s hope it will lead to some changes.

    September 23, 2013
  6. Bill Barto #

    Hi, Mary. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this situation! I am sorry to hear that you are suffering. I have agonized for years about this problem but have found some solace in regularly praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I have found that I become less rattled about homiletical disasters in my parish if I have had a steady diet of the Office of Readings, which includes extended passages from saints and thinkers of the Church, and can reflect on the Gospel text from a variety of perspectives. I especially like to read the Office before going to Mass – I find it fortifies me against the pablum to follow. And it is available online for free at divine office dot org!

    All that being said, I am sorry that you are suffering, but you are not alone, and I will pray for you, me, and our priests!

    Grace and peace,
    Bill

    September 23, 2013
  7. Thank you for your willingness to share your struggles. I firmly believe that the only prerequisite that God requires of us is honesty. Sometimes that honesty is tremendously costly. I respect your willingness to speak openly and publicly.

    September 23, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thank you, truly, for saying that.

      September 23, 2013
  8. As a pastor I believe the most important thing I do every week is to preside and preach at Mass on the Lord’s Day. Of all the other important ministries and obligations that are mine, none is more important than this. Presiding prayerfully over the Church’s ritual and preaching the scriptures faithfully and intelligbly is the heart of my ministry as a priest just as the Sunday Eucharist is the heart of the week for God’s people. If other obligations, no matter how worthy, impede this primary responsibility then it’s up to me to make sure that Sunday comes out on top. The Sabbath is the day the Lord made and we need to be glad and rejoice in it at the Tables of Word and Sacrament.

    September 23, 2013
  9. Chuck #

    I’m so glad a friend forwarded a link to your article after he and I briefly discussed this exact same thing. I knew I couldn’t be alone feeling the same as you. As an example, this week’s Mass made me want to scream. The homily was about the importance of the wealthy sharing their wealth with the less fortunate – an admirable goal. So who gets held up as examples of this? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett – both of whom give millions every year to pro-abortion groups and contraceptive providers. The priest couldn’t have used Tom Monaghan as an example who used his fortune to start a Catholic University pretty much single handedly? Then we get the cantor who obviously never even looked at the songs ahead of time and couldn’t stay in sync with the organ, trombone, flute, bongo’s, etc. Then we get the 47 (exaggerating) Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist joining the priest at the altar for the consecration when there should be zero… Maybe I’m a “bad Catholic” and shouldn’t get distracted by all this type of stuff, but I’m thinking of checking out a TLM Mass for the first time out of desperation. Unfortunately, I’ve been reading some of the Vatican II documents and just see more and more at Mass that isn’t the way it is supposed to be. I was happier when I was ignorant…

    September 23, 2013
  10. Matti #

    Mary, someone like you with the long history of our Catholic religion and the gifts of analytic writing has been given a huge role to play in our Church (to whom much is given, much is expected …) – this may be your “cross” which you are called upon to pick up and follow in the path of Jesus, and, yes, even falling many times because of all the burdens (let downs, emptiness, what you say you experience), like Jesus, trusting that God’s will shall be done. How do you pick up your cross? Are you following Jesus in His compassion (being “one with) towards those that he came to save? Are you able to be “one with” your pastor so that you may bring your “giftedness” to him? These are just thoughts and words from my heart, having read both your blog posts, hoping that they will encourage you to assess your stewardship and trust that God is guiding you along the road you are walking.

    September 23, 2013
  11. Deacon Chris Baker #

    I’m a permanent deacon. I have the opportunity to preach about one homily a month ( One homily at two Masses). I prepare. I practice. I time myself. I’m a reasonably good public speaker…. and the vast majority of the feedback I get is from my wife and my pastor and the associate. “Good Homily, Father(sic)”, is nice, but not really helpful. Do we need better preaching ? Of course. But it’s a two way street. If a homily’s good- Tell the preacher. And tell him WHY it’s good. If something’s unclear, tell him. And if a priest or deacon produces a clunker… well, the truth is difficult and challenging. If we’re big enough to challenge you from the ambo, we need to be big enough to be challenged in the narthex.And if we aren’t challenging, then maybe we need to hear from people in the pews that we aren’t, and that we need to start.

    September 23, 2013
  12. I am a retired priest. I help out in parishes whenever I am asked, which is fairly often. It would not be unusual to have 5 weekend liturgies in 5 different parish communities. I do not know these communities well, so most of the time I cannot “preach” in the setting of their journey. I try to talk about what the Gospel Passage means to me on my journey. At times it may be controversial. I don’t know if this “works” or not.

    September 23, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thank you for caring enough to talk about your journey and sometimes even say something controversial. I am sure it is greatly appreciated.
      Peace,
      Mary

      September 23, 2013
  13. Thanks for your posts Mary. Just wanted to let you know that there are members of the clergy who share your frustration at how we (meaning all of us Catholics) often seem too insulated to see that many times what we are doing each week fails to welcome and nourish those who are coming through the doors, especially those who are walking through them for the first time. I agree also with you that while receiving the Eucharist is the most important thing we do, this does not mean it is the ONLY important thing.

    As a priest, I will tell you that any kind of change is difficult to accomplish, but there are parishes out there attempting to do so. I hope you will continue to pray for the Church and to challenge when necessary.

    One other thought with regards to your idea to withhold funds is that if you choose to do so, I would encourage you not to assume your pastor will automatically make the connection of why you are doing so. Also if you do, please don’t stop giving to someone as generosity is such a key part of the Christian life.

    Thanks again for your words. I’m glad Deacon Greg pointed me in your direction.

    September 23, 2013
  14. Maury Readinger #

    Thank you! You have articulated very clearly exactly how I feel most Sundays! I want to replace the organ music with some beautiful CD’s of church music and blast them out over Bose 901’s!

    September 23, 2013
  15. Mary, I’m enjoying your postings on this. I left the church for 20 years for this reason. When Jesus finally found me 15 yrs ago, I went church shopping. I found many excellent preachers who fed the crowds well. But I found it to be like going to school. I wanted to leave church with a full soul, not a full head. I found the Mass filled me, not just the Eucharist but the single-mindedness of the Mass on the adoration of Jesus Christ – my Lord and my God, as St. Thomas spoke it in wonder. With this perspective, I have never again minded how well the priest preached nor even whether the church itself would survive. God is bigger than that.

    Five years ago, a fellow parishioner invited me to attend a Cursillo weekend. There, I found a community of believers who meet weekly. I thirst for community and I think this is normal need for all of us spiritual pilgrims. Being a Christian is a demanding journey.

    I’m okay that the local parish can’t do this by itself. It is badly under-staffed and priests are administrators more than anything. One reason is lack of money. Another is the hierarchy of course. I do organizational consulting and I am keenly aware that the culture resists all change, and fiercely! Like you, I am encouraged by Pope Francis and I want to be on his side, lifting up priests and bishop that have been culturally beaten into the wrong priorities. Your writing is helping this cause and I applaud you, I pray for you and I hope that our paths will cross one day (I’m in Burlington). Until then, keep on rolling! :-) John

    September 23, 2013
  16. Robert J. Fallon #

    Hi Mary, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings so candidly. It often takes courage to do so even for seasoned campaigners. It takes all kinds to make our Church. I am one of the kind, who does not need preached to or at. I thoroughly enjoy a well planned and presented homily and usually take notes. Much like you I blank out when the homily is not well planned or presented. I have travelled extensively and as a daily Mass goer, have heard many homilies both good and bad and even an occasional fence buster. I like some who responded, do not need a homily to feed me or strengthen my faith nor is one central to my reason for coming to Mass. For me, it is all about the Eucharist and my opportunity to speak one on one with Jesus and God. Like some suggested, I may be blessed with a special grace. I do not know, but I do know, that it was not always so and I had to work hard to gain any grace, which God granted me. The best homilies which I hear, do not eminate from the pulpit but rather in the quite of daily meditation and prayerful conversation with God. Usually, after Mass or in my privete places. God has been very good to me in many ways and at times has presented me with some crosses. This is what we talk about. I know some will say “Oh Oh watch out for this guy, he is talking with God, who talks back to him”. Yes I do. We can all do it if we want to. It’s called Faith and sometimes, Interior Locution. we all have it, sadly too few really listen. An old AA saying puts it so well. “Let Go and Let God”. One has only to let God enter into one’s mind, heart and soul and let the Holy Spirit work unrestricted by our personal demons and all the rest is window dressing, even with nebulous, poorly planned and presented homilies. Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of the faithful and enkindle in them the Fire of Your love….. Thank you again, Keep the Faith in your heart Strong and it will keep you Strong in return. Peace, Bob Fallon

    September 23, 2013
  17. Phil Steinacker #

    Mary,

    Our pastor’s wooden delivery style (which is part of his personality) has hidden the fact that he is actually quite gifted in crafting his message. This is particularly obvious from his homilies at daily Mass, which he speaks without notes. Whenever anyone asked him why he works from a written homily on Sundays, which tends to bring out some stiffness, he says he’s afraid he’ll forget something crucial.

    I discovered recently something inexplicable to me, that he now subscribes to a service which supplies each Sunday’s homily. His delivery is actually better than ever, and they homilies are quite good. This fact is hardly known at my church and I do not share this information, having stumbled upon it accidently, but overall his homilies repeatedly draw affirmative responses about their insight, inspiration, and timeliness. All the more reason for me to remain discreet.

    So I understand your point about homilies. However, I could go on at length to match you (at least) about the terrible music I suffer through. Forty-five years of secularized music masquerading as sacred has reduced most Catholics to spiritual tone-deafness where a sense of the sacred is concerned, particularly in music. Our music is self-referential, with far too many lyrics worshipping and celebrating us instead of our Father and His Son. There are frequent invocations of the Holy Spirit to justify what we like but rarely is there any focus on Scriptural to guide us in how we worship, least of all in our music.

    As an example my very progressive parish finally got around to instituting a “contemporary ” Mass yesterday. The fact that this approach is 30 years out of date and that many churches are now jettisoning guitars and Marty Haugen in favor of chant and polyphony in an attempt to restore to the Mass the experience of true beauty and sanctity is completely lost on them. While some were heard congratulating our music ministers for their “innovation,” far more were heard to resolutely state their intention to begin attending another Mass or even another Church.

    At my parish the phrase “I am not being fed” in regards to music only seems to raise concern about those who want less reverence directed vertically and more reference to ourselves. I have found no one cares if the lacking in sacred music fails to feed others.

    September 23, 2013
  18. Deacon Walter Ayres #

    As a deacon who preaches twice a month at one church and once a month at another, let me offer some random thoughts.

    1 – few people comment on a homily, at least to the homilist, and those who do, say they like it. There is little, if any, criticism or constructive feedback. As a result, we are left with the impression that whatever we are doing is well-received. So we keep doing it.

    2 – people differ on what is a good homily. Example: earlier this year we had a visiting priest at one of the churches where I am assigned. He gave an old-fashioned “fire and brimstone” type homily. The first four people who commented to me about him said that this was just the type of homily we should have every week. The next five or six who commented said that if I ever invited him back, they would stop coming to our church. So was it a good homily or a bad homily? Should I invite him back more often or ban him from the church?

    September 23, 2013
    • Deacon, what you say reflects my experience, especially part 1. Fortunately I am retired, so I don’t have much to do with deciding we comes back and who doesn’t . At times it is me the folks would be talking about. Sometime I would like to respond to folks who say “good homily, Father”, “Thanks, what did I say?”. That would probably be self-serving and not charitable. There is little constructive feedback.

      September 23, 2013
  19. Mark #

    Hello Mary,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. The vast majority of homilies that I have listened to are uninspiring and sometimes demoralizing. And this needs to change.
    I do take issue with your solution, however. Your proposed solution of walking out, in hopes of inspiring someone to do something, betrays your position. You want the priest, or someone else, to fix the problem. Don’t get me wrong. The priests need to raise the standard. No doubt! But that is not what needs to be done in the short term.
    So what to do? Personally, I get the sense that since this is such a widespread issue, that God is calling his faithful to take the reigns (and I don’t mean doctrinally). I! am the church. I! am what’s wrong with it!
    It reminds me of a local preacher, that whenever someone said “We should (fill in the blank)”, he would calmly reply “It appears the Holy Spirit is inspiring you to do just that”. The pastor told me that he’s rarely seen someone respond to this message. There is so much I could be doing to preach God’s word. To create that faith filled community that I so desperately crave.
    BTW, I listen to Fr Robert Barron online prior to mass. He’s inspiring!. I read the bible passages. I get great joy in hearing the prayers and beholding the transcendent moment of entering into Christ’s offering to our Father. God bless your journey.

    September 23, 2013
  20. It’s interesting, being a convert, how little the homily means to my experience at mass. The liturgy, the readings from the letters, the old testament and the gospels, the consistency of the message, the wealth of publications and commentary available on a daily basis is a tremendous accompaniment to the Eucharist, my main reason for living. I will say that not being a cradle Catholic has given me a great appreciation of the real presence; nothing can prepare you for the experience, not RCIA, not EWTN, not words. My search for Jesus, from completely zero faith formation and southern baptists on college campus telling me I was going to hell, watching local preachers run off with parishioners money from their garage ministries–my neighbor, my friend both got robbed–that search led me nowhere, the rosary beads led me to the only true church. I meet people and new friends at daily mass and they are part of my experience. I hope I don’t sound like I’m knocking you; I hope you find your answers. I tend not to care for too glib, too smooth or charismatic talkers; my history with charlatans colors my comprehension of where you’re coming from.

    September 23, 2013
    • Joanne #

      Great to hear the experiences of those who have entered the Church as adults!

      September 24, 2013
  21. Hi Mary, God bless you and I enjoyed reading both your posts. What seems to be so tragic about this is that it’s not as if the Church has never had any idea of how to feed people spiritually. We do have liturgical, musical, and artistic treasures (even beyond the homily) which can be used to lift our hearts and minds to God. But for some reason it was decided that the entire liturgy needed to be adapted to “modern man” and apparently “modern man” doesn’t want or need beautiful, transcendent liturgy so we stopped giving it to him.

    September 23, 2013
  22. Hi again Mary, I thought your question about whether or not someone who is a non-Catholic came to Mass would ever want to come back was spot on. It reminded me of a quote I came across a while back from Fr. George Rutler. I thought it also captured what you are getting across. It is from his book, “A Crisis of Saints” (Ignatius Press):

    “A Liturgical Parable

    The Hard Truth

    …We seem to slip out of that golden sense of ultimate truth in two ways. The first is by losing any real awareness of the holy. The second is by denying that it has been lost. Without lapsing into criticism that would be out of place, suffice it to say that the worship of holiness is weak in our culture, and the beauty of holiness has been smudged in transmission through the revised liturgy. For without impugning its objective authenticity in any degree, its bouleversement [Complete overthrow; a reversal; a turning upside down] of the traditional Roman rite marks the first time in history that the Church has been an agent, however unintentionally, in the deprivation of culture, from the uprooting of classical language and sensibility to wanton depreciation of the arts.

    …It is immensely saddening to see so many elements of the Church, in her capacity as Mother of Western Culture, compliant in the promotion of ugliness. There may be no deterrent more formidable to countless potential converts than the low estate of the Church’s liturgical life, for the liturgy is the Church’s prime means of evangelism. Gone as into a primeval mist are the days not long ago when apologists regularly had to warn against being distracted by, or superficially attracted to, the beauty of the Church’s rites. And the plodding and static nature of the revised rites could not have been more ill-timed for a media culture so attuned to color and form and action.”

    (“A Crisis of Saints”, Ignatius Press pp. 107-108)

    September 23, 2013
  23. Ok, last comment (maybe). Another thing that I don’t think has helped priests preach good homilies is going from sermons, where one was expected to preach on the Catholic faith itself, to homilies, where the priest is expected to stick to, and preach, on the scriptures. Now, there are priests who can preach a good homily, but so often when one is expected to preach on scripture it’s like going to a Bible study where people make comments about the scripture passage and most of the comments are, quite frankly, trite and forgettable.

    It seems with most homilies, it’s as if I could get the exact same thing down the street at the local Episcopal church. In other words, there’s nothing distinctly Catholic about it and you usually learn absolutely nothing about the Catholic faith itself (which is probably one reason why most Catholics know next to nothing about the Faith).

    So it would be nice if we could go back to preaching sermons instead of homilies. That way, even if a priest isn’t a particularly good speaker, you could still actually learn something about the Catholic faith. God bless.

    September 23, 2013
  24. Janet #

    Boy, is this familiar to me or what? I was in exactly the same state as you maybe 10 years ago. But now… nothing but peace, regardless of how stormy the weather outside the boat, since I know Jesus is here with me.

    I’m not really sure how I reached this point. I know that a big chunk of it was living overseas for several years– I got used to attending the Mass in languages that I didn’t speak, with songs I didn’t know, homilies that were 15-20 minutes of gibberish. I took to carrying a Bible and a rosary to church, to deliver my own homily (as it were). As others have mentioned, the liturgy of the hours is also a constant source of nourishment for me. Ultimately, as others have said, if you have a loving, personal relationship with Jesus, none of the flawed people/situations around you will seem all that big.

    Others have also mentioned that, if you’re feeling a deep need for community in your parish, then what you should do is be prepared to be the nucleus of that community yourself. You can offer to set up a Bible study (google Little Rock Bible Study, it shows you how), or a charitable group (like St. Vincent de Paul or your local food pantry), or a prayer group (say 1st Fridays, or a rosary group, or a liturgy of the hours group), or a catechism group for RCIA or baptismal families, or mentoring engaged couples, or whatever. The Church also has a rich offering of more formal groups– I’m part of the third order Dominicans, myself, but there are many others (third orders, oblates, the various Marian organizations, etc.) Once you put out an invitation, some like-minded believers will come to you, and you will support each other in your walks with Christ. All Christians are called to be priests, prophets and kings; all of us are called to work in the harvest fields for Christ. Don’t be a spectator.

    One other comment: Jesus does not give every person every grace, nor is it necessarily easy to see the specific graces he’s offering you at each moment in time. If you feel angry, dry, aggressive, frustrated– that is the sign that you are not receiving the grace needed to deal with your current situation. I would urge you to back up, and pray for discernment. It may be that what He wants of you right now is to give up your desire to have the Mass that you want, and instead simply receive the Mass that he is giving you, through the imperfect people He has placed in your life right now. Or it may be that He is guiding you to a better place, but you must still your anger and frustration in order to hear His voice. Or maybe something else totally. But pray earnestly for eyes that see, and ears that hear.

    September 23, 2013
  25. Kim #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. While I am blessed to have a wonderful Priest who has a gift for relating the readings and homily to current life I have come across so many, who go on and on and on about nothing. It’s not related to the readings or life today. It like this is an hour to fuel me, to help (on top of normal prayer at home) to get through the week. I love it when a priest can give me so,etching to refelct on and challenge me to be a better Catholic. You are bang on in both of the articles you wrote.

    September 23, 2013
  26. Van Wolverton #

    As a deacon, I preach one weekend a month at three Masses and hardly ever dwell on exegesis. Because we latter-day believers often have trouble relating 2000-year-old tales of Jesus’ life in the Middle East to our complicated and too-often ominous world, I almost always try to relate the message of the Gospel to our lives today (and I edit ruthlessly to avoid sentences such as this). I was a journalist and writer of other things, so I can’t escape the notion that a purposeful essay needs a beginning (preferably a hook), a middle, and a conclusion (preferably punchy and memorable), all designed to support just one clear point. Sometimes I sing a snatch of song to support my message. Twice a year or so I try to work in the three parts of the Real Presence: in the Eucharist, in the Word, and in the Assembly. I emphasize that although the Liturgy of the Eucharist is called the source and summit of our faith, the Liturgy of the Word is no less important (like you, I cite John 1:1 as my authority). I sometimes refer to evolution (as God’s tool of Creation, still in use because his creation was not a one-time feat), the apparent age of the earth (4.5B years), the fact that because Jesus was all human as well as all God means he most likely had a sense of humor and a temper. And other unholy stuff. I preach from a printed copy (at 74, I have filled my memory and can no longer rely on it), but become familiar enough with the text that I break eye contact to take in another chunk rather than occasionally look up from head-down reading. I try to keep it to 8 minutes, as timed by Jeanne, my beloved wife, first reader, and editor of 52 years. I recite all this not to show what a great guy I am, but to show that good preaching takes a lot of work and energy and life experience and imagination. And faith. And love. And just a touch of chutzpah.

    September 23, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thank you. Thank you for caring. I wish I could hear you preach. God bless you in your ministry!
      Peace,
      Mary

      September 23, 2013
  27. Hi Mary. I’m new here, so I don’t presume anything. One thing I wondered though. You said if pulling our time and money was the way to create change, then so be it. I just wondered if you had tried any other means? I mean, have you spoken to Father about the music, about the sound system, about his homilies? Maybe you have and he just hasn’t listened, but I just wondered.

    September 23, 2013
  28. Rene #

    As a convert, I’m on board with joanc57. Compared to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, preaching on Bible passages just seems like a lot of words about words. As a former Baptist, I would be fine with never hearing another sermon/homily ever. I would be thrilled if the mass were conducted in complete silence–just adoration of and reception of the Eucharist. By all means, before and afterward, have community, fellowship, Bible studies, sharing, service to others. But let the mass be about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. Emphasize candles, incense, and silence–unless the music is sacred chorale music that lifts one’s heart to God, or contemporary music like Taize which does the same. I am, however, quite intrigued by Brennan’s suggestion that priests start talking about the Catholic faith again, sharing the lives of the saints, etc. I hungrily devour stories about the saints which set my heart on fire. When priests are limited to focusing on the Bible verses of the day, I agree that it often becomes a tepid, watered-down Bible study lesson.

    September 23, 2013
    • Joanne #

      “As a former Baptist, I would be fine with never hearing another sermon/homily ever.”

      lol, as a lifelong, and I guess poorly catechized, Catholic who didn’t understand the idea of the Real Presence until adulthood, I agree with you!

      September 24, 2013
  29. Father Dave Riley #

    Three thoughts: 1) A college chaplain who had been a seminary prof asked a twnty year old student about a priest rcently assigned to his home parish. The lad thought and responded “At least when he says Mass it looks like he really believes it.” What does this say about all hte other priests he had experienced in is twenty years?

    2) I constantly urge people to take the message out the door and apply it to their daily life. Therefore I must try to make it pertainent.

    3) I stuggle to get people to greet one another, to ask names, to do more than just wave at the greeting of peace, and to pay attention to what the words really mean. For example what does “It will become our spiritual drink” really mean if the priest doesn’t offer the Precious Blood to the people?

    Thank you for your challanging reflections. I will urge people to visit Not Strictly Spiritual.. This is my first time thanks to The Deacon’s Bench

    September 23, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thank you for caring!
      Peace.

      September 23, 2013
  30. Fr. William Rose #

    Dear Mary,
    Thank you for taking the time to write about your experience, horrifying as it may be at times, yet moderately joyful from time to time. In my 46 years of being a practicing Catholic- 17 of them as a Catholic priest- I’ve never been to a “dull” liturgy, heard a gut wrenching homily where my appetite was lost for days on end, or wanted the “Sob Sisters” (aka funeral choir) to be put out to pasture for good. And I’ve heard some squeaky voices in my years. Somehow, for whatever reasons, God seems to break through to me and a nugget is “had” via a song, a prayer, or scripture verse. I walk away with something. Perhaps because long ago when my brothers and I were home from Mass, and we declared we were bored, my mother’s mantra was “It’s not about you…it’s about God.” I say this to the 469 students in my school. Believe me, I get what you are saying…I heard it loud and clear.
    Your first post made me livid. I did have one hell of a workout today because of it, so I do thank you! What really struck me by all the “complaints,” is that no one said they pray for their priests. Maybe a few had compassion for the fact that the guy got ordained to serve, and has now become a sacramental vending machine, has to balance the budget, is stressed over raising money for a new boiler for the school, worried about his ailing mother, and can’t seem to do anything right in the eyes of the flock. And it’s been ages, ages, since he has heard a compliment from the people he serves. Not to mention his associate is from a foreign country and every parishioner hangs up and calls back because they think they’ve called some customer service hotline. (For the record, none of the above is remotely related to me, my associate or my ministry.)
    As a Catholic writer for over 30 years, you said, “I know God.” Mary – I wonder if you do. Where was Jesus in the “experience” of losing your religion? In all the inadequate homilies, “bad” Masses (for the record no Mass can be bad – because receiving Jesus can’t be bad – you can attend poorly executed liturgies-but that doesn’t make it “bad”), recorded music, and guitar- off- tune experiences? If we knew Jesus more intimately, devoutly and personally in our lives, the rest, well, it just all falls into place. After reading through the comment sections, I began to wonder if Jesus Christ himself were to say Mass- what fault would people find with him? I would think a lot. Primarily because I don’t recall anyone writing about seeing Christ in their priest – you know the one giving the gut wrenching, uninspired sermon – the one who is a wounded child of God like the rest of the people in the pew.
    The Mass isn’t about what we get out of it. It is about what we bring to it- it is our worship of the Living God…who takes our wholly inadequate offering, perfects it and returns it to us. If we come only wanting to “get something” out of the Mass, we can receive nothing.
    I really am grateful for reading your post. It makes me love my parish and wonderful people who come here even more.
    You will be in my prayers. Fr. Bill

    September 23, 2013
  31. I’ve read both blog posts, and a fair number of the comments (but not all), so I hope I’m not just piling on words and saying nothing new! That said, I have quite a bit I wish to say.

    First, a response to the argument that the supreme value and importance of the Eucharist should dispel all our misgivings about the state of Roman Catholic worship in America today. To counter this argument, I would look at the conduct of Jesus in the Temple on Palm Sunday. Our Lord’s presence in the Temple did not suffice for Him; He demanded more, He demanded the moneychangers be driven out. Transposed to our liturgy today, the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist should not be considered sufficient for our worship. We should expect and demand more.

    (And some might say that in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, none of these problems exist, and so we should flock to the E.F. as a haven from our worship wasteland. But… if the Eucharist is all that matters, why should we feel compelled to choose a parish or Rite (or form of a Rite) based on anything other than whether the Eucharist is present? If it’s un-catholic (as “Darrin” said in a comment on the first post) to choose a parish based on how well their liturgies speak to you, then it’s surely just as un-catholic to choose a form of the Roman Rite for the same reason.)

    Second, I would caution anyone from straight-up abandoning Mass without a back-up plan, without having someplace you can go to fulfill your Sunday obligation, to repay your vows to the Lord. While I stand by my claim in point one, that we should not be content with the Eucharist as sufficient for our Sunday worship, the Eucharist is the sine qua non. Without it, you will be utterly spiritually hungry, no matter what else you fill your Sunday with.

    Third, we have to break through whatever cultural barriers exist (clericalism, pride, whatever it is) that prevent us from making our needs known to our pastors, even if our pastors are the ones letting us down. I know preaching at Mass is reserved to clergy, but surely knowledgeable laypeople can help their preachers out when it comes to crafting and fine-tuning their homilies. Maybe priests and deacons could hold open “rehearsals” during the week, to invite feedback from their flocks. I’m not saying congregations get carte blanche to determine the content of what they hear, but preachers need to know if they’re succeeding in getting their message across effectively.

    Finally, all this talk of words and The Word reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax”. Its message of environmental stewardship can be applied to a variety of situations and issues, including this one.

    “But now,” says the Once-ler, “now that you’re here,
    the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
    UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
    nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

    Thank you, Mary, for caring a whole awful lot.

    September 23, 2013
    • Joanne #

      “then it’s surely just as un-catholic to choose a form of the Roman Rite for the same reason.”

      Hi, Jeffrey: Even as someone who assists mostly in the OF Mass, I have to disagree with this idea. While it’s true that the Eucharist is present in both forms of the Mass, the Extraordinary Form Mass is just inarguably more focused on the Eucharist. I get why people who truly want more authenticity and meaning tend to gravitate to the EF Mass.

      September 24, 2013
  32. Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz #

    I understand your frustration and sympathize with it. However, counseling people to leave in the middle of Mass and to withhold financial support for the Church because the priest is boring or unable to preach well or because the religious ed program is dull or for whatever other reason is simply wrong. As Ed Peters rightly points out (http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/avoid-mary-deturris-pousts-bad-advice/), it goes against canon law and the precepts of the Church.

    That, however, is the least of the issues. Your proffered counsel of disruptive tactics is worthy of Saul Alinsky. Disrupting Mass (unless it’s a matter of heresy, insubordination or invalid formulations) — no matter how dull — is disrupting what Scott Hahn rightly states in The Lamb’s Supper is the heavenly liturgy.

    This is not how the saints would deal with this. The history of the Church is full of boring priests or those who rattled through the liturgy at breakneck speed or who treated the church as their personal playground or whatever. Those great homilies we read in the Liturgy of the Hours come primarily from canonized saints, whose number is miniscule compared to the number of people who have been counted as members of the Church since her beginning.

    So the counsel I would offer is for people to become saints so that they become living homilies with their own lives.

    September 23, 2013
  33. Joanne #

    Certainly it’s understandable why people feel so underfed at Mass. If a homily is to be part of the Mass, according to the Church, then it should speak to people, and often it doesn’t. However, “the Word” is Christ, and so the Word does matter in every Catholic liturgy and is preached at every Mass, even if there is no homily at all.

    September 24, 2013
  34. Deacon Joe Hensley #

    Very tough to hear but a clear call on us to do better on our homilies. To bring zeal, passion and love to our people. Community is a really needed in our parishes. We are blessed to have that sense of community in our parish and are always working to keep it going.

    September 24, 2013
  35. Carole #

    Couldn’t agree more in some ways———–on the ground, we are so far behind the curve of the last 5 popes on any strategic thinking about living faith….the New Evangelization is long overdue.

    On the other hand, there is this protestant musician…..who had a powerful experience of adoration.

    http://gungormusic.com/2013/03/catholicism/

    September 24, 2013
  36. Miriam #

    I cant even count the amount of times I also tried to look at the Mass from an outsiders perspective and ask myself, ‘If I were not Catholic, and coming to this Church for the first time, would I want to come back?’ and, like it was for you, the answer was, sadly, usually ‘No!’
    It wasn’t just the homilies, actually, although they were certainly difficult cross to bear. I remember the priest at my home parish drawing laughter and applause through his homilies centered entirely on himself. I didn’t learn anything about the Gospel or Christ, but I sure did learn about what my priest’s childhood was like or what funny incident happened to him on the way home last week.
    It was the self-centered homilies coupled with the very design of the Church, which was so …well…ugly, that I couldn’t imagine anyone feeling drawn to a higher power there. All this new age architecture that rose to popularity in Catholic Churches in the 60s and 70s and so on, it has really affected how i see the Church and the Mass, as trivial as it sounds.
    And, as others have mentioned, the seeming lack of respect and reverence at Mass from parishioners.
    How can we change such things? Proper, good catechesis is vital, for one. Im all for changes in the Missal that lead to more reverant worshio (the law of prayer is the law of faith, as they say). Better artichetics?

    September 24, 2013
  37. I don’t disagree with you that the Church needs to be more, that it needs to do better, that we aren’t being fed. But when I read your first piece, it made me feel sad. my first thought was: I wonder why that priest was giving a canned homily. I wonder why he’s just phoning it in. Is it just a bad day for him? We all have bad days. Or is he sinking in the mire? I wonder if he’s like some of the priests I’ve known who seem to have lost their way. I wonder what happened to his joy in his vocation. I wonder if his parishioners are praying for him. I wonder if any of them have invited him to dinner or asked him if there’s anything he needs. When I see a priest struggling like that I wonder where his lifeline has gone.

    I agree that something radical needs to be done. I totally disagree with your suggested course of action. What if instead of withholding money from collections we asked, what more can I do? How can I help this parish to change? What happened to loving our neighbor, yes even that sad priest who isn’t giving us the homily we deserve to have?

    September 24, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Not a single bad homily. Not a single defeated priest. Not a single bad parish. And endless string of problems. For years on end. I often have priests to our house for dinner. I have close priest friends. My youngest daughter’s godfather is a priest. I have complete respect for them. BUT if parishes are failing their people, someone has to make some noise. We can’t just say, “I have the Eucharist and so nothing else matters.”

      I have been a faith formation teacher, a retreat leader, on the parish faith formation leadership committee, on the vocation team, in Elizabeth Ministry, in the contemporary music group, one of three trained for intergenerational faith formation leadership, and on and on. There was a time when I was at my parish so often the seminarian assigned to us assumed I was the daughter of our parish life director. I know what good parish life is, and I know what terrible, spirit-killing parish life is. I am revolting against the latter. And I have spoken to priests and I have offered to do things. It is not welcome. I want to change things for the better.

      September 24, 2013
  38. I would posit to you, that perhaps it is not so much the details of a particular Mass that has you so lost, discomfited, and spiritually unfed, but the very form of the Mass you are experiencing. I did not read all the comments on your 09/22 post, so I apologize if you have already responded to this, but I have been exaclty where you’re at, and found everything I was looking for, and so, so much more it is inconceivable, in the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). I would especially counsel you to find a TLM offered by one of the indult communities like the FSSP, ICX, IBP, Franciscans of the Immaculate, or another.

    There are simply numerous……..limitations…….with the Novus Ordo. I am far from the only person to note this. Many tens or hundreds of thousands of souls who never knew the TLM in their life prior to the Council have found it and have been utterly transformed by its transcendence, its focus on our relationship with Christ and his Sacrifice for us, and its enormous sense of mystery. We have also been blessed to receive challenging, engaging sermons (not homilies) virtually every day of the week, and especially on Sundays. If you have never assisted at the TLM, I implore you to give the TLM a try, even if it means driving some distance. It is so very much worth it I cannot communicate it in words. Even if it is a once a week diocesan TLM, GO! I can name off literally dozens of people I know who have been spiritually transformed by exposure to the TLM, from well known individuals like Michael Voris to Dr. Jay Boyd to Fr. Michael Rodriguez and so many others.

    In another vein, Dr. Ed Peters frequently twists canon law a bit to his own predelictions. If you attend an average Novus Ordo parish, it is a virtual certainty that somewhere money is being spent on activities that are morally dubious, at best. Even performing collections for Catholic Charities, CRS, CCHD, and other entities can be viewed as highly problematic. If you know or have strong reason to suspect that your parish donates to causes or groups that may then spend your money on activities counter to the Faith, you should first find a good, orthodox confessor/spiritual director to review, but you likely have justification to cease support of that parish right there. Even still, it is a Precept of the Faith that you support the Church -the Church – monetarily. But that command does not necessarily devolve down to one’s parish, nor to the amount given. You can certainly, and licitly, transfer all or a large part of your financial support to fully orthodox organizations within the Church that are not corrupted by modernism, transfer funds to leftist social justice organizations, or commit any other problematic or even immoral acts.

    If you have a local parish that, like many near me, routinely brings in heretical speakers or those espousing spiritual practices dangerous to the state of your soul, that is also sufficient reason to cease support immediately and to transfer your tithe to other organizations within the Church. I strongly recommend the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, for one.

    Please do not give up on the Mass! I may have a different outlook from you, I may be a bit of a traddy, but please try the TLM if at all possible! If you keep an open mind and try it for 3 or 4 weeks straight, to get accustomed to the differences, I think you will be amazed and spiritually uplifted by what you find!

    I see you are in NYC? There are many TLMs there. I also see you are tightly associated with your local Diocese, who may take a dim view of your assisting at the TLM.

    September 24, 2013
  39. Frank #

    What a wonderful pair of essays! Thank you. There’s absolutely nothing I would disagree with. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to tolerate Mass at all for about ten years. I converted to Catholicism in 1987 and spent a long, long time desperate for the food of the Word. The idiots who ran the RCIA never offered it and no priest I encountered ever offered it, not in the liturgy or anywhere else. The scandals of the past ten years confirmed my suspicion that I was among the living dead.

    Last Sunday I decided to try Mass again — like you, I’d read the Pope Francis interview with tears in my eyes and my hunger was renewed. And I went to Mass. And it was precisely as awful as I knew it would be — and it’s not just bad liturgy. It’s the whole atmosphere of musty, nearly-dead churchiness that pervades everything, absolutely everything. The bit that gets me most is when the priest offers his obligatory welcome to visitors, then ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ever says a single word of welcome to any visitor after Mass. This in a cathedral parish that claims hospitality is its primary mission.

    About six years ago was the last time I heard a good homily. I was so startled and energized that I approached the priest after Mass and asked if I could talk to him. But he was only visiting, he was busy, and he had no time to talk. Oh well.

    September 25, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      I’m so sorry to hear this, Frank. Let’s keep this conversation going. Maybe together we can figure out what, if anything, we can do.

      September 27, 2013
  40. Mary #

    I, too, was upset when I read your first post as well as many of the comments. Priests are human, and some of them may not be gifted in either speaking or writing – but perhaps they touch the lives of the sick whom they visit, or the engaged couple going for pre-marital counseling, or perhaps they offer their crosses for their parishioners, or make time for the elderly person who has no one else to whom share their troubles. Do I think that priests should make every effort to prepare a “good” homily each Sunday? Absolutely. Do some not prepare at all? I’m sure of it – I’ve heard some of those homilies as well, and I can’t believe any prep went into some of those. I grew up with a priest in a small parish (300 families) who gave some of the most monotone, mundane homilies you could imagine. But he was a gentle soul who always reached out to his parishioners when in need, was always available, and gave countless hours of untold time to his vocation.

    What “reaches” you in a homily may not “reach” me at all. You mentioned that you know what “good parish life is” and the many activities in which you have been involved. I appreciate people like you who donate time to keep parishes “alive”, but what is “alive” to you is not the same to all people. I cannot stand contemporary music in church and have to “offer it up” every time I hear certain “hymns” not to mention tambourines in a parish. I prefer chant. Do I leave if my parish only plays modern music? No. In fact, there have been Masses in which I felt closest to my Lord and there was no homily (weekday) and no music at all.

    There is a difference between liturgical abuse – examples of which others have mentioned – and liturgical preferences. But the beauty of the Catholic church is its universality and that no matter where I am in the world, no matter what language is being spoken, whether I am at a contemporary music mass or a TLM – there is Christ. In the Eucharist, and in His people. And it is truly not about me at all.

    Please read Fr. Bill’s comment above again, and to all – please pray for our priests, every day, and for vocations so that he have more to assist our already overworked diocesan priests. How many people who leave parishes because of tired priests and don’t pray or encourage their own sons to consider the priesthood!

    September 26, 2013
  41. Mary,
    Thank you for your courage, and for reminding those of us who are responsible for proclaiming and preaching that how we fulfill our ministry matters. Not more than the Eucharist. Not in the sense that somehow a well-proclaimed Gospel or a homily that actually meets members of the assembly where they are can make everything okay. Just that it matters, as one of the two central liturgies of Mass.

    And I’ll confess that your words have given me pause. I needed (and will continue to need) that. Please keep speaking, with the love you have for Church, challenging us to be shepherds on the front line of real human lives. You’re a writer'; you know it’s hard work . . . and you are right, it is the hard work we who proclaim and preach should be doing.

    If you or others are interested, here is something you can do to help us know when we have served well, and when we have not: tell us. Maybe not in the ‘reception line’ after Mass (when the perfunctory comments naturally seem to fit the moment), but maybe even there. If you have been moved, give the reader, the deacon, the priest, or the bishop a quick word about what moved you and that it did. If you have been upset, do the same. Because just as authors need editors and reviewers and fans and critics, so do proclaimers and preachers.

    Peace,

    Deacon Scott

    September 26, 2013
  42. Frank #

    I read your blog posts on this subject a couple of days ago and responded very positively. But as I’ve pondered what you wrote, I realize I don’t understand very clearly some of what you intend. I’d really like to see you write more on these subjects, so here goes …

    When you recommend people walk out of death-warmed-over liturgies, how do you imagine this will have the intended effect? How COULD it have the intended effect? Priests and bishops everywhere are surely all acutely aware of the large numbers of people who are leaving all the time. What difference will a few more make? Why should they care at all? They haven’t taken the crisis seriously up to this point, so what could possibly make them change?

    I’d also really like to read what you think these positive changes might look like, if they happened. When I became a Catholic 25 years ago, it was in a large, very liberal, Jesuit parish. The RCIA was a joke. But the full-time liturgist made sure those Sunday Masses were given extensive preparation. Still, the music was pretty bad — “On Eagles Wings,” etc. And the preaching was almost always abysmal. Yet surprisingly enough, the only good preacher in that parish happened to be one of the most liberal, and he made no attempt to hide it. I’m sure the conservatives hated him.

    So there’s a paradox: the only preacher I liked, at a time when I was becoming fairly conservative, was a liberal. And the parish expended much effort on its liturgies, but to me they were barely tolerable. I wanted chant, reverence, silence, awe, mystery. I see many of your commenters want the same thing, and recommend the Latin Mass as a way to find it. But over the years I’ve been to my share on Latin Masses, and frankly I found them just as sterile as any other liturgy.

    I’ve realized that, for me, whether a liturgy is traditional or modern isn’t really what matters. Fixating on details — whether the priest says, “Good morning!” or whether he dares to preach about one’s favorite social issue or Catholic doctrine, etc. — is all a distraction. No one thing, no one style, is going to solve this problem.

    The tenor of your writing makes me think your attitude might be somewhat similar. There’s a deeper reality that’s missing from what we find at Sunday Mass, and I don’t know exactly what it is, but I’d like to see you (or anyone) try to name it or describe it or hint at it.

    I think this last issue circles around to the one I started with. There must occasionally be priests and bishops who actually do care about good, spiritually nourishing liturgy. But when they try to do something about it, how do they decide what the right thing is? If they’re committed liberals or conservatives, they may think the answer lies in making liturgy conform more to liberal or conservative standards. If they’re not committed, they will probably be frightened of reactions from liberals and/or conservatives, and try to steer any changes right down the middle of the road, basing their decisions on whatever authoritative liturgical guidance they think they can rely on. Will any of these approaches work? I doubt it. But then, what would? And how would they, or we, go about finding it?

    September 26, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Ah, all good points for a much longer conversation. I hope to address some of them here in the future. I agree with so much of what you’re saying. I’ll do my best over the coming weeks to expound on some of this. I think it’s an uphill battle, and maybe none of the things I suggested will make a difference, BUT, maybe they will start people talking until we come up with something that will make a difference. I’m going to remain every hopeful.
      Peace,
      Mary

      September 27, 2013
  43. Father Jim #

    Thanks for both posts. They gave me a lot to think about and pray about. Thank you for challenging me to do a little soul searching. I hope more people would come up to me and give me criticism, pointers, suggestions and feedback on my homilies as well as my overall demeanor. The problem, from my perspective as a parish priest, is that most people think that they are powerless when it comes to what their parish presents on a Sunday. You have just as much to do with an overall great Sunday parish experience as I do. Enthusiasm is contagious. Get involved, participate and most importantly speak up. I WANT to know what you think, how to improve, what’s going on in your life and if anything i do or say is helping you in anyway. Those who have had a bad experience, they just seem to walk. They tell everyone about their bad experience or their complaints- everyone- except me – their priest. Confront me in person, in an email or a letter. The way you wrote this piece shows me that you are not complaining for the sake of complaining. You are begging for something more, because you love your church. I absolutely respect that. If you don’t like to confront your priest- a typical parish has a parish council, a liturgical committee, and probably a few other organizations that are comprised of parishioners who are supposed to present everyones observations and concerns to improve their parish. You can talk to them. You can use these tools to help start a much needed conversation. Every priest and parish should always be asking the question, “how can I / WE improve”. You need to demand that your parish is feeding you! Your priests, your liturgies, your parish is there for YOU- never forget that. Mediocrity is the number one killer of any parish. It takes all of us to call it out when we see it and to always challenge it and to never accept it.

    September 26, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Dear Father Jim,
      Just based on your comment, it’s easy to see that you care a lot — and so your parish must feel that, even on days when the homily isn’t what you want it to be. That’s the thing. It’s not just the homily; it’s so much more. Unfortunately, I tried talking to my former pastor, as did my husband, to no avail. Many people have tried talking and taking it higher, but things have only gotten worse. So we left after years of putting up with a horrible situation. But we’re not finding anything to fill the void. And, because I have been in parishes that are thriving and I have been incredibly involved in liturgy and faith formation and retreat work and more, I know what I’m missing. Which is why I’m so passionate about this. I know what’s possible, and I feel sad when I see a church full of people week after week not getting anything to really lift them up. Unfortunately most people have given up expecting much from Mass, I think, so they just sit there and don’t say anything about it. At least in the places I’m referring to.

      Thank you so much for your comments. If you ever want to continue the conversation, email me through this blog and we can talk more. Hearing from priests helps me better understand your perspective.
      Peace,
      Mary

      September 27, 2013
  44. Deacon Steve #

    Mary thank you for sharing your frustrations. Even though you are not a member of my parish, your observations will help me when I do my homily preps. ne of the things that I have tried to take seriously over the 5 years I have been ordained, are my homilies. I try to make them fresh observations of how the Word proclaimed affects our daily lives (I do mean our, I try to never use “you” when preaching the message applies to us all). I try to use current examples and stories to illustrate the message and from the comments I get I think I have been mostly successful (I will admit that some have not gone well, but no one is perfect). I have found that having people I can trust to critique my homilies helps me to improve my preaching. Those that critique must be willing to tell me when I have not preached well, or if the message was good, but the delivery could have been better. I can accept praise from them because I know they will be honest with me if I don’t do a good job. Perhaps you could suggests to the priests at your parish some kind of small group that would help him by giving him feedback, both positive and negative. We even did a small group discussion on the upcoming Sunday’s readings with our Life Teen group to break open the word and hear what it said to them. I would then use their discussion and comments to craft my homily. It was very effective. They helped come up with examples that were relevant to the teens, and tied into what they were hearing in the readings.

    September 30, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thank you for your response. All of the things you mentioned make for compelling homilies, I think. They remind me of things I try to use when I write a column (or a talk). Like you, I usually have someone read my column before I submit it so I can get some honest feedback. And I certainly know that not every one is a home run. :-) But, as I’ve said before, I don’t think anyone expects that — I certainly don’t. Only that there be something in the liturgy that leads people forward and lifts them up. Maybe it’s the homily or the music or the community or all of the above, but when everything fails to do that, we’ve got a problem. And that’s what I’ve been experiencing on a regular and long-term basis in multiple places. All systems failing. And from what I’m hearing from others, I am not alone, sadly.

      God bless you in your ministry!
      Peace

      September 30, 2013
      • Deacon Steve #

        Thank you Mary for your response. I am working on my Master’s in Theology and I am taking as many Liturgical Theology classes as I can. One of the things I am seeing as a result is that we rush through the Liturgy and don’t appreciate the prayers that are part of it. In general we tend to try to fill everything with song, but when the offertory song goes so long we miss the prayers over the gifts and the connection between the ordinary and the sacred as we present the bread and wine which will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. We rush through prayers and don’t hear them. One of our music directors commented that she was frustrated that the prayers of the faithful aren’t really prayers because we rush through them. The deacons read them and the cantor has the people respond so quickly. So I have been pausing after I read the intention before inviting the response from the people, to allow it to penetrate and allow the people to make it their own prayer. I haven’t heard any feedback yet, but I have been doing it for 3 weeks to see what happens. I will keep you in my prayers, that you find a community that feeds your needs.

        September 30, 2013
  45. Yo. A priest friend of mine said he was horrified when he realized homiletics was an elective in his seminary. What about professional development in preaching well? Of course, I agree with you that it is not just about the homily, but the attitude that creates more symptoms.

    October 2, 2013
  46. Jim McCrea #

    “From sour-faced saints and silly devotions, good Lord, preserve us!” St. Theresa of Avila

    I would substitute “dismaying” for “silly,” but you get the point.

    And the weekend liturgy is the single point of real contact with this church for so very many Catholics. “New Evangelization,” indeed!

    October 3, 2013
  47. Don Miller #

    Mary,

    I am glad to say I don’t know where you are coming from. In 37 years as a Catholic, I don’t remember being tempted to walk out of a mass. I could go to any of our local parishes and “be fed” despite the range of politics and styles of liturgy here. Rather than suggest revolt among the disgruntled sheep, could you possibly have ideas that could prepare people to be hungry and open for the best gift of the week? Meditating on the readings, listening to or reading homilies before mass have helped me. I love Fr Barron’s preview homilies, which are available at wordonfire.org usually by Wednesday each week. I must say that I did judge one priest as being monotoned and hard to stay awake with, but my view was changed after going to him for confession. He was the best confessor ever, and afterward I was able to hear in his homilies the love he showed in the confessional. I wish everyone would sing like Lutherans and pray from the heart like Pentacostals, but I have to look in the mirror and ask if I am singing and present in prayer myself at each mass. My mother taught me to not be picky at the table and that has helped my in my spiritual life as well.

    February 25, 2014
  48. I appreciate, cause I found exactly what I used to be looking for.
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    March 28, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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