Saturday, October 15, 2005

Liturgy on Demand?

It's a weekend morning and there's nothing to do. And so, Rock blogs again....

There's been a bit of controversy in some quarters over a recent directive from Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton. In a pastoral letter issued last week, Martino -- the smartest person you will ever meet, ever, and one of the sweetest to boot -- reinforced the canonical provision that a priest is to celebrate but one Mass a day, two with permission of the competent authority and, in extreme cases, three on Sundays and holy days of obligation (again, with the consent of his superior). As he put it:
So august is God’s gift of the Eucharist, so important is the spiritual preparation for it, so careful and attentive must its celebration be, and so essential the thanksgiving to be made afterward as priests carry forth its grace to the rest of their ministry, that the multiplication of this central act in a priest’s daily life runs the risk of diminishing the value he places on it. Such a danger imperils the whole community of faith along with its priest. The law, therefore, is not an arbitrary one. It provides an essential means of fostering the holiness of the Church’s faithful.
But some conservatives have taken to having a conniption about the church's ancient law and are taking it out on Bishop Martino, accusing him of manufacturing a priest shortage, encouraging laziness, being arbitrary, and one zealot went so far as to call him a clown.

I have to ask: Am I missing something here? Because, per usual, Joe Martino's so right on this one, and his critics are, per usual, so terribly off the mark. And this is the audience that should love the man -- not many bishops find it terribly imperative to write a pastoral letter on chastity, but Martino did.

You don't need me to tell you that a great many priests these days are overworked and overburdened, and anyone who isn't is almost an anomaly. But the criticism of the good bishop's move seems to manifest an undercurrent that the function of the priest is solely to be a sacrament dispenser -- that ministering to the sick, the aged, the grief-stricken, the poor, et al. is wishy-washy and he's only really performing his ministry when you can get a Host out of him, like some kind of vending machine you put an envelope into. Talk about spoilt laity with a deficient understanding of priesthood.

I've never been one for Masses where the priest runs at auctioneer speed. And when Joe Martino talks about the necessity of adequate preparation, he knows what he's talking about. There used to be a sign in our Seminary sacristy here that says, "Say this Mass as if it were your First Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass." And when it's one liturgy lined up after another, that preparation (both internally and in terms of the ars celebrandi) can often get sloppy. That doesn't serve the celebrant or the faithful well at all, does it now?

A great amount of hubbub has come up on the issue of Saturdays. Martino himself addresses this
Saturdays present us with a special challenge in this matter. Since it is a weekday, each priest, even with the special permission, may celebrate only two Masses. Parishes will therefore be obliged to rethink their priorities. Should the Saturday weekday morning Mass be eliminated in favor of a Saturday evening vigil Mass? Can nuptial Masses be scheduled on Friday evening instead of Saturday? Need every Church have a Saturday vigil Mass? Can neighboring parishes cooperate in the design of Mass schedules that will provide reasonable availability of Mass for all living in a particular area?
Guess what, campers -- this is a question that really needs to be thought about in a lot of places. But here's something: I've been to more than my fair share of weddings where the bride and groom are having the Nuptial Mass solely because it's what their parents had and their parents before them; one bride, I'm sad to say, memorably chewed gum through the whole first half of her Wedding Mass. I can't tell you how appalled I was, but nobody else seemed to give a fig.

In these cases -- where it's the first time the couple have actively participated in an ecclesiastical function since their Confirmation -- the Liturgy of the Word option could and should well be used as a substitute. To immediately go for the Mass option at the expense of the rest of the community could be seen as a devaluation of the Eucharist, almost a liturgical abuse. And the couple probably wouldn't gripe anyway, as they'd get more time for post-wedding posing for the photographer.

That's one down.... Comments?



Blogger Zadok the Roman said...

Bravo for Bishop Martino!
Given that the particular canon is almost universally ignored to the detriment of the dignity of the sacrament and the spiritual welfare of priests, it'll make it much easier for clergy to resist the unreasonable expectations of some members of the faithful and fellow clerics.

15/10/05 09:57  
Blogger RightJack said...

It's so important that this statement has come from the bishop. When local pastors try to implement the sane and sensible practices Martino puts in place here, they are trashed as lazy, uncaring priests. Yes, the Eucharist and preaching at it are the most important things I do in my parish, but many other tasks make legitimate demands on my time as well. We are killing our priests, the few who are left, and I rejoice that one bishop is caring for his presbyterate in a true pastoral fashion.

15/10/05 10:27  
Blogger Papabile said...

Kudos to Bishop Martino. The only thing I would disagree with is the consideration of eliminating the proper Saturday Mass in favor of an anticipated Mass for Sunday that night. A better solution would be to refocus his subjects on the importance of Sunday Mass, proper to Sunday, as outlined in Dies Domini.

Let's be straight here. Rocco knows that I am very close to those who are considered Cons, etc. Yes, in fact, I occasionally attend a Pian Rite Mass (though I attend the Pauline Rite normally). In fact, I am quite pissed at Fellay because I believe he blew the acknowledgement by the Holy Father that the Pian Rite Missal was never abrogated. He blew this for all of us, not just those attracted to his personal schism. (The acknowledgement of non-abrogation was drafted two months ago, though I doubt it will now ever see the light of day.)

The idea that trination and bination has become normal is absolutely outrageous. Those who do not understand the reasons for this need to go examine the history of the Mass.

15/10/05 10:40  
Blogger Fr. John said...

The faithful have a hard time understanding that priests are overworked, and that celebrating Mass well takes time, effort, planning and energy. After the Council, people were encouraged to seek special Masses for all sorts of occasions, but those days are gone forever. With a scheduled Saturday morning Mass, and a Saturday evening Mass, I currently break the rules every time I have a wedding or funeral Mass on a Saturday.

15/10/05 11:04  
Blogger Todd said...

Another thumbs up for Martino.

Regarding weddings, where did the rule emerge that the wedding Mass had to be a extra one? It would seem that a pastor can offer this option: if you want to get married at a Mass, do so at a regularly scheduled parish liturgy.

If couples opt for a liturgy of the word outside of Mass, that begs the preparation question as well: a priest still needs to prepare a homily.

But the anti-Martino howling reveals the soft underbelly of many Catholic conservatives: "It's about me and my sacramental needs!" How narcissistic and gauche!

15/10/05 11:33  
Blogger Deep Furrows said...

Wow! I truly like Todd's comment that Saturday evening Mass could be both a wedding Mass and a public Mass. Even so, I think it would be great if the wedding couple could have a strong participation in the planning of the Mass. Some things would be lost: for example the choice of special readings, but other things would be gained - including a restoration of the public, communal value of marriage.

15/10/05 12:35  
Blogger Todd said...

For the record, my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows at a Saturday night Mass. The pastor gave us the option of putting a "wedding reading" in place of the epistle of the day (an acceptable liturgical practice for ordinary Sundays), but we chose to stick with the whole set of Sunday readings.

The only "extra" we suggested was to place a dialogue form of the baptismal vows/Creed immediately after the homily, but before the Rite of Marriage to underscore the connection described in the Rite (no. 23) "Christ ... has already consecrated you in baptism ... "

I'd never suggest to a couple something I wasn't willing to do myself. I've been to three or four such weddings, but sadly, none since my own.

15/10/05 14:50  
Blogger patrick said...

When I visited the Czestochowa shrine in Poland, there was a wedding going on while there was a hubub of visitors and pilgrims noisily milling about and - I think - a public mass was said afterwards. Americans would never tolerate such a thing.

15/10/05 15:13  
Blogger Amy said...

On Dom's blog where they are discussing this, someone mentioned the practice in some Latin American - and perhaps other - countries - of having group weddings. No, not Moonie - Catholic. Good idea, as is a Saturday Vigil liturgy.

A priest of my acquaintance, ahem, told me of once having to preside at 10 Masses one weekend. I think it was one Satuday AM, 2 weddings, 1 Saturday night vigil, 5 Sunday parish liturgies and one nursing home Mass. It was, obviously a huge parish, and for some reason, he ended up the only guy on duty that weekend.

15/10/05 17:49  
Blogger Father Martin Fox said...

I agree with the bishop.

One comment: having a non-Mass wedding liturgy, instead of a Mass, is only some relief for the priest. Having a Friday evening wedding, or the Saturday Vigil Mass be the wedding, would be more help.

15/10/05 19:39  
Blogger Jeff said...


What did Fellay do to "blow" the Pope's acknowledgment of the non-abrogation of the Tridentine missal?

And why would the Pope not issue such a document--if he thought it "dignum et justum"--regardless of what Fellay did or said?

16/10/05 07:52  
Blogger Scrantonpriest said...

One difficulty I have with the Bishop’s attempt to reform the abuse of celebrating many more Masses than are canonically permitted, is the suggestion that 1. Weddings should take place on Fridays; 2. that the proper Mass of Saturday be sacrifice to the anticipated Sunday Mass on Saturday evening. The difficulty with Friday weddings is that Fridays remain penitential days, days in which the same law that prohibit a priest from trinating, forbid all Catholics from eating meat (unless an substitute penance is assumed in place of the abstinence). I would rather the Bishop simply encourage the use of the wedding ceremony without a Mass, perhaps within the context of a communion rite, rather than bring up the possibility of a Friday wedding. With Saturday Mass of anticipation replacing the Mass of Friday I find that we have gotten to the point now that a Mass of convenience, which has been responsible for weakening the pre-eminence of Sunday as the day of the Lord, is now going to in effect turn Saturday into an a-liturgical day. What Should happen is that only one Mass of anticipation should be celebrated in a denary, without music, or great solemnity, thus driving home the fact that this is outside the norm. After all a Mass of convenience is just that—a quickie, to help you get on with your day.

16/10/05 08:56  
Blogger David L Alexander said...

Scrantonpriest et al:

If couples are discouraged from having a Mass with their wedding vows, which is the norm when both parties are Catholic, you would have an instance where a lower authority is placing a restriction on that which a higher authority allows -- in fact, calls for.

I don't live in the Scranton diocese, so I'm not intimate with this problem. But it seems from my vantage point that more than one canonical cunundrum is being raised by this decree. I trust the good bishop has thought this through.

16/10/05 13:25  
Blogger justplaincath said...

David Alexander is right. Couples should NOT be discouraged from having a nuptial Mass, particularly when both parties are Catholic. In the olden days--when our parents married--the nuptial Mass was scheduled for 8 AM, because Catholics were still bound by the midnight fasting rule, so nuptial Masses were normatively EARLY. I imagine the Mass replaced the early Saturday mornig Mass, but no, that would have been at 7 AM.

Sometimes you can't go home again.
This is one of those times. The fasting rules aren't changing; the nuptial Masses should be permitted.
Perhaps the real relief for priests will come when more deacons officiate at weddings. Even though they may not say Mass, they can still perform a lovely Catholic service complete with all the music and dignity a Catholic couple needs to begin their married lives.

Ixnay on Friday weddings as a norm.

If we don't continue to keep the sacred Catholic in our weddings, we risk losing Catholics, expecially those whose intended is either not Catholic, or not strong in the faith, to churches who will provide a dignified, musical, thoughtful, and meaningful experience for the couple and their guests.

Let us not forget that the two most apostolic services we hold are weddings and funerals. That's when strangers to our faith gather and observe us. It should be very special, and very Catholic.


16/10/05 17:07  
Blogger Fr. John said...

Scranton priest raises an interesting question about the anticipated Mass on Saturday. As many parishes downsize or combine, it would be logical for this to be the first Mass to be eliminated. But this is not often done. When I suggested in my parish that if we were to eliminate one of our three Masses, it should be the anticipated Mass, there was great consternation. People rightly observed that half the parish would just go elsewhere.

16/10/05 19:17  
Blogger Papabile said...

justplaincath doesn't get it.

In the old days, the marriage ALWAYS took place outside the context of the Mass. The Nuptial Mass began after the exchange of vows and blessing. In fact, it often occured that the nuptial Mass would occur on a day seperate from the actual marriage.

The law governing bination and trination has been in effect for at least 1000 years. One reason for its establishment was that Priests had become preoccupied with the rcitation of multiple Masses to the detraction of other duties, such as care of souls, visiting the sick, providing Confession etc.

My main concern with the way Bishop Martino is doing this is that I do not believe he is contextualizing this properly.

I would say, fine, enforce bination/trination. But, then mandate much better availability of Confession, and mandate Priests visit the hospitals with the Sacrament personally.

Furthermore, I find it obnoxious that so many people are demanding Masses when they probably aren't even producing the requisite number of children the Church needs for its health. Nor, are they, to a large extent, producing Priests.(This statement is not aimed at any individual who commented here.)

The fact of the matter is, Priests are not simple Mass machines. It is the thing that is central to their Priesthood. It should not become so common that their ability to approach it with reverence and anything less than a reverent attitude is allowed to occur.


16/10/05 20:16  
Blogger Dom Dominic said...

I would say, fine, enforce bination/trination. But, then mandate much better availability of Confession, and mandate Priests visit the hospitals with the Sacrament personally.....
The fact of the matter is, Priests are not simple Mass machines.

Excellent Point!
Finding a priest in a hospital these days is close to impossible.
A couple months ago I was admitted to a "Catholic" hospital for observation as they thought I was at risk of having a stroke.
Though I am Old Catholic, I asked for the Roman Catholic chaplain, as the closest priest was two hours away. My thinking was, that it is better to have my affairs in order. (Confession, anointing, communion)
When a thirty-something lay woman walked in wearing jeans, hooded sweatshirt, and pulled a pyx out of her pocket and casually set it down on the tray table, I was stunned to say the least. Upon questioning, I discovered that she was the chaplain-- the Catholic Chaplain. When I stated I was expecting and wanted a priest, she became so irate and almost abusive, that my wife escorted her out.
"No priest is available today." she was told.

16/10/05 20:56  
Blogger Todd said...

Papabile, neither then are married couples baby-making consortia.

The problem is not in the quantity of lives (or life) but in its spiritual quality. Spirituality and earthly economics make for a bad combination.

Agreed with the point that limiting numbers of Masses is not just so the priest can enjoy some down time with a cigar and a martini. One suggestion I'd make is one hour of preparation for every minute of the Sunday homily.

16/10/05 21:54  
Blogger Fungulo said...

The date is early 1970s.

The place is Rome.

The juggernaut had yet again establiched the 'one Mass per day' rule.

A Naval chaplain makes his way to the front of the crowd and catches the attention of Papa Montini:

'Santo Padre, sometimes I celebrate nine Masses each Sunday.'

'Ah, Padre, the Mass is for the people' replies the sainted Montini.


16/10/05 21:54  
Blogger Shaun G said...

Regarding weddings being incorporated into a "regular" Mass:

I have often felt frustrated by those people who are not practicing Catholics, but who get married at a Catholic Church because they're too cowardly to disappoint their parents, or because the Church is just so pretty. They profane a sacrament so they can avoid an argument with Mom or score a fancy backdrop for their wedding pics. They may not believe in the sacrament, but have they no respect for those of us who do?

That's why having weddings at "regular" Masses makes such good sense.

For those couples who want a Mass for all the right reasons, it gives them the (invaluable) reassurance that the assembled church community welcomes their union and is ready to support them in their life together, particularly their spiritual life together.

And for those couples who want a Mass for all the wrong reasons, having to marry before the parish community should make it clearer to them that by doing so, they are disrespecting the faith of every person in those pews.

It may also dissuade those who are only marrying in the Church for aesthetic reasons — wouldn't they be mortified if, God forbid, a bag lady decided to worship in the front pew at that particular Mass?

P.S. — I may sound like I'm condemning nonpracticing Catholics who try to marry in the Church, but my complete stance is more pastoral. I do think couples interested in becoming married in the Church for the wrong reasons should be given the chance to attend Pre-Cana classes, so the Church can "make its case." I just don't think it's charitable to allow couples who persist in their charade to pile on their offenses.

17/10/05 00:51  
Blogger RightJack said...

Shaun G wrote:

"I have often felt frustrated by those people who are not practicing Catholics, but who get married at a Catholic Church because they're too cowardly to disappoint their parents, or because the Church is just so pretty."

I'm a parish priest who does a number of weddings every year. Although many of the couples who come for marriage have been away from Mass for some time, I can't remember the last time I worked with a couple who wanted a church wedding "for the sake of their parents." I meet with each couple four times and given the nature of our conversations, I believe I'd pick up on such insincerity. Because our church is near several country clubs and reception venues, I get frequent requests from couples who want to get married in our parish because it's close to the reception site. Unable to reach out pastorally to everyone, our parish policy asks that either the bride or groom, or their parents, have a legitimate connection to the parish. However, if the church is not otherwise booked and the out-of-parish couple has a priest friend/relative who will handle everything, we open our doors to their nuptials.

17/10/05 01:13  
Blogger David L Alexander said...

Papabile et al:

First of all, glad to hear you're alright. Maybe you can take possession of your weblog eventually. If you needed a vacation, couldn't you just say so?

Now then, rest assured, we all "get it" just fine. It's one thing for fallen-away Catholcs to expect a Mass with their wedding. But it is a matter of universal law that when both parties are Catholics, a Nuptial Mass is expected. They used to do a lot of things in the old days, which they stopped doing even by the "golden age" of the 1950s.

The good bishop may be trying to address a legitimate problem. But in the process, he's creating another one, which is no more likely to go away.

The upshot is, he's still got a problem.

18/10/05 08:42  

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