It takes a lot of things to have a faith-filled, joyful, and growing parish community. It takes a lot of work from the priest(s), the secretarial team, and the whole congregation, especially the volunteers that give their time and talent to ministries such as music and youth group. I have been reflecting often on things I have observed in many parishes that really demonstrate how different they can be from each other. This post is not a guide on how to have a perfect parish, but rather a reflection on qualities that can help keep the fire alive and burning brightly for the love of Christ and His Church.
True worship by the Congregation: Truly reverent music should make worshipping God the focus. Music should stir the soul to seek God, and help us to encounter Him, praise Him, and give Him glory where it is due. When we are participating in the mass, we should reverently and with joy express our thanksgiving to Christ for his presence in the Holy Eucharist. Compare songs like “They will know we are Christians”, “Gather us In”, and “Lord of the Dance” to a song like “How Great Thou Art” or “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”.
I could go on with examples, but I feel that the Catechism sums up this point quite perfectly: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy.” The composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition: “Address . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” (Ephesians 5:19) “He who sings prays twice.” (CCC1156) This doesn’t mean that songs about us being a congregation are necessarily wrong, but we must keep in mind that there is a time and place for certain songs. Some songs are better for a Worship rally or perhaps in an elementary school classroom.
Availability of the Sacraments: Speaking from experience, parishes where there is genuine emphasis on the importance of the sacraments flourish. If confession is made available to parishioners before most masses, they will be more likely to go. If weekday masses are offered after work hours or at lunch hours, parishioners may be more inclined to go after work or at their lunch hour. I know that it is really up to the priest to when those sacraments are made available, and I am truly grateful when a priest makes time to hear my confessions. Sadly, many will not go out of their way to schedule confession, and many more do not see that it is an important and soul-saving sacrament. This being said, the use of the sacraments should also not lead to the sin of presumption by those who frequent the sacrament, rather the acknowledgement of sinfulness, a need for forgiveness, and true contrition so as to strive to lead a holier life.
Reverence in Gesture: In the presence of Christ, we should acknowledge Him with our mind, heart, soul, and body. We must externalize that and acknowledge His presence. He is our King. He is God. When we kneel, kneel all the way down, right knee down always. Face the tabernacle, where Christ is truly present. Do this when you enter the church, before you sit at the pew, when you pass in front of the tabernacle, and when you leave the church. When we make the sign of the cross, do not sloppily move your hand as if it was dislocated. With intent, touch your head your chest, and then each shoulder. In itself, the sign of the cross is a prayer, and should remind us of the Holy Trinity and of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
If you are able, I recommend that you kneel down and receive the Eucharist on the tongue. Approaching Christ in this way humbles us, as we should be in His presence. While the Church does not demand us to receive the Eucharist on the tongue, it is the norm for the Church, and the Vatican has stated that people must not be discouraged from it. From personal experience I can say that doing so there is potential to receive grace. My encounters with Christ in this way have changed my life and I encourage others to consider giving it a try. Doing these physical gestures helps culture our hearts and minds to focus on what is actually happening during mass, adoration, and even in our own private prayer.
Availability of Resources: Lighthouse media has been a good investment for many parishes. It is perhaps easier for a family to listen to a CD while driving in the car than to commit the time to do a book study, for example. Its easy for people to share CDs with one another and converse about what was heard. Literature readily available at the entrance of the parishes is also helpful. Pamphlets about church teachings have been helpful for me, because they can be given to friends and family members who are curious about the faith.
Catechesis: From the pulpit, to the youth groups, to the Sunday school, to the marriage prep, parishioners need to know the teachings of the church. If the members of the parish don’t know what the church actually teaches, then they are truly being deprived of a solid way of living out the faith. It can result in negligence, abuse of the sacraments, and a self-taught faith that is actually not the faith of the Church. It can also lead to the life of a watered down faith and luke warm Catholics. In Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Catechesi Tradendae, he states that catechesis’ prime motive is to lead people to encounter Christ, and to help them live a truly Christian life. He also states that “the more the Church, whether on the local or the universal level, gives catechesis priority over other works and undertakings the results of which would be more spectacular, the more she finds in catechesis a strengthening of her internal life as a community of believers and of her external activity as a missionary Church.”
Community: When we are greeted at the parish doors every Sunday, its a nice feeling, but when there is no other investment in who we are in that community, that greeting may just become a routine. Many protestant churches have a fabulous sense of community because members make sure that everyone feels at home and that they belong. That parish community should be like family, where we can support each-other, call each-other to holiness. We should seek to really know who our parish family is, and who its members are. In addition to this, programs that encourage faith building both at the parish and in individual homes are an important way of building community. This could include married couple support groups, family catechesis programs, picnics, and feast day celebrations.
Youth groups: This ties into the subject of community, but I feel that it needs its own section. I’ve seen it before where youth groups start out strong because of NET teams or an introduction to Lifeteen Ministries to parishes. However, as soon as those responsible for starting up the programs must move to another parish or the vision is lost, the youth group falls apart or ends up in a hiatus that never seems to be revived because lack of funds or a coordinator. Unfortunately, some youth groups become only a weekly thing for fun and games and they might say a prayer at the beginning. Youth groups, for many of us, were where we were able to be with other Catholic youth that we could relate to. However while the growth of the community is incredibly important, the greater need is for youth to be encouraged to seek out Christ and to seek Him out with reverent hearts. This can be made possible by giving them opportunities to go to confession with the rest of the youth, encouraging them to pray with and for one another, and to helping them understand the teachings of the church.
Change does not happen overnight, and it can take many different kinds of investments from parishioners, the parish staff, and their diocese to ensure that parishes are able to help its members live out the gospel and grow in love of Christ and to one another. We are the Body of Christ, and we must care for ourselves and each other. It is only by the grace of God, prayer, and willing participation and love of the body of Christ that parishes can truly blossom. There must be a constant focus on Christ, with a ceaseless drive to want to love Him better. There must be orthodoxy. There must be charity. Let us pray for a new revival in parishes worldwide, that our hearts be set aflame with the love of Christ.
This soldier pierced the side of Christ, and after blood and water fell into his eyes, restoring his sight, he exclaimed “Indeed, this was the Son of God!”
May God restore sight in the blind of heart.
St.Longinus, pray for us!
It’s back, but only for a limited time! For those of you who have followed Team Orthodoxy for many years, you may remember that we used to have New Music Monday every week. As Mike prepares his blog for this week, I thought I would post this in the interim; Some sweet melodies to tide you over until Mike hands over the freshly cooked bacon of a blog. So here it is, your New Music Monday:
In honor of our old contributor Tony Fink, here’s a lil electronic from Andy Hunter’s upcoming album:
Now any close friends of Team Orthodoxy know we love the band Family Force 5. The old lead singer Slow Glow Activatur is now producing remixes for other people. Here is Deep Down (Soul Glow Activatur Remix) by Scientist.
And finally, a song for my wife, Judah and the Lion’s “Rich Kids”:
Have a good week, friends. Stay tuned for Mike’s blog coming soon.
“That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.“
St. John in the above Gospel tells us that our Blessed Lord desires and prays for the unity of his Bride, the Church. Christ, who is the Head, desires that the Church, His body, be fully united together in Him. This is the reason why He came to save us – so that we could be united with Him on earth and in Heaven. As Christians, we should also have this same desire for unity. I have been listening to Air1, which is a great Christian music radio station over the past few years. Recently they have introduced a special feature called “59 Seconds of Hope”. These are great little reminders to us as Christians to keep our eyes on Christ and keep moving in our Christian journey.
One of their segments has been on my mind and heart lately, as it is the biggest problem that the Church is facing today, namely that of unity. Levi Lusko, a protestant pastor and one of the “59 Seconds of Hope” speakers, reminds listeners that for Christians to really make an impact on the world, we all need to “come together in Jesus’ name”. Another protestant group called the Reset Movement has recently committed themselves to mobilize Christians in creating the “biggest Jesus Gathering” in the USA in 2016. While these people have the premise of a good idea, they are missing a very vital point. Truthfully speaking, changing the world on a global level will be impossible until we truly become united and reconciled as one Church. True unity does not simply constitute believing in the same God, the same “core tenants” and nothing more. Real Christian unity is rooted in complete allegiance to Jesus Christ and the Church which He established.
When Jesus said to St. Peter in Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it,” He definitively established His Church on the foundation of Peter. God knows that we as humans are weak in spirit, and that without a shepherd, we will scatter in all different directions. Jesus left us the Church, with St. Peter as it’s head, to keep us in the fold, still knowing that people can and will walk away.
Our Lord is a King and when a King leaves his Kingdom for whatever the reason, he leaves someone in charge. When the king dies or has to pass on the care of the Kingdom to someone else, that person becomes the heir of the kingdom. This is what our Blessed Lord left us with through Apostolic Succession. Apostolic Succession is the direct line of Popes from Pope Francis right back to St. Peter. Jesus proclaimed that Peter was the rock that He was to build His Church on. He also promised that Hell would not prevail against her. In doing so, He promised that He will keep the Church free from error. If we really believe that Jesus is who He says He is, then we need to trust that our Lord has and will keep his promise of divine protection for the Church. History has proven this fact time and again. This is called Papal Infallibility. Papal Infallibility means that the Pope will never officially teach us (Ex Cathedra) incorrectly when it comes to faith and morals. Although elected Successors of Peter may sin or fail, God keeps His promise and protects His Church from falling into error in her teaching.
I was baptized Catholic as an infant, and as I have grown up, I have questioned my beliefs. I have considered other positions for major beliefs of the Church, everything from Jesus being present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, to moral teachings on things such as abortion, contraception, the true nature of marriage, etc. Every time, faith and reason has led me back to the Catholic Church-the Church that Jesus Christ established. Jesus tells us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we ever hope to be truly united in Christ, we need to trust that He means what He says. We need to trust that He knows what He is doing, and trust that those He left in charge will not lead us astray, and that His Church for 2,000 year has been protected from error.
All throughout the Church’s history, Jesus the Bridegroom has sought his Bride, the Church. in order to purify her and to become fully united with her. He consummated this covenant at Calvary on the marriage bed of the Cross. As the only way, the only truth, and the only life, logic dictates that our Lord can only have one Bride. As Christians, we simply cannot continue to remain separated from one another if we are to ever hope to make a significant impact on the world. St. Paul asked the Church of Corinth, “For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol’los,” are you not merely men? What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each….you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” Christians are meant to be united, but like St. Paul says, we belong to Christ.
The Catholic Church calls us to be united to Christ, through our pastors, and with the Successor of Peter at the head. We see that this is how the Apostles and the Early Church lived after Pentecost. They saw this as the model for unity, and it was in those times that the Gospel was being spread like wildfire and the world was awakened by the message of salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ. Thousands upon thousands converted not simply because the news was so good, but because the world could see that the “followers of the Way” were united together. Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, need a wholehearted return to Jesus, and need to assent to the Church which He established and not one created by someone else. Jesus is the Truth and the Truth does not change. The Church exists to defend and promote the Truth of Christ revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Unlike protestant denominations, the Catholic Church will never compromise those teachings because she realizes that these teachings are not hers to change. If the Church for 2,000 years has been sustained by the Holy Spirit from teaching error, and has remained united under one Lord, one faith, one baptism, why should we, as believers in Christ settle for anything less?
Below is a testimony from a previous protestant pastor and his wife, Scott and Kimberly Hahn.