by Fr Richard Heilman | July 16, 2016 12:47 PM
As a parish priest, I am the shepherd (Pastor) of my flock. My sole responsibility is to lead my flock to heaven. Everything else I do is in service to that one grave responsibility given to me. I am not here to entertain folks while we muddle through our existence here on earth. I am not their social director on some kind of cruise ship of life. I am their “Father” in the family of God.
So, it is incumbent upon me to lead my people into a deep and loving relationship with God; a devout desire to please God in all they do, because they love Him so much.
I am in the camp, along with Jesus Christ and the many saints and theologians before our time, that sees the the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the very Source and Summit of our faith. The last half of my 28 years as a priest has been an amazing awakening to the *power* of the Mass made available to people, if they are open to receiving it. In that time period, I have worked very hard to offer the Mass in its purest form (weeding out modern innovations). There is no questioning that this has led to this “opening” to its power for my people.
It concerns me, to say the very least, that a very low percentage of baptized Catholics believe, any more, that the consecrated Holy Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. This drop from the “vast majority” to a “small minority” has occurred only in a very short span of 50 years.
So, those who are truly concerned, are all asking, “What happened during that period of time?”
Yes, there has been an unprecedented societal upheaval, but I believe “strong faith,” during that time, would have mitigated even that. Therefore, we are left to ask, what happened to the Source and Summit of our faith during that time?
At no other point in Church history was there ever such a radical change to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is a fact that cannot be ignored. And here is what happened on the heels of that radical change of the Mass (these 2002 statistics have only accelerated in the past 14 years):
“In 1965, only one percent of U.S. parishes were without a priest. Today, there are 3,000 priestless parishes, 15 percent of all U.S. parishes. Between 1965 and 2002, the number of seminarians dropped from 49,000 to 4,700, a decline of over 90 percent. In 1965, there were 104,000 teaching nuns. Today, there are 8,200, a decline of 94 percent. A 1958 Gallup Poll reported that three in four Catholics attended church on Sundays. A recent study by the University of Notre Dame found that only one in four now attend. Only 10 percent of lay religious teachers now accept Church teaching on contraception. Fifty-three percent believe a Catholic can have an abortion and remain a good Catholic. Sixty-five percent believe that Catholics may divorce and remarry. Seventy-seven percent believe one can be a good Catholic without going to Mass on Sundays. By one New York Times poll, 70 percent of all Catholics in the age group 18 to 44 believe the Eucharist is merely a ‘symbolic reminder’ of Jesus.”
I believe the following discussion I had with someone, speaks to the essential nature of restoring all of the elements of the Mass that led people to take their faith “seriously.”
Commenting on the ad orientem issue, someone said this, “I’m sorry but I see this as straining at gnats while swallowing camels. People are hungry to know about the faith first, then they might appreciate these nuanced issues.”
My reply was this,
In his classic spiritual work, The Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote:
“In so far as divine love beautifies our souls, and makes us pleasing to His divine Majesty, it is called grace; in so far as it gives us strength to do good, it is called charity; but when it reaches such a degree of perfection, that it makes us not only do the good, but do so carefully, frequently and readily, then it is called devotion.”
I think you hit exactly upon the point. Are people *really* hungry to know their faith? Much is written about the lack of catechesis in our times, yet we have never had greater access to knowledge, thanks to the internet, then we do now. So, this does not speak to the “dissemination of knowledge” as much as it does to the “desire for knowledge.” The old adage, “You can lead us a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” comes to mind.
So, what is the problem? A hunger to know one’s faith is driven by a fire within. Where’s the fire? When folks are ingesting a steady diet of banal, man-centered liturgies, there is very little to stoke this fire. In other words, they cease to participate in the free offer of supernatural grace (many no longer believe in such a power).
What you refer to as gnats, is actually a necessary movement to assist our people in receiving the first and most necessary Gift of the Holy Spirit – The Gift of Awe and Wonder, or Fear of the Lord. Right and reverent worship opens people to what the Mass is meant to do … to *be* the Source and Summit of their faith.
In prior years, folks were led, by way of profoundly reverent Masses, to a “devout life.” I have witnessed it in many, since we began to devote ourselves to offering reverent Masses. I know many young adults who had left the Church for years, until they encountered a truly “Sacred Mass.” Everything changed for them. Because such “seriousness” was given to offering the Mass, they could no longer avoid their call to take their faith “seriously.”
This, I believe, gets to the heart of the matter. Many use other words to describe what is happening today … I have chosen the word, “Serious.” Once someone breaks through to that level of dedication and devotion, they are “hungry” for “the more” of their faith. I have witnessed this too. Virtually all of the former young agnostics, I spoke of above, are now regularly quoting Aquinas.
So, any efforts to restore this “sacredness” and, therefore, the “seriousness” of the Mass is no gnat at all … it is the elephant in the room.
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