If I were pastor, the Mass would be totally Christ-centered and I would concentrate on improving my flock’s spiritual diet by basing homilies on sold apologetics.
By Ken Foye
21 April 2021
As I write this piece it’s late Sunday morning, and my wife and I have just returned from Mass to our home in Hakodate, Japan. Going to Mass is always a great blessing, of course, because it is the occasion when we participate in the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of our Lord and receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
My wife, a Japanese convert to the Faith, sees certain things during the Mass that she doesn’t think should be part of it – and my list is even longer than hers. We do our best (and generally succeed) to put them out of our minds, though, and concentrate on why (or rather, Who) we are there for. He, after all, is the most important part of Mass. The only important part, really.
Having said that, here are the things we see at almost every Sunday Mass that I would put an end to in our parish if I were pastor – or better yet, throughout our entire ecclesiastical territory (the Diocese of Sapporo) if I were the bishop here:
There are three or four ladies who stand just inside the front door of the church before every Sunday Mass. They cheerily and enthusiastically say “ohayo gozaimasu” (“good morning”) to everyone who walks in.
They’re really nice and sweet. But if were the pastor or the bishop, I’d relieve them of their duties. We don’t go there for a social gathering. We aren’t attending a convention or going shopping at Walmart. We’re going there to worship God and to receive Him in the Eucharist. From the moment we set foot in the door, the tone should be set for nothing else.
On a visit home to the States a few years back, I went to Mass at one church I’d never been to before. One of the baby-boomer greeters placed me as a first-timer there, welcomed me, handed me a program for the Mass (why do they even have these, I thought) and then said to me, “I hope you enjoy our Mass today.”
What the heck. I wasn’t there to be entertained. There is a special sort of joy to be drawn from the Mass, true, but that’s quite a different thing from “enjoying” it as if it’s a form of amusement.
So, I say ditch the greeters. Having them may be well-meaning, but their presence sets an immediate tone – before the Mass even begins – that utterly lacks reverence for the truly supernatural faith event that’s about to happen. It reduces that supernatural event to a down-to-earth place that’s far, far beneath what it was even intended to be.
Confession Being Emphasized Only Twice a Year
At our parish, and I suspect in many others around the world, a big ballyhoo is made twice a year about going to Confession – during Lent and Advent. For the rest of the year, though, it’s almost as if Confession isn’t necessary. I wonder if many people in our parish actually think that Lent and Advent are the only times during the year when we have to go, or even can go, to Confession.
I hope they don’t believe that, but it wouldn’t be entirely their fault if they did – because Confession is barely stressed at all at our parish. It goes unmentioned during homilies, nor are there regular posted Confession times as there were three or four decades ago (and still are now) back in the parish where I grew up in Connecticut.
We can always make an appointment with the priest for Confession, but having weekly times for it – and frequently encouraging frequent Confession, including during homilies – would stress the importance of it. If the Church is a hospital for sinners, as Pope Francis has called it, Confession is the emergency room. Not that it must be made available on a “walk-in” basis 24 hours a day, but there should be at least one standard time slot each week when we can rely on a priest being there to bring God’s forgiveness to us.
Kneeling before our Lord and Savior present in the Blessed Sacrament should be as natural as breathing for Catholics. Why do many parishes these days seem to go out of their way to discourage it, if not outright prevent it, during Mass?
That so many bishops and priests, who proclaim to believe that Christ is actually present in the Blessed Sacrament, would seem to be so against kneeling before Him is beyond me.
At our parish, only four pews (the first row on either side of the main aisle, and the last two in the back) have kneelers. The front left row is reserved for the kids who pass the collection baskets during the offertory. The front right one, meanwhile, tends to go unoccupied because the lectors sit on one end of it, apparently leading others to believe that no one else is allowed to sit up there.
The rest of the pews used to have kneelers, but they were removed last year. The reason: not having them there makes it easier to clean the floor.
If I were pastor, I’d have the kneelers put back, or I’d at least have cushions available for people to kneel on. Or I’d do what so many parishes in Japan do, but for some reason our parish does not – I’d have people remove their shoes upon entering the church building and don parish-supplied slippers, which is the same custom followed whenever entering any Japanese home. That way, it would be easier to keep the floor clean even with kneelers present in every pew.
And along with that, I’d get my parishioners to start kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer and the pre-Communion “behold the Lamb of God” prayer. When it’s explained Who we kneel for, I’m confident the parish would soon fully see the necessity for it.
As it is now, my wife and I always try to get to Mass early enough to get to one of the few spots where kneelers are available. We usually succeed, but once in a while we don’t make it there before the few kneeler-available seats are taken – by people who then either don’t use them at all or, worse, use them as footrests.
If I were pastor, I’d change all that, and right quick.
“Emcees” at Mass
At our parish, a team of laypeople take turns each week basically “emceeing” the Mass. Like movie directors of sorts, they tell everyone when to stand up, when to sit down, and when each Scripture reading is about to be done. (They’d probably tell us when to kneel too – but, for the reasons detailed above, hardly anyone ever kneels.)
And it seems that many of the parishioners have become way too dependent on them. Once in a while, one of the “emcees” will forget to give their “stand up” or “sit down” cue – and most of the Mass attendees don’t stand up or sit down, even though they know (or should know) that it’s time to do so.
If I were pastor, I would wean them off of this dependency on “emcees” to tell them when to stand up or sit down. How would I wean them off? Simple – by getting rid of the “emcees.” It may cause some short-term confusion, but I’m confident that within a month, tops, people would get the hang of it.
One may ask why it’s such a problem having a layperson tell people to stand and sit. My response would be that getting rid of anything in Mass that takes away from its Christ-centeredness is not just a plus, but a necessity. Dismissing the “emcees” would set a tone by which the priest, and only the priest, is the one leading everyone to God in the Mass.
Lay Parishioners Making Announcements
At every Mass following the Prayer After Communion, our priest takes a seat and several members of the faithful – almost all of whom are members of the “long-timers clique” line up behind a microphone off to one side of the church to take turns making announcements. Sometimes, thankfully, they’re quick about it – but too often, they go on at length, they crack jokes (or at least try to), and sometimes, their mini-speeches result in everyone applauding for someone or something. My wife and I try to tune it out and just pray silently until the unnecessary side-show is over and the priest begins the Concluding Prayer.
This is supposed to be a Mass, not a miniature parish council meeting. If there are going to be announcements, at least they should be done by the priest just prior to beginning his homily, and he should be as brief as possible about it. If there’s an insistence on laypeople doing them, it should be after the Mass. From beginning to end, the Mass should be entirely focused on Christ in a total and uninterrupted manner. If I were the pastor, I’d make sure it was.
And last but not least…
Homilies Not Based on Solid Apologetics
Recently this Sunday Gospel, John 20:19-31, presented opportunities for homilists to teach and preach on at least three central elements of the Catholic faith. Verse 21 provides Scriptural grounding for the teaching authority of the Church and the infallibility of the Pope and the bishops in union with him. In verses 22-23, Christ establishes the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the need for the faithful to confess our sins to God through His priests. And verses 28-29 is one of several passages, and a powerful one at that, that prove that Jesus truly is God.
Were any of these messages conveyed to us during the homily today? Sadly – and not unexpectedly, I’m afraid – they were not. Instead we got a rather flowery lesson on childlike trusting that was focused on the “doubting Thomas” portion of the Gospel reading. While we do have to be like children before God (Matthew 18:3), that can’t be the totality of our discipleship (1 Corinthians 13:11) because we are called to advance and defend our Faith. We are best equipped to do that by hearing apologetics-based homilies on a regular basis.
Twenty or so years ago, had I been pressed by someone to explain any uniquely Catholic doctrines – the Eucharist, Marian beliefs, Purgatory, Peter and the papacy, the Sacraments, you name it – I would have been completely unable to explain them. Like most Catholics in recent years, I was too poorly catechized to be an effective defender of the One True Faith.
It was only when I came across solid apologetics – by reading the works of Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, and other Catholic authors – that I came to know the Faith more deeply and became better able to defend it. In 1995 Keating wrote:
Here’s a suggestion I make when speaking before clergy at priests’ study days. Invariably one of the priests asks, ‘What is the first thing you think we priests can do to advance the faith?’ I gave my usual response: Start basing your homilies on solid apologetics.What Catholics Really Believe, page 118
So there it is. Most Catholics are in dire need of remedial “classes” in the beliefs and doctrines of the Faith – what else can we say when most self-identified Catholics don’t even believe Christ is present in the Eucharist? – and there’s no better time or place than the homily.
As it is now, most homilies leave the faithful spiritually malnourished. They are entirely too focused on things that most of us already know – such as the need to be nice to others and to remember that God loves us. We need to hear things we don’t know, and too many of us simply don’t know enough about the Faith we profess to believe.
If I were pastor, I would concentrate on improving my flock’s spiritual diet – starting with homilies that don’t assuage, emote, or sentimentalize, but instead actually teach.
Ken Foye is an American Catholic living in the northern Japanese city of Hakodate, where he teaches English at Hokkaido University of Education. He reverted to the Faith while in Japan after many years as a lapsed Catholic, and is married to a Japanese convert to Catholicism. He has contributed to the Catholic publication OnePeterFive and prays the Rosary daily as a member of the World Apostolate of Fatima.