"Zeal for your house will consume me" (Ps 69:9)

Thoughts of a parish priest…

The conversation sparked by Jimmy Fallon (the theologian?)


Having grown up in the 80s and 90s (turning 34 this week), I don’t remember the “Old Mass.” As a kid, I don’t remember Mass being something sacred or solemn, something that touched upon the divine, it was on the other hand, very casual and laid back and the music was usually very folksy. This is not said to discredit the wonderful community that gathered each week for prayer!

Had I not gone to seminary, had I not studied the history of the liturgical development throughout the centuries, I could have easily fallen into the trap of thinking that this is the way the Mass has always been.

On the day I was ordained, July 7th 2007, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued the document, Summorum Pontificum, which gave all priests in the world the ability to celebrate what is commonly referred to as the Old Mass, the Latin Mass, or the Trindentine Mass.  (I don’t think the release of the document had anything to do with my ordination, but it certainly makes it easier for me to remember it).

Prior to my ordination, I had only been to a couple of Latin Masses and really didn’t understand what was going on, as it seemed so different from what I had always experienced the Mass to be. It wasn’t until about 3 years after my ordination that I learned the Latin Mass for a group on Cape Cod that needed a priest to celebrate it for them each Sunday.

Now, my point here isn’t trying to set one Mass against the other. And I certainly don’t ascribe to the notion of the inherent evil of the Novus Ordo Mass or its invalidity, but I will say that learning the Old Mass helps me to celebrate the New Mass with more reverence and solemnity, and with a greater appreciation for the symbols and gestures and what they communicate. In fact, I think what I have experienced is precisely what Pope Benedict had hoped for, “ that the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.”

I don’t necessarily agree with each point made in the above article, but I do very much appreciate the closing lines:

“Reflecting on all of this, I can’t help but wonder if Jimmy Fallon might have told a different story if, when he decided to return to the Catholicism of his youth, what he had encountered had been something that was appropriately sacred and mysterious, rather than entertaining and frivolous. There is a power in reverence, an evangelical magnetism that transcends words. It draws you in, and makes you want to go deeper.

If we desire to bring people into the Church — or keep them there — we need our worship to reflect the sacred mysteries we celebrate. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324) and thus there is no more important aspect of the life of faith on which we should focus our attentions.” 

I think the musings of Jimmy Fallon about wanting the “Mass to be the Mass” does open up an opportunity for discussion about what the Mass is really all about and what the human heart really longs for when approaching the Altar of God – that experience of the sacred, of the divine, of the transcendent – the opportunity for the People of God to come together to worship HIM!


Discussing the faith with people who disagree…


Have you ever had a conversation with someone (often times another “Catholic”) who is upset with something about the Church? I have had many of these conversations as a parish priest and find that most of the time people are (righty) angry about things, but often times don’t have accurate information or have all the facts correct, which usually means their anger is misdirected.

Sometimes this is due to people getting their information from secular news sources or hearsay from friends or coworkers. Other times it is because the Church has failed to educate them well in matters of what the Church believes and teaches.

I recently watched this YouTube video of a priest friend of mine discussing matters of faith with some protesters outside his church a few years ago. The initial reason for the protest was the Vatican’s visitation (or investigation) or a particular group of nuns (LCWR) who were suspect of embracing things that were contrary to the Catholic Faith.

The video (and this blog post for that matter) is not really about the Vatican and the nuns at all. As you will see, these folks are quite angry about a number of things, most of which they have misunderstood and that has been the source of their anger and frustration. I will say that I think the priest in this video displays supernatural patience and charity in dealing with their angry protest and how rude they were to him, continually interrupting him and ganging up on him not allowing him to answer their questions. I think the virtue that he possessed at this moment is necessary for all of us having similar conversations, and I will be the first to say that it is not easy at all to do so.

I think the video also highlights that fact that many people have a variety of thoughts about the Church and what it believes and what it teaches. I think the priest does a fantastic job in challenging these people to clearly articulate what it is that they believe and their failure to do so illustrates that many are arguing from emotion and passion that is oftentimes not grounded in truth or reality. Note their persistence in what the Second Vatican Council was about and their inaccuracy in understanding it.

I often hear people say that they can get different answers from different priests or different Catholics and how this causes them such confusion in their pursuit of the truth! I had one parishioner ask a couple of years ago why I prayed for the souls in Purgatory, because the priest who was there before me taught them that Purgatory didn’t exist!

It is always tough when put in opposition to another person, especially another priest. But I always give the same answer – it is not about what I believe or any other priest believes, it is about what the Church believes and to find the answer we need to go directly to the sources themselves.

We are so blessed to have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the compendium of what the Church believes, which was published in 1992. While it doesn’t read like a novel, it is an excellent reference when discussing what the Church believes and teaches. It is only when we have all the facts and information that we can truly enter into a conversation that is based on more than emotion and feelings about any given issue.

I strongly recommend that every Catholic home purchase a Catechism! Let us all strive to understand what the Church truly believes before we engage in a conversation relying solely upon emotions and feelings.


Pope Francis and the Holy Mass

Pope Francis spoke recently about something that is very dear to me, namely, the importance of the Holy Mass as a mysterious and sacred encounter with the living God and more than just the gathering of Catholics to pray together.

He explained that Holy Mass is not just a “social act” or a “prayer gathering,” but the place where “the presence of the Lord is real, truly real.”

“When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t accomplish a representation of the Last Supper,” the pope said, explaining that, “IT IS the Last Supper itself.”


His comments made me think of an encounter I had a few years ago.  Just after I had finished celebrating the Holy Mass, I was asked by a member of the congregation, “Father, I noticed that when you say the Mass, you really don’t seem to be looking at us a whole lot. Why is that?” My initial reaction and response was “Well, when I celebrate the Mass, I am speaking to our Lord and not with the congregation.”

In response to this very good question, I attempted to clarify this common misconception that the Mass is primarily a dialogue between the priest and the congregation, or this sort of social gathering that the pope was referring to.

With the exception of just a few dialogical parts, i.e., “the Lord be with you …  lift up your hearts …” the Mass is not a dialogue between the priest and the congregation as if it were simply a performance reenacting the Last Supper. The Mass is a dialogue between us and Almighty God, a dialogue in which the priest is leading, but one in which everyone is (or should be) participating. 


Maybe we have never thought of it in these terms. Maybe we were formed in a way of thinking that leads us to believe that Mass is essentially about “us,” about what “we” get out of it, about how it makes “me” feel.  But if we listen closely to the prayers that are said during the Mass it becomes abundantly clear that we are speaking above all to God the Father. 

Msgr. Guido Marini, pontifical master of Liturgical Ceremonies, spoke of this very topic, explaining that, “theologically speaking, the holy Mass, as a matter of fact, is always addressed to God through Christ our Lord, and it would be a grievous error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is the community.”

Pope Francis has in essence invited us to plunge into the unfathomable and sacred mystery of the Mass! To do so, it is crucial that we first understand the very nature of the liturgy and to whom it is being directed. If we are truly to encounter our Lord in the breaking of the bread as did the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our hearts and minds must be open to and formed by the liturgical actions and prayers themselves. The Mass is ultimately about the worship and adoration of God, not about any emotional response it may invoke.


As a former high school chaplain, I often heard from the students, “I don’t get anything out of the Mass” or “It is so hard to pay attention or stay focused.” I don’t believe for a minute that this response is limited to teen-agers, even though they may express it in a more straightforward manner. The same is true, however, of any event or activity that we attend. If we are unfamiliar with what is happening or to the real beauty in how it is executed, then, certainly, we will not appreciate or be able to enter into it. 

For example, I remember the first professional soccer game that I went to in Italy. I knew the basic point of the game was to kick the ball into the opponents’ net and I knew that you couldn’t use your hands, but that was the extent of my awareness of the game. I didn’t understand strategy or the concept of being off-sides or how the individual players functioned together as a team. There was an initial excitement about being in a huge stadium with thousands of screaming Romans, but after that initial excitement faded away, I was quite bored. 

I imagine that this feeling is similar to that of those who “get nothing out of the Mass” or find it “boring.” When one is unfamiliar with the beauty and the sacredness of such an encounter with God, then that response is almost natural. The question that I continually asked myself as a high school chaplain, trying to foster in the students an appreciation and love for the Mass, was “How do we reclaim the sense of wonder and awe of the Mass that the generations of Catholics before us experienced?” How do we restore the sense of the sacred?


Over and over again, I came to the same two-fold conclusion. On the part of ministers of the Church, first we must persistently provide and embrace an ongoing catechesis for Catholics of all ages and states of life. How can we live out our faith and celebrate it liturgically if we are unaware of what we truly believe as Catholics? 

The second thing that is necessary is to provide reverent and solemn celebrations of the Mass allowing its natural beauty to lead us into contact with the presence of God. There is nothing I or any other priest can do to make the Mass more beautiful or engaging or interesting than it already is on its merits. At each Mass Jesus Christ becomes truly present — there is nothing more awesome than that.

These are the things the Church provides. Each of us, however, has the responsibility actively to seek to grow in our faith and not just go about things as passive members of the Church. If we are to “get more” out of the Mass, we ought first to strive to understand the Mass by reflecting upon how we approach Mass in the first place. We need to ask the question, “Is this about worshiping and praising God?” or “Is it about me and how it makes me feel?”

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The March Continues…

Two weeks ago I boarded a bus with members of my parish to travel to Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life, which commemorates the awful decision of our nation’s Supreme Court in 1973 to legalize abortion in our country. Each year on January 22nd people young and old (though the crowd is looking predominantly younger each year) participate in a peaceful march on our nation’s capital ending at the Supreme Court to voice our opposition to the “Roe vs Wade” decision and also to give a voice to the MOST vulnerable in society, those who do not have a voice of their own, the unborn!


You may or may not remember, but that was the same day that the East Coast was being hit by yet another snowstorm. We were about half way through CT when we heard that the Diocese had made the decision to call back all of the buses from the 5 High Schools that were heading down to DC. Disappointment overcame the people on the bus when I told them that we might have to turn around and head home! After considering the options, talking with the bus driver (and his boss) and looking at the forecast, we decided to press on and continue to Washington! The clear feeling of excitement and determination was truly present on the bus!


The normally 8-hour bus ride from MA to Washington, D.C. last 13 hours, but there was not a single complaint about the extra long ride or the freezing cold! The bus full of people truly understood that this was a “Pilgrimage” and accepted the challenges with a joyful heart! The young people on the bus led us in the recitation of the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet! Providentially, we watched the movie, “Restless heart” on the life and conversion of St. Augustine (one of the best movies on a the life of a saint that I have seen). The movie shows Augustine’s search for truth and meaning in his life – what a great inspiration for those of us preparing to March for Life.

Despite the FREEZING cold and snowy streets, there were still tens of thousands who gathered at the National Mall for the rally and March! Perhaps the cold and long bus ride were the reasons this was such a powerful experience for me personally. I have been going to the March since I was in high school, but this year, it just seemed so much more powerful! There was an obvious enthusiasm and sense of conviction in those present! If you have never been, think about joining us next year!

Now many probably don’t know much about the March for Life and that’s because the secular media doesn’t give it much coverage, probably because they are very much opposed to what we stand for and unlike St. Augustine, they aren’t really seeking truth themselves. But regardless of what the media shows or doesn’t, those present know the truth, that EVERY human life is SACRED and worth defending!


The March for Life is truly a great thing and one that I think most people should experience, if for no other reason than to witness so many young people united in positively standing up for what they believe! But the March for life is more than a trip to our nation’s capital, more than the rallies and speeches. It is also more than people being opposed to abortion, it is about being PROLIFE. It is a reunion of people who are committed to building the culture of life, coming together to remember a day and a court decision that is responsible for the death of over 55 MILLION PEOPLE!!! But the March is more than this too, it is an opportunity for those who are committed to defending life to recommit themselves to building a CULTURE OF LIFE!

You see, the work of the prolife community doesn’t culminate at the March for Life, but it is strengthened by it! Actually, the work of the prolife community really takes place when we get back from the March for Life! For us committed to building a culture of life as Blessed Pope John Paul II called us to is not just about changing laws, but about CHANGING HEARTS! It is our goal to convince people of the horrors of abortion, not just for the babies killed, but also for those mothers and fathers who lose their child in such a horrendous way, so that no one would ever again even consider such a thing.


For some of us, it is easy to call ourselves prolife, but it is much harder to actually work to bring about this culture of life. But there are practical ways in which we can (and MUST) do this. We can not just be against abortion, we must address the reasons why people would ever consider killing their child and work to help them in those crisis situations. What does being prolife require of us? For those who are afraid of bringing a child into the world, they need to know there are options other than abortion. Crisis pregnancy centers are an essential part of building this culture of life!

–   We should know where they are and who to contact when someone is in a crisis pregnancy

–   We should be donating time or money to crisis pregnancy centers

–  We should be educating ourselves and our young people about the horrors of abortion

–  We should be helping those who have had abortions with loving mercy and compassion.

If we are prolife, we must be committed to building a CULTURE OF LIFE!!! If we are prolife, we must always remember that the March for Life continues on after we leave Washington.