No more bread. A modest proposal.

Among the many excellent suggestions for improving liturgy and catechesis in light of the doctrinal confusion about the Eucharist among Catholics exposed by the recent Pew study, I haven’t seen this one: cut down on “bread” in the hymnals.

Leafing through at least two prominent hymnals intended for Catholic liturgy from two prominent publishers, anyone who takes the doctrine of the Real Presence seriously might well be astonished at the number of hymns prominently containing the word “bread.”

I recently flipped through 75 hymns intended for general, Catholic use, and found “bread” in 44.

Similarly striking but less common were uses of “grain” and “wine.”

Sometimes, but not nearly often  enough, the expression is given a context that clarifies its meaning: “living bread,” “bread of life,” “panis angelicus.” That is of course fine, particularly if the faithful are well-catechized. Astonishingly often, however, the “bread” stands alone.

Pastors who are concerned about the Pew finding may wish to carefully examine the texts of the hymns sung at liturgies in their parishes and dioceses.

The best of catechesis and homilies will never be hummed in the car on the way home, nor sung at the kitchen sink over the vegetables for Sunday dinner. When homilies have passed, hymns stay, and they should reflect Catholic doctrine.


Aurora velut fulgida, on the Assumption

By St. Peter Damian, my trans.

Just like the morning’s dawning bright
She rises to the heav’nly height,
Maria, splendid as the sun,
Just like the moon, most lovely one.

Today, the queen of all the earth—
Who to that Son has given birth
Who is, before the daystar shone—
Ascends unto her glorious throne.

Assumed above the angels, higher
Than every heav’nly angel choir
This single woman has outrun
The merits all the saints have won.

The One Whom in her lap she fed
And laid within a manger bed.
She sees as Lord of everything,
Now in His Father’s glory, King.

Virgin of virgins, intercede,
And with your Son with fervor plead.
He took up what is ours through you.
May what is His come through you, too.

Praise to the Father and the Son
And Paraclete, forever one,
Who in the saints’ and angels’ sight
Have clothed you in their glorious light.



A tale of two Catholicisms

A few years ago I wrote the following here. It only seems to have grown in relevance since, so I am taking the liberty of re-running it.

Live, from the orphanage

There is an interesting discussion going on about the reformed liturgy as practiced since Vatican II. The discussion concerns an expression of Cardinal Sarah’s: “too much man and not enough God.”

I would like to propose that this expression, while accurate, does not reach to the heart of the problem, which is philosophical and theological. The real liturgical question is this:

Is the firmament permeable, or not?

1) If God is absent from the world, separated by the bright line of an unbridgeable horizon from earthly life and in a noumenal realm, then we are on our own. We are orphan children of an absent God, making our own way, and depending primarily on each other. Petitions and hymns are discussions among ourselves about values. The congregation is the primary instantiation of community. The most appropriate posture is humans facing humans, closing the circle. Intelligibility is of highest importance.

2) If God is actively at work in the world here and now, on earth and in earthlings, continually strengthening and raising us, then liturgy is a privileged opportunity to meet God. Liturgical language expresses our dependence on God’s help. Petitions and hymns ask for more and more divine intervention, and not only for those present in one time and place, but for all people, living and the dead. The most appropriate posture involves all of the people facing the divine presence. Receptivity to grace is our highest action, and God Himself is of the highest importance.


Obviously there are multiple possible reasons for believing in one or another of these admittedly schematic theories of life, the universe and everything. But may I suggest that one possibility is the error of Esau, who sold his birthright for a nice dish of stew.

If God were absent from the world–which He is not–then we would be able to make our own morality. Right and wrong would be up to us. But it is not. And the cost of license would be much too high to pay.

One of the motivations for the reform of the reform–certainly my motivation–is that the reformed liturgy in its casual iterations leaves us feeling lonely for God. It distracts from prayer, rather than fostering recollection. It proposes a worldview in which we are stuck, alone, with what we have and who we are, rather than accurately expressing the truth, which, thanks be to God, is this:

the sky’s the limit.



Catholic Unbelief in the Eucharist

Much food for thought in this video. Even with good catechesis, will catechesis influence lives, without the concomitant formation of the imagination?

I remember talking with a 5th grader who said of the term transubstantiation “We’ve been haunted by that word for years!” I knew his good, teaching  pastor well, and was glad and not too surprised to hear that the teaching had been passed along. But now I wonder. Five years have passed since that conversation. The boy is a teenager, starting his sophomore year in high school. How is he doing? How will he be in 10 years?

Thankfully, as is often the case, his good teaching pastor is also attentive to beauty in the liturgy. We really need both of these elements to be built back up for our people.


Catechetical failure? Or a catechetical success of the wrong kind?

Many have said that the Pew study reflects a catechetical failure. I fear the opposite: it reflects a certain kind of catechetical success. It is the result of an unwritten catechesis that American Catholics have been slowly learning. Through a deracinated, spiritualistic, and emotivistic treatment of the Eucharist, many Catholics have learned their faith from a generation of pastors who stripped the altars, razed the bastions of reverence around the Lord in the sacrament, and who generally treated the Most Holy Eucharist itself as something to be passed out like a leaflet rather than received in awe, as people prostrate before the fire of divinity. Far too many have received this kind of unwritten catechesis.

Chad Pecknold writes much more here.


The Holy Father’s Letter to Priests

On this Feast day of St. John Vianney, Pope Francis has issued a beautiful letter to priests.

The prayer of a pastor is nourished and made incarnate in the heart of God’s People. It bears the marks of the sufferings and joys of his people, whom he silently presents to the Lord to be anointed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the hope of a pastor, who with trust and insistence asks the Lord to care for our weakness as individuals and as a people. Yet we should also realize that it is in the prayer of God’s People that the heart of a pastor takes flesh and finds its proper place. This sets us free from looking for quick, easy, ready-made answers; it allows the Lord to be the one – not our own recipes and goals – to point out a path of hope. Let us not forget that at the most difficult times in the life of the earliest community, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer emerged as the true guiding force.

Much more here.


A basketball star, and a nun

As a parish music director, I was able to accomplish many things that should have been impossible, given the limits of my abilities. I knew that the real powerhouse behind our parish programs was the Poor Clares monastery within our parish boundaries, where our priests said Mass.

On the occasion of her 25th jubilee, ESPN celebrates the life of one of the monastery’s nuns, a former basketball star.

But Pennefather did have the most beautiful shooting touch in all of women’s basketball. She scored 2,408 points, breaking Villanova’s all-time record for women and men. She did it without the benefit of the 3-point shot, and the record still stands today.

Much more here.