Sunday, November 28, 2010

Changing, and staying the same

The new liturgical year begins with Advent, and with this New Year comes…news.

One year from now, the Church throughout the English-speaking world will begin using a new translation of the Mass. This will have a direct impact on us at the very heart of our life together, so I wanted to tell you now, and let you know that together, we will all be preparing for the change throughout the coming year.

The Missal is the big red book from which the priest reads the prayers at Mass. The prayers and gestures of our current Missal were set by the Church in the late 1960’s, after the Second Vatican Council required that the Mass be changed from its previous form, which had been fairly consistent since the 1560’s. The contents of this new Missal were in Latin, as they have been since the third century or so.

Because the Council also directed that some parts of some Masses might be said sometimes in the local language of the faithful, the Missal was translated into many major languages of the world. These translations were done very quickly to make the official changes to the Mass available as soon as possible. The current English translation of the Missal comes from that time, and was introduced in 1970. It is the only version of the Mass many of us remember – and all of us are used to.

What is not changing is the Missal itself – the prayers and ceremonies that are the norm for the celebration of all (Latin-rite) Masses in the Church. The Missal has been slightly revised twice, once in 1974, and once in 2001, but the changes have mostly been new prayers, and feast days added to the calendar.

With this second revision, in 2001, the instructions that go with the ceremony were clarified, then made more explicit and understandable in a new English version. If you were at Saint Bernadette then, you probably did not notice any change at all, because here we have always celebrated Mass according to the intentions of the instructions, and didn’t need the new English texts to bring us into line with the mind and action of the Church. But many parishes did need that.

The changes to our English text have behind them the same motivations as that adjustment. The new translation is a more faithful rendering of the prayers of the Mass in both content and style. One of the reasons for this is the hurry in which our current version was prepared. There are not only inaccuracies from the actual form and content of the Mass, but inconsistencies within the English text itself, and even downright poor grammar.

The other reason is that when the translation was made, there was the explicit goal of simplifying the language. Now, there is a consensus within the Church that those texts were over-simplified, to the point of making the magnificent Mass into something banal, using lifeless, inelegant language to express the life-giving and elevating prayer of the Church. So the Mass will stay the same; only the English rendering of it will change.

Advent is the season when we prepare to receive the Lord. For several years now, I have used my bulletin letters to help you understand and appreciate the Sacred Liturgy and our celebration of it, because that is how, when, and where we receive the Lord Who Comes. Join me throughout the next three weeks to learn more about this change that is coming to make our encounter with Christ richer, deeper, and truer.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cast of Thousands

One of the funny things that kids express sometimes is the belief that we priests only celebrate Mass. What does Monsignor do the rest of the week, mommy? Equally mistaken is the idea, not limited to kids, that only we priests celebrate Mass. You know, light the candles and turn Father loose, and you’ve got Mass.

Well, this past weekend was a perfect demonstration of how not true that is. I was made particularly aware of how much work so many people were doing to make our Masses beautiful, rich, holy, and enjoyable.

First I appreciated all the volunteers who made up my Fearless Team to distribute and collect the cards for the offertory campaign. A large number of kids and some older folks worked to facilitate the daunting logistics of that in-pew appeal. I was marveling at how many there were, and how well they did their work.

And because I have been at all the Masses the past two weekends, I have seen our musicians working to make Mass sound as beautiful as God’s presence itself. They come during the week to rehearse, show up early to warm up and practice, and work hard throughout to help us all pray. That is a lot of people, and a lot of their time.

Of course, you all see the altar servers. They come early too, and work beforehand and afterward. They have to be on their toes throughout. Back in the dark days of snowstorms, once or twice we had no servers for Mass – though not a Sunday Mass, I think – and that is terrible.

Imagine how long Mass would take if we didn’t have Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion! The distribution of Holy Communion tales longer than any single part of the Mass already, as it is; without them, it would take another fifteen minutes. They have to coordinate their days with our schedules to make this beautiful encounter with God go so smoothly for us all.

And talk about unappreciated, but with a huge impact – the ushers! The SECOND longest part of Mass is the offertory, and the more skilled ushers we have, the faster and better that goes. Thank God for their help! I know we could use a few more who are willing to commit, and put their names and numbers on a list. Talk about something I would like to get for Christmas!
It takes a steady stream of volunteers to make our Children’s Liturgy run, too. No small feat, taking and holding the attention of all those small people, showing them Jesus in that day’s readings, and then bringing them all back to Mom and Dad.

Then there are the folks you don’t see. Unless you are the parent who drops off, you won’t see the volunteers in our babysitting program. Boy could we use more of those! I would LOVE to expand it to the 11:00, but that takes folks we just don’t have … yet.

Equally invisible are our sacristans, who are there long before and long after Mass to make sure everything is ordered properly. Again, imagine how clumsy our worship would be without their preparation.

Yep, we clergy get the microphone, and the wardrobe – but it takes a lot of willing souls to make Mass happen every Sunday as beautifully as it does here. Praise God for their fidelity -- and yours.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Talking head

Sometimes I feel like the parent of a teenager. Well, I think that’s the feeling – it seems to resonate with what I am hearing from those of you who are, actually, parents of teenagers. I can only guess, so you’ll have to let me know.

I feel like…every time I actually get to talk to you, I wind up nagging you about something. Take out the trash. Tuck in your shirt. Make your offertory commitment. Drive safely. Say your prayers.

I feel like… we never get to spend time together. You’re rushing to something; I’ve got something I am trying to get done. Somebody has a crisis, and you, or I, or both of us, have to rush to go do something about it.

I feel like… we are speaking two different languages. I don’t think I always understand what you’re saying to me, and I think I don’t do a good job of letting you understand me, and when we talk, it’s often not about anything important.

Here’s an actual kitchen conversation between Father DeRosa and me within the past month. Fr. D.: Do they know how much we love them? Me: Nope. Substitute “Mom” for him and “Dad” for me, and see if it fits parents of a teenager. You can easily figure out who are the “kids” we are talking about: Y’all.

So here I am this weekend, using my twelve minutes of your time for the week to nag you (Make your offertory commitment). And I hate it because it makes it hard for me to help you know why this is important; to know who you are.

In November, these last days of the liturgical year, the Scripture presented to us in the liturgy can be pretty apocalyptic – literally: end of the world, destruction of everything good, death and disaster. That’s just typical parental exaggeration, right? Who needs that bother?

Well, Holy Mother Church is trying to tell you the same thing the sainted mother of any seventeen-year-old who has a license and the car keys: you’re fabulous, but you’re mortal. It matters. Pay attention and choose wisely.

It’s not a subject that you rush to bring up with someone you love. You are mortal. You’re gonna die. No, it’s not something that is likely to happen terribly soon, except for a few of us…but we cannot be certain just who that is. You need to know that, so you can be ready.

And just like any teenage driver, you can take steps to make yourself safe. Many things – many very attractive, exciting, enjoyable, and popular things -- will not help you: Jesus said, "All that you see here--
the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

But thanks be to God, there IS something that you can do about it. There is someone who can make you safe from death’s darkness, the eternal oblivion that yearns to devour our unwary souls. Fasten your seatbelt: cling to Christ Jesus. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.

So, have a good time. Enjoy your friends. You are fabulous, but you are mortal. Drive safely. Make your offertory commitment. Say your prayers. I love you.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, November 07, 2010

How far will you go?

Since it isn’t really about numbers, much less money, I thought I would share with you today some of the human side of the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, for whom we are taking a collection today. I received an email this week from Father Brian Kane, a son of Saint Bernadette (and son of Michael and Karen Kane, regulars at the 9:00) currently deployed in Iraq.

First, Chaplain Kane sets the scene: We are enjoying cooler temperatures these days, low 90’s during the day, mid 70’s at night, a great improvement from the 110’s of last month. It almost makes you grateful for our November chill, doesn’t it? Then, he points out that his life hasn’t changed much since the troop drawdown: Soldiers still stop by every day seeking advice and support for a variety of issues or just to talk.

We do have fewer Catholic priests in country now, the other priest who has been here … with me will leave next week for a base that doesn’t have a priest. We are already starting to plan for Christmas Masses in southern Iraq. By Christmas there will probably only be two of us to cover southern Iraq. Thankfully we do receive a good amount of support to get to where we need to for Mass. We also will be starting an RCIA class for soldiers and civilians who are interested in joining the Catholic Church, I believe there are at least 10 people... We celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day here with special Masses at our Chapel. So, as you regard this yet-another-second-collection, bring to mind this image of the Church, alive and giving life even in a war zone, to our own men and women so eager for the Word of Life, worshiping God and praying with us in an alien land, under the pastoral care of “One of Our Own.”

Closer to home, some of you were unnerved by the clipboards and counters in recent weeks that are the hallmark of the annual Archdiocesan October Count, when every head in every Sunday Mass in every parish is counted. October is chosen because it is a reliably “normal” month – no holidays (Christmas or Easter) to skew the count up, and nothing (summer vacation, Thanksgiving, snowstorms) to skew the count down.

I want to thank the ushers and the volunteers who made the time and took the effort to do the counting; it meant often you were not able to pay full attention to the homily, and I know that is a sacrifice.

I was somewhat disappointed in the results. It is hard to compare this year’s number to last year’s, because the second half of last October was when we had that huge flu outbreak and many people stayed home from school, work, and church. But after previous years had been climbing, the number is down from 1254 Massgoers on average each Sunday two years ago, to 1210 this year.

The 11:00 Mass is growing, but the 7:30 is shrinking, and the 9:00, big as it is, seems to be down too. The Vigil Mass fluctuates wildly. 1210 individuals at Mass is not exactly a strong showing for a parish with 1240 registered households of 3747 people -- and that number is very current, since we have been maintaining our registration database closely.

Think of those service men and women who endure heat and hostility and crave the possibility of being present for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Give thanks to God for His presence in our midst, and encourage someone you love to come as well. It is a matter of life and grace, not numbers.

Monsignor Smith