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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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KYRIE ELEISON or LORD HAVE MERCY (Penitential Act)

Back in the Christmas of 1985 the song “Kyrie” by the rock band Mr. Mister was all over the radio waves.  Religious people were surprised to hear the Greek words that are sometimes chanted at Mass:  Kyrie Eleison or Lord, have mercy. While I cannot speak for what was in the mind of the composer, one should take note that the image of wind to which it refers is often associated with the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.  After a cry for divine mercy, the song begins: “The wind blows hard against this mountainside, across the sea into my soul. It reaches into where I cannot hide, setting my feet upon the road. My heart is old, it holds my memories. My body burns a gem-like flame. Somewhere between the soul and soft machine is where I find myself again.”  We are composites of body and spirit.  While we live in the present, each of us is haunted by the past.  Our memories are a part of us.  We are pilgrims in this world, seeking to find ourselves and meaning. Nothing is hidden from God. His providence mysteriously guides our footsteps.  Crying out Kyrie Eleison over and over, the singer is saying Lord, have mercy “down the road that I must travel— through the darkness of the night.” This would not make a bad prayer. Next, the singer reflects upon the dreams of youth and wonders about the path he has taken.  How many times have we regretted some wrong choices or just different turns and thought about how our lives could have been very different? Ultimately we are all pilgrims and as Christians we are called to take up our crosses so as to follow Jesus. As fishers of men we are commissioned to take others with us into the boat of the Church, companions for the journey.  This too is referenced in the song: “Kyrie Eleison where I’m going, will you follow? Will you follow? Kyrie Eleison on a highway in the night. . . . Kyrie Eleison on a highway in the light. Kyrie Eleison down the road that I must travel.”

While we may live in a society that distorts virtue and vice, the Church has seen the emergence of the Divine Mercy devotion.  We admit we are sinners and that we desperately need forgiveness and healing. This mercy is linked to reconciliation with others, a truth proposed in Mark 11:25 prior to prayer and worship.  It is also the admonition of the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is the meaningful backdrop to the Confiteor as well.  The Kyrie at Mass will often include tropes or insertions to focus where we need assistance: healing the contrite, calling sinners and intercession.  Note that in the New Testament the forgiveness of sin and the liberation of the possessed is often associated with physical healings— the lame walk— the blind see— the deaf hear— the mute speak— the lepers are cleansed.  There is an intimate connection between the body and the soul. Indeed, the justified and glorified dead in Christ will be restored body and soul.  We will not be disembodied ghosts forever.  Our bodies will not remain corpses or dust. We will be made brand new and imperishable. The identity of each of us as a complete composite must be reassembled and healed. I have often thought that should we find ourselves facing eminent death, the cry we should make is precisely Kyrie Eleison or Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.  If this prayer should come from the heart and in true faith, we are assured that it will be heard.  The Mass celebrates both a saving death and resurrection.  The Mass is the incursion of eternity into our immediate time and space.  Thus it makes sense that we chant Lord, have mercy as we enter into the great mystery.

The Kyrie switches from “Lord, have mercy” to “Christ, have mercy” and back again to “Lord, have mercy.”  Our worship is directed to the Father, but it is Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, that makes possible our approach to God.  We struggle with our sins and our tendency to sin or concupiscence.  St. Paul speaks of this in Romans 7:19: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” We begin our worship as realists who know we are undeserving.  We are culpable for the passion and death of Jesus— the terrible price of our sins.  But we seek to take the Lord up on his offer of mercy.  As with the disciples, the devil has sought to claim us but Jesus snatches us from his hand. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).  Jesus vocalizes this prayer from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Toward the end of the penitential act there is what we might call a conditional or subjunctive “absolution” prayer. It is the remnant of a two-part oration from the former version of the Roman rite.  The Mass prayer (the Indulgentiam) was thought redundant and overly resembling the formula from confession: “May the Almighty and merciful God grant us + pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.” Particularly given the use of the vernacular, its omission helps to avoid confusion with the sacrament of penance. The Misereatur is now said once by the priest: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”

The penitential rite can be replaced by a sprinkling rite, especially during the Easter season.  We are reminded of our baptism when we became adopted sons and daughters of the Father, members of the Church, gifted with sanctifying grace and forgiven of sin. What we were can be restored by the gift of the Lord’s mercy. We are all Zacchaeus up a tree, and only Jesus can get us down (Luke 19:1-10).

CONFITEOR or I CONFESS (Penitential Act)

The admonition found in Scripture and echoed in the mission of the Church is “repent and believe.” We must make room for saving faith by contrition, penance and amendment of life. We acknowledge at the very beginning of the liturgy that Jesus’ fundamental mission which he shares with the Church is the forgiveness of sins. We admit that we are unworthy of divine mercy and yet we implore it as a gift that the Lord has promised to grant.  Left to ourselves, we cannot save ourselves.  The elect must be washed in the blood of the unblemished Lamb.  We must be one with Jesus who as man can offer an oblation and as a divine person can make it efficacious.  This posture is vital for those who desire to render pleasing worship to God.  Jesus is the All Holy One with whom we must be joined or grafted.  We admit from the start that we have fallen short and yet in Christ we can know absolution, transformation and unity with our great High Priest. 

Priest and people say this prayer together and yet for each it is deeply personal.  “I confess to Almighty God . . . .”  We confess our dependence upon God.  We are honest about our sinfulness.  This prayer runs against the grain of an arrogant world where too many rebel and literally shout in their dissent, “No one, not even God, can tell me what to do!”  Our confession is not of particular sins as in the sacrament of penance but rather of a sinful or spiritually wounded condition. Our approach to God is viewed through the immaculate prism of Mary’s Magnificat as “the handmaid of the Lord.” We can only truly please and worship the Lord if we (like her) are free of grievous sin.  She spoke her “fiat” for the whole human race; now we must speak for ourselves. Genuine humility will allow nothing of narcissism or hubris.  Literally we are asking the Lord to dispose us to grace.  The Confiteor is a surrender of the self to God and to the truth that God already knows about each and every one of us. It is also a corporate admission of fault and dependence before the believing community. As in the parable of the king who discovers someone improperly dressed for his banquet and has him thrown out, the Confiteor is an effort to put on the wedding garment of the Lamb— to put on Christ— so as to be properly prepared for the bounty that comes from the liturgy. One commenter has compared it to taking off one’s dirty shoes so as not to spoil the clean carpet of a neighbor’s home.  We want to leave our sins at the steps outside the doors to God’s house. But we must be careful.  My corrective is that we do not want to be Sunday saints and weekday sinners. It is more pressing that we should go out different from how we come in.  Maybe a better analogy would be to see the liturgy as a carwash? Made clean by grace we are to shine as brand new; praising God with the saints at Mass and reflecting Christ on the highways of the world outside the church. 

We cry out “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault or “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  The revised or dare I say “corrected” translation has us repeat these words three times.  Why?  It respects human nature and the fact that  notwithstanding our best intentions, we endure a constant struggle with concupiscence and sin.  We return to the confessional again and again, despite making the resolution to avoid sin and to change our lives. It acknowledges that we are a work in progress. The Mass itself is a re-presentation to which we return again and again even though the oblation is accomplished in time once and for all on Calvary. We repeatedly return so that the work that Christ has started in us will be accomplished.

As sinners we readily discern how we fall short in being Christ’s disciples in our thoughts, words and deeds.  While confession is good for the soul, many conceal secret selves where thoughts are tainted and hearts are corrupted.  We are each to some degree Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll concealing the darkness of Mister Hyde, coveting what does not belong to us, hating what we should love— all the time fearful of any exposure of the truth. We are ashamed or at least we should be.  If there should be no remorse or sorrow or contrition then we would assuredly become what Dr. Scott Peck calls “the people of the lie.” As for the sin of the lips, we live in a time of dire dysfunction in communication.  Calumny and mockery poisons discourse in the public forum, in Church dialogue and in family communion.  We seem to posit everyone as the enemy and the curse displaces the blessing.  This needs to change and there is no better place to start than at Mass.  We are called to love those who are hard to love, including those who hate us. When it comes to our deeds, we live in an age when every commandment is broken, often without concern. Indeed, some celebrate the deadly sins. Meanwhile, many who claim a high ground to Catholic discipleship either dissent quietly on matters of faith and morals or are culpable for failing to do the things we should do.  Such is the hypocrisy of those arguing for human rights and dignity while pandering to the exploitation of women, deriding unwanted immigrants as drug-dealing mongrels and rapists, promoting capital punishment as if it were a personal vendetta, and enabling the abortion of millions of children.  If we are to be like Jesus, we must not ignore the rights and needs of the poor, the forgotten and the oppressed.  Good or bad, the penitential rite demands that we face the truth about our sinfulness and brokenness. 

We invoke our brothers and sisters, as well as the Blessed Mother, because we know that none of us come to the Lord alone. This truth is so from the very beginning as most of us first come to be disciples as babies in the arms of our parents and godparents at the baptismal font, the womb of the Church. The Mass is a command performance where we come together as sinners hoping to become saints. We are called to avoid evil and to do good.  But we have all been found wanting. Especially today given Western materialism, we are the rich man who goes away sad because his possessions are many (Matthew 5:23-26). The focus is not upon particular sins but our general sinfulness and how we will always need Jesus as the Divine Mercy.  Christ must be our abiding treasure. Our Lord would have us love as he loves, beginning with God and then with ourselves and finally with others in the human family.

The Clowns at the Gate

The catalyst that facilitated the violation of the Capitol was not simply the agitation of a few gathered at one minor rally; rather, it was a disordered and chaotic reaction from a small contingent representative of millions of voters suffering angry disbelief at the election results.  Yes, this shock went to the top of the ticket, motivating charges of election fraud. Instead of transparency throughout, and a lack of graciousness from the winners, President Trump and all who supported him were maligned as fools and racists.  Instead, there should have been caution in speech and action without partisan rancor.  Trump lost the election with more votes than had Obama when he won. Our nation was still deeply divided and the President’s supporters remained energized by the populism of a leader that gave voice to millions of Americans who thought they were not being heard, or worse, villainized by critics on the left.  Indeed, even many moderate and conservative Republicans felt their party had been hijacked, creating tension between the executive and legislative branches. After the loss it was evident that both parties were being manipulated by opportunists.

Just look at the debates where ideas were shunted aside and every calumny and name-calling was employed to destroy the other side.  While President Trump was an expert at such combative jargon, both sides were reduced to this style of debate that attacks persons to the detriment of ideas and policies.  During the Obama and Trump and now the Biden administrations, instead of working with each other as fellow Americans, those in opposition are caricatured as dishonest, abusive and traitors. Today, business is done by presidential edict and not through congressional deliberation and consensus.  The real danger to American democracy is not to be found in a crowd of crazies and drunks that trespassed upon the Capitol, but by an atmosphere of perpetual partisanship where voices are not heard and little to nothing of substance gets done.  President Biden may have won the election with 81,268,924 million votes; but we cannot reunite a nation while smearing the 74,216,154 million that voted for President Trump.  January 6 will be remembered as reprehensible but not as a genuine threat to American democracy; our country is too resilient to be taken down by such foolishness. But, having said this, there are far more dangerous problems that professional politicians either ignore or reinterpret for their own benefit. No one in his or her right mind would compare what happened to D-Day or 9-11, or so I thought.  Let us stop being silly and get serious.  We need statesmen that govern and not politicians who are engaged in perpetual campaigning.  We need sober dialogue, a respect for persons and a renewed regard for the truth.  We need to get control over national debt, resolve the pandemic, devise a sustainable policy about immigration, ensure the security of our nation and our allies from military aggression and terrorism, and put America back to work.  We also have to face the hard truth that government cannot solve every problem by throwing money at it. 

It is joked that we have the best politicians “that money can buy” but the joke is on us and it is not funny.  We need men and women with personal integrity and corporate responsibility to govern wisely.

SIGN OF THE CROSS & GREETING

As with most Christian prayer, the Mass really begins with the priest and people making the sign of the cross. Indeed,  congregants have likely already blessed themselves with holy water in the saving sign by invoking the Trinity and recalling their baptism at the entry to the church. At the end of Mass they do the same by remembering their commission as prescribed in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus says: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Two essential truths of Christianity are invoked— the Cross by which we are redeemed and the chief revelation given to us of God as one but also as a Trinity of persons.  The signing in the cross serves as a dedication.  We are saved by the Cross and we belong to Christ. All that we are about to do (this saving work and collaboration between the priest and people) belongs and is directed to the Lord. 

The celebrant greets the faithful with the words, “The Lord be with you.”  The congregants respond, “And with your spirit.” Priest and people alike are welcomed into an encounter with the Lord.  Jesus Christ will lead us in the perfect worship of the Father. We acknowledge the God we cannot see and yet invite him into our souls.  This signifies something of our corporate faith and that we need to be in right relationship with each other and in a state of grace before our heavenly Father. At this point the celebrant may speak to the congregation in his own words regarding the specificity of the given liturgy.

INTROIT or ENTRANCE SONG

A prescribed antiphon (Introit) may be said or sung at the beginning of Mass.  If the priest recites it then it is moved to after the sign of the cross and greeting. On Sundays a religious hymn is frequently substituted to accompany an Entrance Procession. There is an antiphon for Holy Communion that can similarly be replaced by a sung hymn. Although not in the Roman Missal, an antiphon might be chanted during the Offertory; but usually it is either omitted or replaced with a hymn. While not strictly mandated by the rubrics, solemn Masses as on Holy Days and Sundays, most often in practice conclude with a recessional hymn.

After the Last Supper the Scriptures tell us that the apostles go singing to the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:30).  That which was celebrated in Passover celebration is now to be realized in time.  The time of their redemption is at hand.  They joyfully sing hymns of thanksgiving.  What do they sing?  No doubt they chant the great “Hallel” psalms of praise (113-118). The Lord would bring light from the darkness. Our Lord would endure betrayal by Judas and his arrest by the high priest’s guard. He enters into his prophesied passion and death. The Mass begins.  

The hymn can induce an atmosphere conducive to worship, unifying in song the congregated people of faith. Too often the lyrics of religious songs stray from the parameters of sacred music.  I often thought this was the case with much of the folk song (but not all) that we regularly sang in the days immediately after the transition to Mass in the vernacular.  All secular songs and many religious compositions work better on the radio and around the campfire than in the church.  The old Mass faced a similar dilemma, albeit when classical pieces became so elaborate that they overwhelmed the worship itself.  Pope Pius X favored a restoration of simplified Gregorian chant over the polyphony and orchestration that would be more at home in a concert hall. Somewhat in contradiction, I read Pope Benedict XVI lamented that the works of Mozart, Bach and others fell from use in the liturgy given that the compositions so powerfully raised hearts and minds to God and represented the highest expressions of human genius and creativity to honor almighty God in music. Nevertheless, liturgical music should find its home in the Mass, not as a disjointed entertainment but as an integrated prayer. Appropriate liturgical song reflects its particular placement and functionality in the liturgy as well as the theme (in the readings) or season in the liturgical calendar.  

When the processional reaches the altar, the priest and servers bow. Given that the tabernacle may be situated behind the main altar, they might genuflect instead.  There are many genuflections during Mass, directed to either the altar or tabernacle.  Sometimes it is wondered why some priests only bow. Most of the time this deviation from the norm simply has to do with aging ministers with bad knees and aching backs.  But the clergy do what they can, trusting that both God and the Church understand accommodations for age and fragility. (A traveling female friend tells me of a priest who is pushed in a wheelchair to a small table in front of the main altar of his church. Two men assist him at Mass by raising his arms and manipulating his frail hands. The parish is poor and lacks professional musicians but as soon as he begins to sing with his weak and wavering voice he is immediately accompanied by the congregation. My friend shares with a congregant after Mass, “It is too bad you do not have a healthy priest.” The parishioner sharply responds, “What do you mean?  We have our priest and the Mass, what more could we want?” The solidarity with the old sick priest and the underlying truth of what she says brings me to tears.  At  a time when the liturgy wars in the Church fight over accidentals, here is a community that knows what it is really all about.) Returning to the procession, if there is a deacon he may carry the Book of the Gospels, placing it on the altar.  At the time for the Gospel he will process with it from the Altar to the Ambo, visually illustrating the link between the table of the Eucharist and the table of the Word.  The priest (and the deacon) venerate the altar with a kiss. The altar is symbolic of Christ.  A server places the processional cross in its holder, facing the people.  Today it is mandated that there is a crucifix on the altar facing the priest.  Incense may be offered toward the altar.  If so it will later be used at the Ambo prior to the proclamation of the Gospel.  Later it will be offered over the gifts upon the altar and may include an incensing of the priest, other ministers and the assembled worshippers.  The meaning is always the same.  We desire our prayers to rise like the smoke of the incense to almighty God (see Psalm 141:2).