Silence is Golden

As I mentioned in my blog last week, Fr Gerard gave an awesome sermon based on the first reading of that Sunday which was from the book of Kings – many of you will know it, it's one of my favourite passages. In this passage Elijah is told to wait on a mountain-side for God to pass by. Elijah sees a great wind, an earthquake and fire, but God is not in any of those things. Finally comes a gentle breeze and that is the presence of God.

Fr Gerard reminded us about God's presence in stillness. It is in peace, stillness and silence that we truly encounter God. He went on to say that in today's Church we should be less worried about the shortage of priests and more worried about the shortage of silence – that this shortage of silence is the true crisis of our times.

It got me thinking that silence is probably the reason I love week-day Masses so much. I love the stillness that comes with a Mass that is only attended by a few. I love the space to breathe and think and pray that comes with the lack of music. I love the peaceful feeling that is a Mass celebrated with quiet reverence rather than lots of bells and whistles. One of the most moving Masses I've attended was a 7pm Mass on a Wednesday night in the middle of winter (so it was pitch black outside) and there were only three of us in the congregation. It was perfectly quiet, it was intimate and there was an air of something very special taking place in front of us. Which of course there was!

The thing is though, that I don't enjoy this same silence in my personal life. In fact I avoid silence whenever I can. When I'm in the car my radio is going, at home it's either the TV or radio, my iPod is in my ears when I'm out walking, at work I'm surrounded by people all day. Even when I go to bed at night I fill my mind with a book until I'm too tired to stay awake. I'm not really sure why this is. I'm a thinker and a worrier so possibly it's my way of avoiding getting too trapped in my own head. 

Personally, I'd love to see more silence in our Sunday celebrations. Particularly at communion time and before Mass. I'm sure there are many of you out there who agree.

May I put my snout in the trough?

Marty's been wondering about something for a little while.

As Marty's sure you all know, some of what we give in the plate each Sunday goes toward the maintenance of the priests of our parishes and dioceses. This is only right and proper.

However, is this giving to our priests being compromised with the advent of the permanent diaconate? The 1983 Code of Canon Law reminds us that Deacons are clerics (after Paul VIs destruction of the minor orders).

Given that Clergy Trust Funds are for clergy, surely this means that permanent deacons now have access to monies that have been given for the upkeep of our priests? Is this fair?

Sure, I accept that permanent deacons are clerics. I do not accept that it is morally appropriate for all of them to be given money out of the clergy trust funds.

Why?

Simply this: I'm sure you're all aware that most permanent deacons are elderly. Most, if not all, have worked all their lives and ought to have retirement savings plans in place. Most will have children to support them in their old age. Priests have no such support.

Some permanent deacons are extremely wealthy.

How many permanent deacons have been ordained in the last 10 years? How would the possibility of their access to clergy funds affect priests who truly deserve it?

Marty would be ashamed if his father were to become a permanent deacon, then get his snout in the clergy fund trough.

What do you guys think? Should permanent deacons have access to money which has been given for the support of priests?

Baptism

One thing that really gets me hot under the collar is the practice of Baptism being celebrated during Sunday Mass. I don't have an issue with it occurring during Mass per se, just when a family who I have never seen before in the Church are suddenly there presenting themselves and/or their children for Baptism. You just know you will never see them again there on a Sunday either. Much like I suggested in last week's post, their motivation appears not to receive the full blessings of a sacrament and to commit their child to a life of involvement in the Church, but to tick off the cultural marker of baptism. (Some might even be more cynical and say that the motivation is about a future ticket into the local catholic school).

When I see the infant children of young parents who are regular in Mass practices and Church involvement being baptised, then I feel joy and priviledge in being witness to it all, and I am pleased to be part of a community where there is such a visible expression of renewal and growth being celebrated. It's the interlopers I have issue with – those who come in to "get done", sit in the front row throughout the Mass, unsure of the responses and when to sit/ stand/ kneel etc, generally the godparents are non-Catholic, and there is just a real sense of "playing a game" to it all. And for me it comes back to this notion of the sacraments being undervalued and given away.

Jesus, on the other hand, would probably rejoice that the family came to Mass and received the sacrament for their child, even if they only came that once and never again. He didnt seem to get hung up on this type of thing during his earthly ministry – he accepted people where they were and for who they were.

He might not judge these families as harshly as I do. But then, as my wife reminds me during my post-Mass debrief with her, I can be a grumpy old man at times :)

 

I never mention priests by name but…

So in this blog I've always been pretty careful not to mention any priests by name. There have been times when you all know who I'm talking about I'm sure, but I've generally tried to preserve people's anonymity. But today I want to talk about a specific priest and what he's doing right in his part of the world.

On Sunday I was at Mum and Dad's in Hamilton and, as I usually do when I'm home for the weekend, I parted ways with them as they went off to 7.30am Mass at the Cathedral and I travelled across town to St Pius at Melville. I do this because I just love Fr Gerard Boyce's sermons. They give me stuff to reflect on for the week, they often challenge what I think about things and I just feel "fed" when I've been there. I also enjoy his absolute reverence for the Mass and the respect he shows towards the mystery of the Eucharist. And he didn't disappoint this week, with a sermon about a crucial item missing in our Church today – silence.

But what I wanted to blog about isn't the idea of silence (I might save that for next week). I wanted to blog about the fact that Fr Gerard's church is absolutely full to the brim on Sundays. Packed. People standing at the back. And, I would estimate that around 50% of the congregation were my age and younger. LOTS of young families, more than you generally see in other parishes.

So what is Fr Gerard doing to pull in the crowds? Has he brought in a big worship band with drums and guitars? No, the hymns were all hymns that I remember from my childhood, and all played on the organ. Has he "softened" the message of the Church to appeal to a wider group of people? Definitely not. His sermons are to the point and hard-hitting and always based on what the Church teaches. Has he started a "cool" youth group with fun activities and trips? Nope. 

What Gerard is doing is being totally faithful to the Church. He is a "traditional" priest (as in, he sticks to the traditions). He follows the rubrics, he shows huge respect for the blessed Sacrament (I even saw him on the weekend taking the time to ensure the tabernacle was properly veilled),  and great reverence for Christ (bowing his head whenever he says Jesus' name). I guess it also doesn't hurt that he is very intelligent, very clever and very witty with his sermons. He is also compassionate in his work as the hospital chaplain – we had personal experience with this when my nana died.

Maybe some other parishes in our diocese should take note. We the young(ish) people don't want fanfare, drums and entertainment. We are thirsting for tradition, for ritual, for reverence and for all of the wonderful things our mother Church has to offer us.

Valuing the Sacraments

In our parish the annual First Communion programme is underway. Our parish priest, assisted by a teacher aide from our school, runs this programme over a twelve week period, one after school session per week. There's a group of about twenty pupils attending, the majority of them being from our Catholic school. There is an expectation that those enrolling for this programme will also be attending Mass each week as part of their preparation.

For some families, the commitment required to attend is too high, so their children do not make their First Communion. I have been approached on occasion in my capacity as school Principal to "have a word" with the Priest and see if a more concise programme can be offered "because people are busy". The majority of these parents simply want to "get their child done" – it's not about valuing a sacrament, it's about getting that cultural marker of First Communion ticked off as effortlessly as possible.

I remind them that they do not ask for the same brevity from their child's sports coaches/ music teachers etc in other after school programmes and encourage them to reflect on their attitudes and motivations towards the programme.

In another school that I am aware of, the entire preparatory programme consists of a one-off evening run by the staff of the school, and the Priest's only involvement comes during the Sunday when all children are presented for their First Communion. Now I don't know the reason why it is run this way with so little formation, and I try not to judge the comparative worth of that programme versus ours, but I personally struggle to see the point of offering it at all when there is no depth or significance attached to it.

The point of this post is not to bag schools but to highlight the growing devaluing of sacramental life. I have a couple of posts on this in the can which will appear in the coming weeks, this week's one is focussed on First Communion but the others will be on other sacraments.

What do the BF clan think – are we losing sight of what makes the sacraments sacred when we have a once over lightly approach? Or is it better to have a low expectation/ commitment, and kick on from there?

The Sign of Peace…

An interesting article here about the Sign of Peace.

The Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments have been studying the Sign of Peace and its place in the Mass since 2007. Nine years seems like an extraordinary amount of time to be researching a relatively small (both doctrinally and time-wise) part of the Mass. You may be wondering what amazing conclusions they have come to after nine years of study and consultation… well, their conclusion is that it should remain the same. The same words, the same place in the Mass.

HOWEVER, they are suggesting some education for Catholics world-wide about the correct way to participate in the Sign of Peace. The following are their four "no-nos":

…they should do everything possible to end "abuses" such as:

  • "The introduction of a 'song for peace,' which is nonexistent in the Roman rite."
  • "The movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves."
  • "The departure of the priest from the altar in order to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful."
  • People using the sign of peace at Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, ordinations and funerals to offer holiday greetings, congratulations or condolences.

A 'song of peace'???? Never heard or seen it done. Has anyone come across this practice? Sounds bizarre.

 

I have to slightly disagree with the second point – leaving your seat to exchange the sign of peace. In one of my past parishes there was one particular parishioner, an elderly gentleman who always sat on his own at Mass. He was generally known around the place as a very grumpy old man. He sat directly across the aisle from me at weekday Masses and I would always make a point of crossing the aisle and shaking his hand. If I hadn't he wouldn't have had anyone to share the Sign of Peace with. It's how I built up a bond with him. And you know what? I certainly saw his acidic nature with other parishioners, but he would've done anything for me. Because I included him and I guess because we shared Christ's peace.

 

The third point – the departure of the priest from the altar. I have seen this being abused, but on the other hand, I have seen beautiful examples of this as well. I have been at a Mass at a certain Auckland parish where the priest seemed to disappear into the congregation for ages while he shook everyone's hand up and down the central aisle. Meanwhile, we're all standing there waiting. But I've also been at a weekday Mass where there were only three of us present, plus the priest. It was a beautiful Mass, it was night time and it felt very intimate in a little chapel with just the four of us. Sharing the Sign of Peace with the priest at this Mass just felt appropriate. I've also been at a Mass where the priest left the altar to offer the Sign of Peace to a girl with Downs Syndrome who ran to the front and called out to him each week. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

 

The fourth point, about people using the Sign of Peace to say "Merry Christmas" or "Congratulations" I had never really thought about and I have to say I'm guilty of doing just those things. Particularly at Midnight Mass when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day and during Confirmation when you're shaking hands with a newly confirmed Catholic. I've also been guilty of giving a hug rather than a handshake. I used to sit directly behind this lovely old couple and at the sign of peace the husband would always lean over and give his wife a kiss on the check and a hug, and that always made me smile. 

 

On a normal Sunday however I do usually stick to the words, "Peace be with you." But I'm wondering now as I write this, how many other people say those words? I don't really notice when I'm at Mass. From memory I think most people just shake hands in silence, but that could be because I get in first.

 

Another thing the article brings up is that it's OK not to include the sign of peace "if it is foreseen that it will not take place properly," I absolutely agree with this. Many, many times I have been in a school Mass and said a silent prayer of thanks when the priest leaves out the Sign of Peace. Trying to tame 27 five year olds who think this is their opportunity to squeeze each other's hands off or shake as many hands as possible is not an easy task.

 

The other thing this brought to mind was the traditional Latin Mass – I seem to remember that there's a little sort of "hug" of peace which goes from the celebrant, to the other priests, to the deacons, to the altar servers. I remember being told that this is symbolic of the peace flowing down from the altar to the rest of the congregation. A beautiful idea, but I remember thinking at the time, if they want to symbolise it coming out to the people, why don't they actually take it out to the people in the pews? Why does it stop on the other side of the altar rail. Because surely that symbolises that the peace is only for those in the sanctuary, not for the common folk. 

 

Wow, who knew I had so much to say on the Sign of Peace? No wonder it took the Congregation nine years to study!

I just don’t feel it

Confession time. I know that Mary is a massive part of the Catholic faith and that what she did in saying her "yes" was an amazing example to us all. But I've just never had a big devotion to Mary.

I wonder if part of this is because I don't feel the need for a spiritual mother. I have a great Mum right here on earth. I wonder if I didn't have that experience of having a Mum to look after me, whether I would have felt closer to Mary. Also, I'm not a mother myself, so maybe that has a part to play.

I wonder if part of it is because as a child I was much more interested in the Martyrs. Their stories seemed much more exciting than Mary's story. In fact, as a child. I was much more fascinated by Gabriel than by Mary in the story of the Annunciation.

I also think that part of it is that we just don't know much about her. The Bible is so silent on Mary. What was she like as a person? What was her daily life like? What kind of Mum was she? What kind of wife was she? Was she terrified when she had to give birth in a stable? Who were her friends? Did she fully understand who her son was?

It's not that I have an aversion to Mary, not at all. Like I said before I think she is a role model of faith to us all. It's just that I don't feel any special link or devotion to her.

I have my "go-to" saints that I pester for different occassions. St Michael is a particular favourite of mine when I'm in need of protection. St Mary of the Cross is someone I call on when I'm needing help at work because she was a teacher too. St Peter is someone I'll talk to when I've made a big mistake. Maybe I don't have need to call on Mary because her main function was as a mother, and I'm not a mother.

Do you have "go-to" saints that you call on for different things? And am I the only one out here who doesn't feel a devotion to Our Lady?