Q: Your first answer in the August issue
(“Why Acknowledge Our Sinfulness
When Mass Begins?”) concerns me.
My wife and I have 11 grandchildren, seven
of whom do not attend Mass any longer.
Most of them go to large, very popular
community churches near them. One has
14,000 people every Sunday, filling two
auditoriums. There are probably many
When I visited this church, I observed the
people singing loudly with the band; it’s
their kind of music. After Scripture readings
proclaimed by several members of the
congregation and a song, the pastor delivers
a homily that has a message they can
take with them. After a benediction and
song, the people leave the auditorium,
talking happily to each other—and then
go to different rooms for discussion. They
have a celebration that they talk about
after they leave!
Contrast that with how our Mass begins.
After we open with a song written hundreds
of years ago and played on an organ, the
priest says, “As we prepare to celebrate the
sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our
Wow! Talk about a downer! That really
grabs your interest if you are a young person—or any person, for that matter! If you
were in your teens, 20s or 30s, where
would you go the next Sunday?
And that’s just the beginning. Our Mass
needs to be more of a celebration! Of
course, we have the Eucharist and that
makes a huge difference—to you and to
me—but not to some of the young people.
My wife and I are members of a small
faith community at our parish. The 12
members, including five couples, meet
every two weeks at someone’s home, read
the Scripture for the following Sunday and
discuss its application to our lives.
Each of these couples laments the fact
that many of their children and grandchildren
go to megachurches or have
stopped going to Mass. They love their
new church. Wow!
Can’t we adopt some of the methods
that make these megachurches extremely
popular? Can’t we do that and still feature
the Eucharist? I am confident that we
A: You are clearly concerned for
how we as the Church are doing
in sharing and living out our faith. Our
cover story last month described how
one high school senior experienced
World Youth Day in Australia; she
found its Masses to be genuine celebrations.
Those who attended Masses
celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI during
his visit last April to the United States
found them to be very moving celebrations.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s celebration
of the funeral Mass for Pope John
Paul II probably had the largest TV
audience for any act of worship.
Admittedly, Sunday Mass at your
local parish is quite different in many
respects—yet identical in others.
Whom do we celebrate at Mass? What
are we encouraged to take away? The
more we emphasize the differences
between papal Masses and the ones
that we normally experience, the more
we are in danger of missing what is
identical in all of them.
Every Mass celebrates Jesus Christ as
the Word-made-flesh and as the fullest
revelation of God the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit. Each Mass is part of our
growing individually and together as
disciples of Jesus Christ. Every Mass
sends us out to share the Good News of
Jesus Christ that we have heard and
seen. For all of that, we need continuous
conversion to the Lord’s ways.
Songs and silence, discussion and
action will always be part of that conversion.
Could the Catholic Church overall
do a better job in its Mass celebrations?
Yes, and I don’t know a celebrant, lector,
song leader, musician, usher or
liturgy planner who would deny that.
All of them would welcome more active participation at Sunday and weekday
Masses. Many people in the pews
would probably agree.
Worship in any church can become
superficial if it celebrates more the people
who pray instead of the God who
makes their prayer possible. At its worst,
worship can become an inoculation
against conversion rather than a stimulus
toward it. That’s what prophets
like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah complained
Are our celebrations challenging the
Pharisee praying at the front of the
Temple, who needs deeper conversion
(Luke 18:10-12)? Are they encouraging
the tax collector praying at the
back, who needs to be reminded that
God’s mercy calls for even deeper conversion
and more generous actions
All Christians need to ask these
questions. Are megachurches stronger
on “feel-good” religion and weak on
challenge and conversion, which is
emphasized throughout the Catholic
I share your deep concern for young
Catholics who are not joining in Sunday
Mass regularly. We can and should
make Mass inviting to participants, but
I wonder if some people are asking the
Mass to be what it was never intended
to be: an exaltation of self rather than
a celebration of God’s challenging love
for a community of disciples.
Q: I read a news item a couple months
ago that Pope Benedict XVI is granting
a plenary indulgence for people who
participate in various events connected to
the Year of St. Paul (celebrated from June
28, 2008, until June 29, 2009, for the
2,000th anniversary of his birth). Which
events? Under what conditions? What is a
A: A plenary indulgence is a full
remission of the temporal punishment
for sins that have already been
forgiven. Some bad effects of sin remain
even after a sin has been forgiven in
The usual conditions for an indulgence
are prayers for the intention of
the pope, confession of one’s sins and
reception of Holy Communion—usually within two weeks before or after
Last May’s decree covers three types
of actions: 1) visits to and prayers at the
Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in
Rome (where St. Paul is buried), 2) participating
in a liturgy or other public
event in any local church on the opening
or closing day of the jubilee year—or on other days in places designated by
the local bishop, or 3) for Catholics
impeded by sickness or other serious
causes, joining spiritually in a jubilee
celebration honoring St. Paul and offering
their prayers and sufferings for
Q: In recent years, it seems that the use
of incense at Mass has become
increasingly rare. Why? It’s a custom that
many people I’ve talked to would like to see
A: The use of incense draws on the
Jewish roots of Christianity.
Psalm 141 proclaims, “Let my prayer be
incense before you; my uplifted hands
an evening sacrifice” (verse 2). Many
non-Christian religions use incense, a
custom that the Church accepts.
At funeral Masses, the casket is usually
incensed as a final sign of respect
for the body of the deceased person.
Incense is used at the Easter Vigil
and often at Masses for special occasions,
such as weddings, ordinations,
religious professions or anniversary
Some people with respiratory problems,
however, are very glad that
incense is not used more often than it
is. What supports one person’s prayer
may hinder someone else’s!
Q: On the feast of St. Irenaeus last June 28, I was reading your company’s
book Saint of the Day and noticed that the writings of this
saint (130?-220) were translated into Latin and Armenian. I understand
the Latin, but why Armenian? Was it a widespread language
A: St. Irenaeus was martyred in Lyons, France, where he was
bishop. He wrote in Greek to oppose gnostic Christians, who
claimed to have secret information about Jesus, information not intended
for all Jesus’ followers. Gnostics had developed a parallel church; their
honored teachers were not in communion with the local bishop.
Because the gnostic heresy eventually spread throughout the Roman
Empire, the writings of Irenaeus were translated into Latin. Armenian was
not a widespread language in the Empire, but Armenia became the first
country to become entirely Christian after King Chosroes III was baptized
in 303 A.D. When St. Gregory the Illuminator preached the Good News
there, the gnostics were still very active. Today there is an Armenian Apostolic
Church (www.armenianchurch.org) and an Armenian Catholic
Church (www.armeniancatholic.org). See also Michael La Civita’s article
in the September 2006 issue of ONE (www.cnewa.org).
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