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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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Mass Attendance & Catholic Identity

Are any of us really surprised by decreasing Mass attendance? While I would not want to fall prey to any kind of faithless cynicism, I am often more astonished about why people continue to practice their faith. We are suffering from several generations of poor catechetical formation and Catholics who have lost a sense of their faith identity. The Ordinaries of the Archdiocese of Washington have honestly faced the problem.  Offering remedies, I am reminded of Cardinal McCarrick’s vibrant preaching and Cardinal Wuerl’s effectiveness as a teacher of faith.  They have prescribed what they could to help: breaking open the Scriptures, stirring the people to holiness, and showing how the faith has meaning and importance in their lives. Priests have sought to imitate this pattern in their religious education programs and in the messages from the pulpit.

However, there are many baptized Catholics who rarely or no longer attend Mass. Some shop around and find religious meaning in other churches. Many, perhaps the larger share, drop out entirely. Children might go to Catholic schools, but the majority is missing from the pews on Sunday. When I was at St. Mary’s in Upper Marlboro, MD, in the 1990’s, I polled the sixth grade about their Mass attendance. One week only two kids out of thirty-five had gone to church— and everyone was from a home with at least one Catholic parent. Of these two, one had gone to the Evangelical church of her father. Only one went to Sunday Mass. I am making no exaggeration. This is the state of affairs and things have worsened in light of the scandals. Those upon whom we had only a tenuous hold are escaping the grasp of the Church.

I recall being party to a group of priests discussing the situation.  What could we do to turn matters around?  A number of the guys mentioned accidentals: music, welcoming, fellowship, good preaching, etc. We seemed to forget that the exodus escalated back in the 1960’s when the ancient form of the liturgy with its ritual beauty and religious chant was shelved for experimental forms. Faithful Catholics remained with the Church despite bland prayers and trite music. However, as that generation has aged and died off, younger people found Catholic worship to be a poor imitation of what Protestants can offer. Even our small African-American churches with their Gospel Masses have borrowed the music and style of the Protestant Black churches. If our accent is simply upon such accidentals and entertainment, we are bound to fail. The new mega-churches put on a much better show and without the restraints of Catholic ritual or the appeals to a moral code that has been rejected out-of-hand. One of these local Protestant churches can hold 10,000 people and the number of annual converts dwarfed what the entire Archdiocese brought in through the RCIA.  Of course, we have more than a “come-on-down” attitude.  We require months of study and reflection.  Some say that we make it too hard to be a Catholic.  And yet, others like the fact that we insure people know what they are embracing.

While certainly we should make our churches welcoming places where the liturgies are well done and the preaching is moving and authentic, we will have to find new and more aggressive ways of reaching the hearts and minds of people who no longer enter our doors. If people truly believe that every Mass is a sacramental encounter with the living Christ, then we would not have the current decline in participation. People do not understand the Eucharist at the heart of our faith. It is here where we find Jesus most present, the one who gives meaning to our lives as well as mercy and healing. We need to rediscover our own evangelistic spirit and promote in every forum possible a genuine Christian formation. A corrective will be truly holy priests who offer reverent liturgies where we discover and celebrate the mystery of God. The corrected translation of the prayers is a great help.  The poison of dissent and spiritual laziness, even among priests, must be rooted out. When the tides of change, indifference and pain assault us all, the ark of Peter is the only sure refuge.  Shepherds must make a courageous stand for the Gospel of Life, without compromise, so as to compel people to make a choice for Christ’s kingdom or for the secular castles in the sand. Priests must also inform and empower the laity to render a credible witness.  They can reach people where the clergy are unable to go.  Our Lord, himself, sent out the seventy to spread the saving Word.

Discussion on the Post

AMBER:

Your entry brought to mind my thankfulness for my Protestant beginnings. I “get it” (so to speak) and will work diligently to be sure my children are properly taught the faith. I do not want them to grow up and become complacent.  I think, while the Church should play a role in this, the parents are the key to ensuring that our children continue in the faith when they are no longer under our roof.

The parish I attend is wonderful in many ways but the music is seriously lacking and I very much miss the music from my Protestant church. How I would love to attend a Mass in which we have the richness of classical baroque… something that moves the soul to a deeper meeting with God.

Unfortunately, many Protestant churches have replaced the altar for a stage and communion for a sermon… and they are missing the essentials of worship… to meet our Lord in the Eucharist… and to be in His presence.

I could never go back.

COLOSSUS:

Father Joe, you say a lot here that has been on my mind lately. I’m 42, a lifelong Catholic, and am only now beginning to realize how central the faith is to everything.

“Poor catechetical formation,” that says just about everything. I am going through reading the actual Catechism (the JP II revision) and find that it offers a coherent, well-reasoned, and deep view of the world. I am exploring the Tridentine Mass and daily/nightly prayer in both English and Latin.

It is as if I have lived my whole life inside a bank and have been complaining of poverty, without ever having asked “By the way, what’s in the vaults?”

I am enjoying your site, too!

CLIFF:

Part of the problem lies in some of standards of our CCD instruction. In our parish I would venture to say that more than half don’t even know their basic prayers or even how to say a rosary. The other thing is what they learn (or do not learn) from their parents.  If they don’t attend Mass or practice their faith, what can you expect from their children?

MARY:

I served as an extraordinary minister for several years at our church. When you have to prepare the hosts for Mass you really notice the attendance dropping. We have over 50 ministries at our church and are considered a “thriving” parish. However I have noticed that the “wine was running short.” I asked the pastor, of all the groups that get together at the parish, are there any who pray for the people of the parish? He said no. This disturbed me greatly. Nothing happens without prayer. God wants to pour out his grace on His people. He gave us the free will to choose. All we have to do is ask. I

We see in God’s creation an example of how the enemy robs our life from us. Many plants that are edible have poisonous look-alikes. One is life giving and one brings only death.

For a long time I have been walking around in a “false humility and a false spirit of poverty.” In the spiritual world these things misrepresent true humility and truly being poor in spirit. One is life giving the other brings only death. Just like the plants. God is not as concerned about the people who do not attend church. He is more concerned about the ones that do, and consider themselves to be righteous. Like I use to.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists four reasons why God became man:

  • To reconcile human beings to God the Father
  • That we might know God’s love
  • To be our Model of holiness
  • To make us partakers of the Divine nature

Jesus had to die so that He could be resurrected so that we can share in that divine nature.

You never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. I had to lose everything before I realized that. I lost my son, my sanity, my job, even my husband for a time. How many others are out there walking around like me? I seemed alright on the outside, but on the inside I was dying. My son’s body was the seed that had to be planted in the ground so that new life could spring up in me. For me it is not the end of the story…it is only the beginning.

Maybe the people who are not attending church are doing so because they see this in the people who do?  Which brings me back to the original question I asked the pastor… who prays for the people of this parish?

FATHER JOE:

The pastor prays daily for his parishioners and each Sunday at Mass for the people of the parish. Many are included in the petitions of the General Intercessions. Some parishes have special prayer groups. We should all pray for each other.

BRETT:

No, it is not in the Eucharist where we find Jesus most present. It is in the soup kitchens, the palliative care wards, the prisons and the refugee camps where He walks tall through the actions of those who may never darken a church’s door but live out the word of God through their daily lives. Feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless and visiting the lonely— THAT is where Jesus is most present.

FATHER JOE:

Such a reductionist view of Christianity might satisfy the horizontal litmus test of the Obama administration; however, it would not exhaust the vertical mystery of faith that true Christians maintain.  Our intervention in the world is not our starting point.  It begins with a personal and corporate faith in Jesus Christ.  The love of God always precedes the love of neighbor.  We are to love and worship the Lord with our whole hearts, minds and souls.  Only then can we love neighbor as we should.  Christianity and our relationship with Jesus cannot be reduced to social work.  Our love for God spills over into our love of neighbor.  Look at the late Mother Teresa.  She was dedicated to the poor, the sick and the oppressed.  And yet, they also spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament and participated at daily Mass.  She writes:  “I encourage you to make your Holy Hour through Mary, the cause of our joy, and you may discover that nowhere on earth are you more welcomed, nowhere on earth are you more loved, than by Jesus, living and truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make you soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in Heaven, and will help bring about an everlasting peace on earth.”

What is with the Angels in the Cherubic Hymn?

QUESTION:  The Catholic Melkites include in their liturgy a Cherubic Hymn where the Cherubim are called “many eyed” and the Seraphim are “six winged” and soaring on their “pinions”. Can you please take some time and explain some of the meaning?

ANSWER:

As for the Cherubic Hymn, the emphasis is that we enter into the angelic praise and glory to Almighty God. The Sanctus serves a similar purpose in the Roman Catholic liturgy: Holy, Holy, Holy. The more traditional Trisagion is found in our Good Friday Liturgy and is a component of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving Trinity, let us set aside the cares of life that we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.”

Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy [and] Mighty, Holy [and] Immortal, have mercy on us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

While the gravity is with God and not the angels, the description of the angels is taken from Isaiah 6:1-3.

“In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, a with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered. One cried out to the other: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!’”

The references to wings and eyes are all symbolism. Seraphim are pictured with six wings and are associated with the purification that comes from fire. Cherubim are imaged as with four wings and many eyes or faces. They are understood as all seeing. Catholic tradition places seraphim at the first rank of the angelic hosts and cherubim at the second. St. John of the Cross writes that the seraphim covering its face with its wings symbolize “the darkness of the intellect in God’s presence.” He continues that the covering of the feet symbolizes “the blinding and quenching of the affections of the will because of God.” It thus constitutes humility of the creature before the Creator.

“With the two remaining wings they flew, indicating both the flight of hope toward things that are not possessed and the elevation above all earthly or heavenly possessions that are not God” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 6.5).

VIDEO – Guide to the Mass

Responding to the Call to Worship

When I look at the depth of Catholic faith, I wonder why anyone would ever look anywhere else. Everything we need for spiritual meaning and salvation is here. Nevertheless, some inquirers dismiss the Church and others walk away. Speaking for myself, I would not want to forfeit the Eucharistic sacrifice or presence for anything. Why is it then that so many abandon or refuse to come home to the Catholic Church? I think the answer has to do with people wanting to feel wanted and the consolation that comes with close fellowship and the acceptance of others. Catholicism is a ritualistic church. Like the Jews before us, we have our traditions, priesthood, cultic oblation, and authority. We have formulas for everything. We dip our fingers into the water fount, we genuflect, we sit quietly, we cross ourselves, we pound our chests, we touch our foreheads, lips and hearts, we say, “Amen,” “And with your Spirit,” and offer a hand with the words, “Peace be with you.” There is no unnecessary talking in church. We do our duty, try not to snore during the homily, are careful not to drop the wafer and then head out the door. The first one to get to his or her car and start the engine wins. At least, this is what we imply by our mad race to the door.

Incense

Rev. 8:3: And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

Psalm 141:2: Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

Incense is only one of the many ceremonials in Catholic ritual and worship that are validated by the Bible. The fragrant smoke proved quite practical in outside processions against the pungent smells of the city streets. Sanitation not being what it is today, incense was very helpful on this account in old Rome. While there are references to the use of incense in the Bible, some of the early Christians avoided it because of cost and because it was also used by the pagans. After paganism was extinguished, this was no longer a concern. The smoke of the incense is a symbol of our prayer and our offering. It rises into the air just as we hope that our prayers will be taken up to the throne of God for a hearing.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Catholic Worship

Malachi 1:11: For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

Hebrews 13:10: We have an altar from which those who serve the tent [the tabernacle of the Jewish temple] have no right to eat.

The Bible tells us that there is a priesthood and sacrifice under the new covenant of Christ. There is no way that a service of the Word or a Protestant communion service can be considered the sacrificial act that prophecy and St. Paul speaks about. However, we do find such elements in the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church. We have an altar of sacrifice and a pure offering, nothing other than the body and blood of Christ in the sacramental species.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Only the Real Presence Demands Worthy Reception

1 Corinthians 11:27-29: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

St. Paul tells us that the unworthy reception of Holy Communion is a sacrilege; indeed, it desecrates the real body and blood of Christ. It is the ultimate in hypocrisy and blasphemy. Such an assertion that the sacrament might bring damnation instead of salvation must be seriously considered. Catholics in mortal sin should not receive the sacrament until that time that they have repented and the sin is absolved. If Holy Communion were no more than bread and wine, this assertion from St. Paul would make NO sense. How can a piece of bread or a sip of wine damn you for all eternity? How could such an empty symbolic gesture desecrate Christ, himself? They could not, unless Catholics are right and the bread and wine are truly transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.