We can't help but stop and stare at train wrecks, or automobile accidents, for that matter. The above video is one of these occasions.
In this case, this is a particularly sad incident. The good Deacon Sandy, who calls himself the "Parish Director" may mean well, but, the actions of the parish in question are about 180 degrees in opposition to Sacrosanctum Concilium, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and just about every other authoritative document that the Holy See has issued on the liturgy since time immemorial.
For those of us who love Christ, His Church and her sacred liturgies, these nearly seven minutes of footage are difficult to watch. They leave not a few of us scratching our heads in bemusement.
The first item that Deacon Sandy seems to take pride in is the fact that the parish does not have a priest serving as pastor. Deacon Sandy is serving as "Parish Director", meaning that he has administrative control of the parish. Canonically, this does not seem right, as there is no such title, under Canon law, as far as I can tell. So then, what is the priest? Obviously, one is ministering there because Mass is celebrated. Is he a sacramental dispenser, as a parish in Rochester, New York, calls its priest?
Next, Deacon Sandy goes on to explain how the parish "celebrates" the liturgy. It's all downhill from here. While I can understand that they have "greeters" at the door (we have them at our parish, although I frankly don't see a need for this), Deacon Sandy goes a step further by noting that the "hospitality" extends to inside the "worship space." He stated that the faithful are encouraged to engage in conversation with each other, rather than observe silence inside the church. This is supposed to establish "community" with each other.
What about engaging in some conversation with the One who has made all of this possible, Christ? While getting to know our brothers and sisters is important, we cannot ignore Our Lord, who is right in our midst (although I have no idea where the Tabernacle is in that church). Silence is important. We are not gathered at church to get to know each other. We are gathered to worship Christ, our Lord. The former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger made that perfectly clear:
Let us become always more clearly conscious that the liturgy also implies silence. To God who speaks we respond singing and praying, but the greatest mystery, which goes beyond all words, calls us also to be silent. It must undoubtedly be a full silence, more than an absence of words and action. We expect from the liturgy that it provide for us the positive silence in which we find ourselvesI wish that this were the sole infraction; however, as they say on those informercials, "But, wait, there's more!
Deacon Sandy then walks us through the Mass itself. Here is where things become "curiouser and curiouser" almost by the second. When the ministers (he does not even mention the word "priest") arrive at the altar, they reverence the altar with a bow. That is normal enough, as that is what should normally happen at the entrance. Good Shepherd takes it a step beyond. According to Deacon Sandy, "because we recognize that Christ is also present in the assembly, the ministers turn and bow towards the assembly" in some misguided notion of reverence. The faithful, in turn, bow towards the ministers to "recognize the presence of Christ in them, as well."
This makes me wonder if any of them, Deacon Sandy included, have ever read Sacramentum Caritatis. In it, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes that:
36. The "subject" of the liturgy's intrinsic beauty is Christ Himself, risen and glorified in the Holy Spirit, who includes the Church in His work.
The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes this point crystal clear that the orientation of the Liturgy is towards the Lord:
16. The celebration of Mass, as the action of Christ and of the People of God arrayed hierarchically, is the center of the whole of Christian life for the Church both universal and local, as well as for each of the faithful individually. For in it is found the high point both of the action by which God sanctifies the world in Christ and of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit. In it, moreover, during the course of the year, the mysteries of redemption are celebrated so as to be in some way made present. As to the other sacred actions and all the activities of the Christian life, these are bound up with it, flow from it, and are ordered to it.
17. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that the celebration of the Mass or the Lord’s Supper be so ordered that the sacred ministers and the faithful taking part in it, according to the state proper to each, may draw from it more abundantly those fruits, to obtain which, Christ the Lord instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood and entrusted it as the memorial of his Passion and Resurrection to the Church, his beloved Bride.
It seems to me, that from the onset, the people are the subject of the liturgy at Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
Deacon Sandy then goes on to explain why the parish uses screens. According to the good deacon, the screens enhance the liturgy by having visual displays during the homily. So is preaching not enough for Good Shepherd? Would they have been disappointed if Sts. Peter and Paul not shown up before them with a fully prepared power point presentation?
Again, we turn to the GIRM for an explanation of the importance of preaching:
Reading and Explaining the Word of God
29. When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel.
Therefore, the readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone, for they are an element of the greatest importance in the Liturgy. Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.
Here is Benedict's observation, again, drawn from Sacramentum Caritatis:
46. Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily is "part of the liturgical action" (139), and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. Hence ordained ministers must "prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture" (140). Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided. In particular, I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the word of God to the sacramental celebration (141) and the life of the community, so that the word of God truly becomes the Church's vital nourishment and support (142). The catechetical and paraenetic aim of the homily should not be forgotten. During the course of the liturgical year it is appropriate to offer the faithful, prudently and on the basis of the three-year lectionary, "thematic" homilies treating the great themes of the Christian faith, on the basis of what has been authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium in the four "pillars" of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the recent Compendium, namely: the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer (143).
The real whopper comes when Deacon Sandy explains why Good Shepherd Catholic Church does not have kneelers. "In our culture, we stand as a sign of respect for another," he explained. He added that when the President of the United States comes, people stand to greet him out of respect. But, in the words of Christ, we have "Someone greater" than the president. We have the King of the Universe who has come before us in the forms of bread and wine. He is truly present.
It's almost as though Deacon Sandy read Benedict's book, "Spirit of the Liturgy" and decided that the Pope Emeritus was wrong. Benedict writes that:
There are groups, of no small influence, who are trying to talk us out of kneeling. "It doesn't suit our culture", they say (which culture?) "It's not right for a grown man to do this -- he should face God on his feet". Or again: "It's not appropriate for redeemed man -- he has been set free by Christ and doesn't need to kneel any more".
If we look at history, we can see that the Greeks and Romans rejected kneeling. In view of the squabbling, partisan deities described in mythology, this attitude was thoroughly justified. It was only too obvious that these gods were not God, even if you were dependent on their capricious power and had to make sure that, whenever possible, you enjoyed their favor. And so they said that kneeling was unworthy of a free man, unsuitable for the culture of Greece, something the barbarians went in for. Plutarch and Theophrastus regarded kneeling as an expression of superstition.
Aristotle called it a barbaric form of behavior (cf. Rhetoric 1361 a 36). Saint Augustine agreed with him in a certain respect: the false gods were only the masks of demons, who subjected men to the worship of money and to self-seeking, thus making them "servile" and superstitious. He said that the humility of Christ and His love, which went as far as the Cross, have freed us from these powers. We now kneel before that humility. The kneeling of Christians is not a form of inculturation into existing customs. It is quite the opposite, an expression of Christian culture, which transforms the existing culture through a new and deeper knowledge and experience of God.
Kneeling does not come from any culture -- it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God. The central importance of kneeling in the Bible can be seen in a very concrete way. The word proskynein alone occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament, twenty-four of which are in the Apocalypse, the book of the heavenly Liturgy, which is presented to the Church as the standard for her own Liturgy.
Kneeling is part of our culture as Catholics. Kneeling is one of the postures of adoration. We worship the Lord with our bodies. Even St. Paul exhorts that at the name of Jesus, "every knee shall bend, in heaven, on earth and under the earth." I suppose Deacon Sandy must have missed that apostolic exhortation.
Benedict goes on to explain the reasons why we should kneel, breaking open the biblical and traditional basis for this posture (this is a long citation, but, I believe that it is important enough that it be considered in its entirety, given Deacon Sandy's nonchalant regard for this posture):
Secondly, we must mention the gesture of falling to one's knees before another, which is described four times in the Gospels (cf. Mk 1:40; 10:17; Mt 17:14; 27:29) by means of the word gonypetein. Let us single out Mark 1:40. A leper comes to Jesus and begs Him for help. He falls to his knees before Him and says: "If you will, you can make me clean". It is hard to assess the significance of the gesture. What we have here is surely not a proper act of adoration, but rather a supplication expressed fervently in bodily form, while showing a trust in a power beyond the merely human.
The situation is different, though, with the classical word for adoration on one's knees -- proskynein. I shall give two examples in order to clarify the question that faces the translator.
First there is the account of how, after the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus stays with the Father on the mountain, while the disciples struggle in vain on the lake with the wind and the waves. Jesus comes to them across the water. Peter hurries toward Him and is saved from sinking by the Lord. Then Jesus climbs into the boat, and the wind lets up. The text continues: "And the ship's crew came and said, falling at His feet, 'Thou art indeed the Son of God'" (Mt 14:33, Knox version). Other translations say: "[The disciples] in the boat worshiped [Jesus], saying ..." (RSV). Both translations are correct. Each emphasizes one aspect of what is going on. The Knox version brings out the bodily expression, while the RSV shows what is happening interiorly. It is perfectly clear from the structure of the narrative that the gesture of acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God is an act of worship.
We encounter a similar set of problems in Saint John's Gospel when we read the account of the healing of the man born blind. This narrative, which is structured in a truly "theo-dramatic" way, ends with a dialogue between Jesus and the man He has healed. It serves as a model for the dialogue of conversion, for the whole narrative must also be seen as a profound exposition of the existential and theological significance of Baptism.
In the dialogue, Jesus asks the man whether he believes in the Son of Man. The man born blind replies: "Tell me who He is, Lord". When Jesus says, "It is He who is speaking to you", the man makes the confession of faith: "I do believe, Lord", and then he "[falls] down to worship Him" (Jn 9:35-38, Knox version adapted). Earlier translations said: "He worshiped Him". In fact, the whole scene is directed toward the act of faith and the worship of Jesus, which follows from it. Now the eyes of the heart, as well as of the body, are opened. The man has in truth begun to see.
For the exegesis of the text it is important to note that the word proskynein occurs eleven times in Saint John's Gospel, of which nine occurrences are found in Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman by Jacob's well (Jn 4:19-24). This conversation is entirely devoted to the theme of worship, and it is indisputable that here, as elsewhere in Saint John's Gospel, the word always has the meaning of "worship". Incidentally, this conversation, too, ends -- like that of the healing of the man born blind -- with Jesus' revealing Himself: "I who speak to you am He" (Jn 4:26).
I have lingered over these texts, because they bring to light something important. In the two passages that we looked at most closely, the spiritual and bodily meanings of proskynein are really inseparable. The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is precisely that of worship. Without the worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act must of its very nature, because of the psychosomatic unity of man, express itself in the bodily gesture.
The two aspects are united in the one word, because in a very profound way they belong together. When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless. One the other hand, when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man. Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man. That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.
In saying this, we come to the typical gesture of kneeling on one or both knees. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the verb barak, "to kneel", is cognate with the word berek, "knee". The Hebrews regarded the knees as a symbol of strength, to bend the knee is, therefore, to bend our strength before the living God, an acknowledgment of the fact that all that we are we receive from Him. In important passages of the Old Testament, this gesture appears as an expression of worship.
At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon kneels "in the presence of all the assembly of Israel" (II Chron 6:13). After the Exile, in the afflictions of the returned Israel, which is still without a Temple, Ezra repeats this gesture at the time of the evening sacrifice: "I ... fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God" (Ezra 9:5). The great psalm of the Passion, Psalm 22 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"), ends with the promise: "Yes, to Him shall all the proud of the earth fall down; before Him all who go down to the dust shall throw themselves down" (v. 29, RSV adapted).
The related passage Isaiah 45:23 we shall have to consider in the context of the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles tells us how Saint Peter (9:40), Saint Paul (20:36), and the whole Christian community (21:5) pray on their knees.
Particularly important for our question is the account of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. The first man to witness to Christ with his blood is described in his suffering as a perfect image of Christ, whose Passion is repeated in the martyrdom of the witness, even in small details. One of these is that Stephen, on his knees, takes up the petition of the crucified Christ: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (7:60). We should remember that Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, speaks of the Lord kneeling in Gethsemane, which shows that Luke wants the kneeling of the first martyr to be seen as his entry into the prayer of Jesus. Kneeling is not only a Christian gesture, but a christological one.
Thus, kneeling is a christological posture. This goes beyond some mere cultural connotation that Deacon Sandy makes in his video.
Next comes the matter of the bread used in the Eucharist. Deacon Sandy seems to take great pride in announcing that, rather than using hosts, the parish uses "real bread" baked by the faithful so that they can have a sense of really being a part of the liturgy, that their hands have fashioned something for the Mass. Several times, he notes that this is valid; however, if the parish already has a skewed understanding of the Mass, is the baked bread valid matter? Are the ingredients used in conformity with what the Church requires. According to Redemptionis Sacramentum:
[48.] The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools.
As noted earlier, Deacon Sandy makes a huge fuss about how baking the bread makes some of the faithful feel as though they are participating in the Eucharist. This seems to me to be a complete misunderstanding of what active participation means.
Again, in Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict explains what Active Participation really means:
52. The Second Vatican Council rightly emphasized the active, full and fruitful participation of the entire People of God in the eucharistic celebration (155). Certainly, the renewal carried out in these past decades has made considerable progress towards fulfilling the wishes of the Council Fathers. Yet we must not overlook the fact that some misunderstanding has occasionally arisen concerning the precise meaning of this participation. It should be made clear that the word "participation" does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration. In fact, the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life. The conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium encouraged the faithful to take part in the eucharistic liturgy not "as strangers or silent spectators," but as participants "in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, actively and devoutly" (156). This exhortation has lost none of its force. The Council went on to say that the faithful "should be instructed by God's word, and nourished at the table of the Lord's Body. They should give thanks to God. Offering the immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to make an offering of themselves. Through Christ, the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and each other" (157).
I hope that Deacon Sandy is not inferring that only those who make the bread or serve at Mass in some form of fashion are the ones actively participating in the liturgy.
Deacon Sandy seems to take great pride in the fact that the parish has 70 ministries, taking in everything from building maintenance to CCD. That is all well and good; however, if we cannot properly celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then everything else, no matter how grand and noble it is, loses its footing and falls apart.
In fairness, I do not know if the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has taken any corrective action towards the parish to guide them back along the right path. Nonetheless, it would be the archbishop's pastoral obligation, under Redemptionis Sacramentum, to ensure that the parishes under his care properly celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Christ deserves no less.
UPDATE: The video has been yanked, for obvious reasons; however, those of you who want to see it can still access it through this link: