The problem of Zombie-Robot parishioners and ‘active participation’.

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Have you ever sat in Mass and felt like this?! I know I have. There have been many times where I have just zoned out. I realise the priest has got to the end of his sermon and I haven’t really heard a word because I was daydreaming.

I suppose it doesn’t help when most other people around you are doing the same thing. To my horror, I realise that I have become one of those legendary Zombie-like parishioners that I used to marvel at as a child.

I remember the droning monotone chorus of the congregation during the creed, the robotic expressionless handshake of peace, the lifeless melody of the organ with literally 2 people singing out of the entire congregation. The ones who used to hit the ESCAPE button and walk out straight after communion – I guess they’d fulfilled their weekly obligation right? And yet we, and the same other people used to turn up week after week and filter up the isle into the same old pews that we almost seemed to be pre-programmed to return to.

A congregation of mindless robots.

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And it wasn’t as if our church wasn’t trying – they got the parishioners involved in the offertory procession, the choir, the readings and bidding prayers, they even got the children to go up onto the sanctuary during the consecration to see up close what the priest was doing. But still, before long it began to dawn on me that I really wasn’t getting anything out of Mass.

By age 13 I had stopped going. I just didn’t see the point. It was so boring. The people there were so boring. The final nail in the liturgical coffin for me was the ‘Teen’ mass. The cringeworthy band with their ‘Rock’ hymns, the priest trying to be cool, the fact that they were trying so hard to include and please us… It was just embarrassing.

I felt quite sorry for them in a way. I could see how hard the few motivated ones were trying to make it work, but it wasn’t cutting it. It didn’t have any interest whatsoever in going to a dead church full of robots. There was nothing in it for me.

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It wasn’t until 5 years later, age 18, when I had my first ridiculously powerful, life changing personal encounter with Jesus after a failed suicide attempt that I began returning to Mass.

Because of that encounter, I suddenly realised that Jesus Christ was real, alive, and truly present in the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist during Mass. In those first few weeks of returning to Church as a young adult, on my own, I remember how the words of the readings and the Holy Gospel would just fly accross the church out of the mouths of the readers and just penetrate my heart like a flaming spear. I remember getting butterflies in my tummy, and my heart racing as I approached Jesus in the Holy Eucharist for the first time in a long time. And I remember the gentle peace of Him, as He surrounded me with reassurance and calm during my first tentative steps of my conversion of heart, that I was wanted and loved by Him.

And yet, I was still surrounded by those loyal, yet long suffering mindless robots that surrounded me as a child. The droning creed, the robotic handshakes, the 2 lonely hymn singers… They were all still there! In some ways I found it quite funny 🙂 but I also found that it broke my heart. I was home, but my family were zombies.

I would just watch them week after week, just going through the motions. It was like they were asleep inside, while my heart was completely on fire for Jesus. I learned pretty quickly that I was not going to fit in.

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After another 10 years or so I began my Catholic studies at Maryvale university, and for the first time ever came accross the term “active participation” in the Vatican 2 document Sacrosanctum conciliumthe Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. I learned here that one of the main aims of the day in and around the 1960’s was to get the laity to participate more in the Mass. I was amazed because I thought the robotic zombie parishioner was a modern phenomenon. It seems not.

The other bombshell I learned was that up until the late 1960’s, the priest always used to say Mass with his back to the congregation!! I couldn’t believe it! Why on earth would he do that? The Mass before the late 1960’s was very different. It was said in Latin, the priest had his back to the congregation, people used to kneel to receive Holy Eucharist and would only receive on the tongue. Women were required to cover their hair in church, members of the congregation would often say rosary during Mass if they didn’t understand the Latin. Things were really different.

I can really understand why people were calling for reform in the church and pushing the idea of the “active participation” of the laity in the Mass. How easy would it be to zone out during Mass if you were just sitting there not even able to understand the language? So the Council Fathers developed this idea of active participation:

“14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.” – Sacrosanctum concilium

Although it was never actually an official part of the reforming documents of Vatican 2, the radically new idea of the priest facing the people began to creep in a few years later. The idea behind this was to make the people in the congregation feel more welcome, more involved and for the first time ever they could see what the priest was doing on the altar. It was all aimed at moving towards this idea of active participation.

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I can totally understand what they were trying to do in the late 1960’s, but 50 years later with obviously dwindling parishes, lack of religious vocations and widespread theological ignorance within the church, the million dollar question is:

Has this radical idea of active participation actually worked?

It was initially implemented to reduce parishioner zombification during Mass. But as i’m sure you will agree, the zombie robots are alive and well and STILL filling our churches today.

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Now, as you have probably heard, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, urged priests and bishops at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London on July 5 to start celebrating Masses ad orientem (with their back to the congregation) beginning on the first Sunday of Advent this year 2016.

This had caused uproar in the more progressive circles of the church as they believe it would take us back 5o years and undermine all the efforts made at active participation since then.

However I think they have got the wrong end of the stick here…

I think that it is pretty safe to say now that the active participation thing has not worked as intended. In all honestly, I think it has backfired massively and has actually drawn the people even further away from participating actively.

You see, the active participation that occurs currently is focused on outward signs and physical gestures. But this is not what active participation is meant to be. The true meaning is for the persons spirit to be actively involved in the mass, not though superficial things like carrying the offertory gifts, but to carry out our Baptismal ‘priestly’ role by offering our entire lives to God as Christ did on the Cross.

Of course it was never explained to me as a kid – or even as an adult that we are actually present at Calvary in real time during Mass. I never knew that. I also never realised that the Mass is something that is directed at God – not at the people. I never knew. The first time I realised that was during my first ever Tridentine (Traditional Latin) Mass where the priest had His back to me. When he lifted up the consecrated host with his back to me, I suddenly realised that Mass was not all about me. It was all about God.

We all face God. The priests offers the sacrifice on our behalf. Man is not the centre of the liturgy – Christ is.

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During Mass, by right and duty of my Baptism, my job is to offer my whole life – joined to the eternal sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, to God.

Why oh why did no-one ever tell me this? How can anyone possibly be luke warm during Mass armed with this knowledge? THIS is the active participation that we are meant to be carrying out during Mass – not joining the priest on the sanctuary or clapping during the Gloria.

I can see now that all those external participations actually served as distractions that drew my attention away from what I should really have been concentrating on internally. Even the priest himself can become a distraction during Mass – especially if he is young and handsome (yes, this has happened to me before during Mass *cringe*).

So to cut a very long argument short – I can totally see where Cardinal Sarah is coming from. He is trying to move the focus of the Mass back to where it should be – onto Christ, and eliminate the many distractions that have crept into the liturgy over the years. He is also trying to educate us as to the real meaning of “active participation”.

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There is one last thing…

Offering Mass this way would also be a wonderfully unitive thing to do with the Eastern Churches. They all offer Mass with the priest having his back to the congregation – they never changed. And as with everything in Catholic culture, this posture is highly symbolic. I spoke to my Byzantine friend who put it perfectly:

“Every movement in the Liturgy is symbolic. For instance, we face west during the exorcism part of the Baptism ceremony and then turn to the east (the altar) to declare our allegiance to Christ. It seems strange that the priest would face west to lead us in prayer/speaking to God on our behalf.”

Yes, that does seem strange when she puts it like that doesn’t it? I’m going to have to think more about that last part very, very carefully.

 

 

Scottish purple High Mass set.

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I’ve been extremely busy recently putting together this Gothic style High Mass set for the Latin Mass guys up in Scotland UK.

I’ve really enjoyed making this set – especially designing the embroidery.

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I decided to incorporate a celtic knot circle which traditionally represents eternity because there is no beginning or end to the knot or the circle. I also used thistles which are a national Scottish emblem, and by their thorny nature they are also an ancient symbol reminding us of our need for redemption. This large embroidery sits on the cope hood and also the back of the humeral veil:

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Back of the Cope.

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Back of the humeral veil.

I also added a practical aspect to the humeral veil of large inside pockets that are used to hide the Priest’s or Deacon’s hands while they carry the monstrance. This stops the issue of slipping and also means that the chance of the expensive material catching or wearing on the monstrance is lessened.

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Inside pockets on the sleeves of the humeral veil.

This particular set wanted 2 dalmatics with maniples, and one Deacon’s stole:

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In fact there were 3 maniples in total and one priest stole that looked rather nice if you put them all together like this…!

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Anyway here are the rest of the pics…

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Humeral veil, used when carrying the monstrance during adoration.

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Cope, used at anytime the priest is not offering Mass ie. Baptisms or Benediction.

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Gothic Chasuble, Stole (underneath Chasuble), Maniple (on wrist), Chalice veil (behind), and Burse.

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Priest Stole.

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If you’re interested in seeing some more of my vestments please visit www.diclara.co.uk  and like my Di Clara facebook page.

For enquires, please contact me through my website or email me direct at info@diclara.co.uk.

And if you haven’t told your priest about Di Clara yet, then perhaps it’s time you did 🙂

 

 

 

Fr Aidan Kieran: Why I find fasting so darn hard!

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Following my Little Way of Fasting article, Clare asked me if I would write a follow-up, to give an update on my progress, and all the graces that have poured into my life because of my fidelity to fasting.

Oh dear!

When I read the request, my face went the colour of Palm Sunday vestments!

The things is, I found it a struggle to do any fasting for a few months. My first reaction to the request was that it would be hypocritical of me to write such an article, having become a bit lax on the fasting front. But, for better or for worse, here is my reflection on my recent experience (or lack thereof) of fasting.

So what stopped me fasting? I can answer the question with one word: stress. I’ve been facing a couple of stressful situations in my life over the last few months. It became more difficult to pray, and it felt as if it was impossible to consider fasting. I just wanted to distract myself from the pain inside. The internet, sports on TV and food were my favourite distractions. In the middle of all this, I certainly had no appetite for depriving myself of even a cup of tea in the morning and offering it up to the Lord. I was being deprived of a large part of my sense of self-worth, so He wasn’t getting any more sacrifices from me. It was almost as if I was empty inside, and so had nothing to offer.

One thing I was managing to do, occasionally, was to expose the Blessed Sacrament in the church for a while after Mass and spend time with parishioners in adoration. However, when Lent drew near, I realised I had to make some effort to get back onto the wagon from which I had fallen. It was time to try fasting again.

And the truly amazing thing is that fasting began to work (little) miracles almost immediately. Almost as soon as I began doing without my morning cup of tea, I felt a little spiritual strength come back. I began to get a new perspective on the trials I was experiencing. I began to pray a little better, and I was a little stronger in the face of temptation to sin. It was as if even the minuscule sacrifice I was making was creating just enough room in my soul for the Holy Spirit to get to work. Remarkable! It was a most generous payback on what felt like such a small effort. It’s as if I had deposited some money in the bank, and received a lot of interest almost immediately.

It illustrates for me how generous Our Lord is to me, and to us all. Sometimes it feels like he asks to work long hours in the vineyard. But He rewards us so generously for the efforts we make for Him, even if they seem small to us. He can even use our half-hearted attempts as occasions of grace.

What I have learned in the last while is how we must draw from all the channels of grace in the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Reading the Word of God, Receiving and Adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Praying the Rosary, Going to Confession and Fasting are important channels through which grace can gush into our souls.

The Church encourages us to fast during Advent and Lent, and on Fridays throughout the year. What I have learned recently is that even the smallest effort of fasting, done with love and with prayer, is enough to open the endless channel of God’s grace into our lives. However many times I fail or give up, it doesn’t matter. Jesus is never going to give up on me, so I guess I will just keep joyfully trying in my little sacrifices, to show my love and gratitude for the big sacrifice He made for me on the cross.

We have just 1 week left before lent ends, so lets summon up all our strength and offer that one cup of tea, that one cigarette, that one biscuit. And lets offer it to God as little imperfect children would to a loving Father – with all the love we can find in our hearts.

Gunman attacks Priest, and then asks for Confession.

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I was shocked to hear the recent story of Fr John Hamlet. Fr Hamlet had been called out on an emergency hospital visit late at night on Ash Wednesday, but due to his car being currently in an unusable state he instead decided to catch a cab.

He managed to give the hospital patient the last rites and then after a short while started to make his way back home – this time on foot. He knew it was not advisable to be walking alone in that part of town late at night, but he did not have enough money to pay a second extortionate cab fare that evening – even though it was freezing cold.

As he turned into an alleyway that would shortcut 10 mins off his walk home, he suddenly realised he was being followed. He quickened his pace but soon realised that the end of the alleyway had been  blocked off by two dumpster bins. Before he knew it, Fr Hamlet was pushed into a doorway and a young man was holding a gun to his head.

“Give me your wallet” The young man shouted into his face. Terrified, Fr Hamlet agreed, and then indicated to the young man that he needed to unzip his coat to get his wallet from the inside pocket.

As he unzipped his coat the young man noticed his priestly collar and suddenly dropped the gun. “Oh I’m so sorry Father! I had no idea you were a priest – If I had known I never would have tried to rob you. I’m a terrible Catholic…” And the young man dropped to his knees and began to cry uncontrollably.

“That’s ok my son” said Fr Hamlet as he tried to console the young man. He asked the young man if he would like confession and the young gunman agreed. Feeling incredibly moved by the situation Fr Hamlet tried to make the young man feel better. “You know what – I don’t even have any money left in my wallet, but why don’t you take this packet of cigarettes instead? I know I could sure do with a smoke after tonight!”

“That is very kind of you Father” said the young man picking up his gun and placing it back in his trousers “But I’ve given up smoking for Lent!”

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Celibacy and the Priesthood.

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I was saddened recently to hear the extremely disturbing news of a priest who has recently decided to leave the priesthood to take up with an 18 year old girl. I’m not sure when the girl’s 18th birthday was, but I do know this is not a decision that would have happened over night. I understand he began thinking of leaving several months ago. How long were they involved before he decided to officially leave the priesthood? When did she turn 18?

It does raise the alarm bells for some extremely serious safeguarding issues that I very strongly hope are being fully investigated by his Bishop. God only knows what her parents are going through right now.

My hope is that he has the best intentions for this girl and has decided to do the right thing by her and marry her. Perhaps the obvious age gap will not cause a problem? Who am I to judge? After all she is an adult now – just, and legally able to make her own decisions. But then again, at 18, I was extremely naïve and vulnerable and an older man did take advantage of me.

I hope that his Fatherly background will ground them both solidly in the understanding of God’s plan for marriage and family and they will be able to live out this extremely important vocation for the rest of their lives. I hope he is making chastity a priority right now. But then again – I hear he is a supporter of gay marriage, and other equally false theological notions.

Somehow, his dodgy theology and his dodgy actions seem to complement each other perfectly. The man needs prayers. And so does that 18 year old kid.

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I’ve had long discussions recently regarding priestly celibacy. Personally I think it is a difficult argument to make when I see married Anglican convert priests often doing a better job than some of the celibate priests I know. These men are living proof that the duality of vocations is possible, and many of them describe the two vocations as complimenting each other rather than opposing:

“I am a Catholic (Anglican convert) priest, with lots of children, and a long happy marriage. My parish has 1,000 parishioners on a Sunday who appear very happy and cared for. I work extremely hard at both vocations and I understand the celibacy discipline. But my vocations aren’t in competition but are complimentary to the other. I not less committed to either. Both have sacramental graces and responsibilities attached to them.

I have a wife who is 100% behind me and children who are gracious in sharing me. It’s all of grace and I claim no power in it. I have to rely fully on God and listen to my wife, children and parishioners. It’s not always easy but when is either marriage or priesthood easy? It’s grace.”

However the beauty and incredible witness of celibacy are not to be overlooked:

“Besides all the practical benefits of a celibate priestly class there’s something even more important. The world is obsessed with sex and its advertisement, for the world it is the be all and end all. Celibacy shows the radical nature of the Faith, without it, not just the priesthood, but the whole faith would become something bland. It would be seen as just another part of life, when it is supposed to be life.

There’s also the added advantage of dealing with people that are having difficulties in relationships e.g., I was talking to a man suffering from SSA the other day and was able to talk to him about the heroic virtues without looking two faced. In other words, “We priests and religious can live life without sex or emotional relationships that involve intimacy and God will give you the grace to do it too!” It would be a very different case if I was married with four children.”

The fact that the other rites within the Catholic Church successfully have married priests and the fact that our Roman rite has not always required celibacy also makes the argument for celibacy more difficult. It would be naïve to think that the celibacy requirement did not have a lot to do with keeping money within the church rather than it going to widows of priests – but I’m sure the Roman Church would never be so materialistic, would it?

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I guess the best explanation I can understand is that a priest is called to love all equally with everything he can give, and in this way he is required to forgo exclusive relationships. I guess several decades ago when priests lived in community this would be good. The community would be the ‘family’ of the priest and stop him from having to endure isolation and all the temptations that come with that. But nowadays priests are more and more living alone. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Jesus always sent the disciples out in pairs, He didn’t expect anyone to go it alone.

And then there are the wonderful ex-priests I know who left to get married. Given the chance I know they would still be excellent priests today. Their decision to leave must have been agonising.

There is also the issue of older Deacons whose families have grown up and left home. They are already successfully dedicating themselves to their parishes. Would it not be reasonable for them to become Fr’s if they felt the calling? I know of one such deacon who did just this after his wife died. His adult children support him totally. But this situation is of course completely different to that of a young man with young children.

The jury is out for me on the issue of priestly celibacy. I can see major benefits and disadvantages to both states. And after all, it is a discipline not a doctrinal issue which means that it can be changed at any time. But I must say that I hold the deepest respect for those of you who are celibate priests, and who have given everything to serve God’s church. I pray for you everyday.

I must also make it crystal clear – in my eyes, an adult male leaving the priesthood to be with an 18 year old kid has very little to do with the issue of celibacy, and much more to do with the issue of sexual abuse.

2 Priests denied joint gym membership, because they are not “In a relationship”!

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I was talking to one of my online priest friends today. He is so funny – he is always cracking me up and I love him TO DEATH! (Of course I would never tell him that as he already suffers from chronic ego-itis 😉 )

He was telling me the story of how he went to sign up for the Gym in full cassock and dog collar but was denied joint membership with his parish priest because they were not “in a relationship”…

“How do you know we are not in a relationship?” he said. “We live together, we work together, we eat dinner together, heck – sometimes we even just chat, for fun.”

The poor receptionist was a little bemused: “But you’re a… a… a priest??!” 

“Yes, and what’s that got to do with it? How does one define what a ‘relationship’ is? Do you have the authority to tell me I am not in a relationship with my parish priest?”

“Are you a couple?”

“Errr… no. But we live together!”

“I’m sorry, the joint membership is only for couples.”

“What if we were gay? Would that be enough to get a joint gym membership?”

“Errr…. Yes! Are you gay?”

“No. But we do live together.”

“I’m sorry I don’t understand what you….”

“You know I could sue you for this under the discrimination act don’t you? What would Peter Tatchel say hey? Not much equality in this place is there? 😉 “

“To be eligible for the joint membership you have to be in a relationship sir.”

“What if I said we were a couple living together in a non-sexual relataionship? Would you give us joint membership then? We could get ‘married’ if that would help?”

“Errr… Yes? I mean no. I don’t know. All I know is that you have to be a couple sir.”

He left it at that, stopped teasing the poor receptionist and begrudgingly signed up for a significantly more expensive single persons membership!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was satire – but its not! It’s a true story! Ha!

THE MASS: 2015 – Will you take the Red Pill or Blue Pill?

Happy New Year 2015!!

What an Iconic film clip! I love that scene. It has so many parallels with our faith. Of course we are all slaves, born into the bondage of original sin. Our whole lives are a search for the truth.

The truth is of course that God exists, and He loves us. We know this because He sent His only son to die for us so that we may have a route to eternal life with Him. We celebrate this fact at every single Mass we go to.

I am so excited about learning more about the Mass. I really do not know very much at all at the moment because no-one has ever taught me – which I feel puts me in the perfect position to be sharing this journey with the rest of you. I bet that 90% of the readers of this blog know about as much as I do about the Mass (excluding of course the Priests who read this blog – and probably those lucky enough to be educated before 1965.)

I’m going to be using the CCC, the GIRM and the Roman Lectionary as reference points, and I am speaking behind the scenes to Priests about each blog post – just to make sure what I’m writing is correct. Of course it is not going to be a series of lectures – more a diary of my own understanding.

I will be looking at the different forms of the Mass: Novus Ordo, Tridentine, and also the Eastern rite, the Ordinatriate and the different religious orders: Dominican, Carmelite etc. I will be seeing how the Mass has changed over time, and how this has change the Mass. I will be discovering beauty and why this is important during Mass. And I will be discovering what is going in on in peoples minds and hearts during Mass, especially in the minds and hearts of our Priests. And many other things besides…

I’m very much looking forward to this, but there is also a part of me that is slightly hesitant. The Mass is the highest form of truth we have on earth. At the moment i’m quite comfortable in what I know and what I don’t know. I realise that there are some things I am going to be investigating that are not going to be easy to write about. I realise that by blogging about the Mass at all, I am stirring a hornets nest because people are very, very touchy about this subject.

I hope I do a good job. I choose the Red Pill…

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