Letters | Liturgy, ‘Silence,’ etc.


In more than forty years as a priest, I’ve dealt with the same liturgical issues as Fr. Bausch (“What Not to Do at Mass,” December 16), but I’ve come to different conclusions about some of them.

About announcements: I admit these are a problem. They grow like kudzu! But they belong at Mass. The Mass is not a tightly focused experience to be tied up with a musical bow. (The Roman rite doesn’t even have a closing hymn.) The Mass is messy and open-ended. We gather, bringing the messiness of our lives and world, to mix it up with the messiness of salvation history and the paschal mystery. The announcements at the end of Mass remind us that the work of the church (liturgy) is not ended when the Mass is ended, but extends in many directions into the weeks ahead.

As for poor lectors, better training would certainly be beneficial for some, but many who volunteer for this ministry will never be very good. (The same can be said for volunteer musicians.) I remember, however, the observation of one rural pastor: “In the city, ministers are judged on how well they do their jobs; in the country, they’re judged on what kind of people they are.” I know what he meant. I have lectors who will never be good public readers, but what their liturgical proclamation lacks they make up by the witness of their lives. I see them as the poor widow, who had little to give but gave generously of what she had.

About missalettes: Effective proclamation is not complete without effective hearing. Some people absorb the word better when they can read along. Their ears work fine, but they retain more when they use both ears and eyes. Fine. Thank God for Gutenberg!

As for doing the dishes, I find this a wonderful symbolism of the Communion rite. The meal we’ve just shared is not an ordinary meal, so we don’t clean up in the ordinary way. Rather than bolting from the table after we’ve eaten, we wait patiently while the dishes are done, in quiet reverence and awed thanksgiving for the gift we’ve received. This homely ritual also reminds us that even the most simple of ordinary tasks can be sanctified with attentiveness.

Liturgy should be done as well as possible, but good liturgy is not necessarily liturgically correct. Good liturgy is real, not tidy. It suffers from all the weakness of those who celebrate it, but this is a redemptive suffering.

Rev. Dohrman W. Byers
Georgetown, Ohio


Fr. William J. Bausch’s year-end epistle will strike a responsive chord with many lay Catholics, as it has with me. Being able to hear the priest via a good sound system has to be rule number one. The second rule is that the purpose of the Mass is spiritual, not entertainment. “No announcements after Mass” is a little more questionable. Like many parishioners (especially older ones), I usually don’t read the bulletin. So, I get my important church information through the grapevine; otherwise I don’t get it at all. Likewise, with recruiting for church organizations the end of the Mass seems like an okay place to do this.

Having good lectors for the first two readings is also very important; happily, it’s not a problem at our church, though there’s always room for improvement. With all due respect to Bausch, I like to read the epistles and the gospels while the lector and the priest are speaking them; it helps me to concentrate, especially when there are yelling children or crying babies nearby. So, please keep the missalettes. Music is also vitally important to the Mass; the music should be appropriate—religious hymns, not folk music. Cellphones are rude and a nuisance to everyone but the user.

Sermons are the second most important part of the Mass, and Catholic priests often fall short. Poor sermons week after week do cause a lot of Catholics to drop out. Much more work needs to be done in the seminaries to improve the quality of our priests’ preaching. Nevertheless, it was a bit surprising to learn that poor preaching is “almost the number one reason why people leave” the church.

Sadly, Bausch omitted one other serious flaw in the Catholic Mass which only happens occasionally, and once every four years, but it takes longer for many of us to overcome. I’m talking about the politicization of the pulpit to promote a conservative, Republican ideology. Around the end of October every four years, in an election year such as this one, many priests will urge their congregations to vote for the Republican candidates for president and Congress on the basis of a single issue: abortion. The fact that Pope Francis has warned us about climate change and global warming in his encyclical, Laudato si’, and addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress on this issue does not matter to some priests. Neither does the church’s concern about poverty, racism, war, all types of violence, abuse of women and children, the treatment of immigrants, and other social-justice issues. Priests’ involvement in partisan politics on the basis of a single issue hurts and divides our church. This year, it gave us Donald Trump. It should stop.

Anthony J. DiStefano
Aiken, S.C.


Thank you so much for the insightful interview with Martin Scorsese (“Trials of Faith,” January 27). It was beautiful to hear Scorsese share his simple wonderful faith in God’s love through the complexity of life’s mysteries. Although I cannot see the movie, as a prison inmate, I really felt the sentiment of the story in Silence: the struggle to trust in the mercy of the Gospel of Jesus in all our weakness and failures. Scorsese illustrates for me in Silence that there truly is salvation and grace in every impassable circumstance; regardless of our weakness of spirit, even in our sins. It is not always clear and pretty, yet Jesus does show great compassion in all the messiness of humanity. Mercy! This mercy is indeed often in silence. And in silence, stillness, and simplicity of faith, mercy can be real internally.

I wish Scorsese could distribute Silence to prisons (as Mel Gibson did with The Passion). Although my own situation is vastly different from that of heroic missionaries, as a prisoner in a place of nowhere and nothingness I do understand by experience the stripping away of all the externals of faith and coming down to facing God, God alone. “In God alone be at rest, O my soul!” (Psalm 62) This indeed is the dilemma and depth of faith for saints of all times. In this sense don’t we all have a fumie of faith we’ve stepped on; a personal korobu to deal with in life?

Stephen Lawrence Stoeltje
Beaumont, Tex.


Thanks to John Garvey and Mark Roche for this exchange (“Hiring for Mission,” February 10). I’ve known John since undergraduate days at Notre Dame, but I’ve never met Mark Roche. My short response to both is that the catholicity of our (I speak presumptively) colleges and universities was largely sociological: the administrators, the faculty, and the students were typically Catholic. I happen to agree with John that the faculty are the decisive measure. But I disagree (with both of them) that the preponderance can be maintained at all but a very short list of Catholic universities if scholarly quality is to be of the highest order. The reasons for that are known to all of us in higher education. My own view is that differentiation in the curriculum, especially the move into graduate and professional programs, presents virtually insuperable obstacles to preserving religious identity over the long haul. At the collegiate level, hiring can be more effectively selective, but only if the school size is kept small. A further complication is that shifts in American Catholic culture as a whole (if we can still talk of such a thing in the present and future tenses) suggest that those Catholic scholars who self-select for jobs at Catholic schools will be “intentional” Catholics with a fairly high level of culture-war militance in their portfolio. Or so it appears from my experience. The more heavily the quality of one’s Catholicism weighs in the balance, the more one worries about a campus climate where an impolitic bumper sticker can get you blacklisted. Yet another problem raised by selective hiring is that identity so easily trumps other considerations. I respect Roche’s assertion that this did not happen on his watch at Notre Dame. But most institutions don’t have Notre Dame’s resources (do any?). I myself want to hire qualified Catholic colleagues. But I have not liked the way affirmative action pressures affect hiring for gender and racial desiderata, and I would be surprised if the same pressures don’t make themselves felt in “hiring for mission.” Goals vs. quotas? A distinction without a difference?

But again, thanks to both administrators for such a candid and open discussion.

Michael Hollerich
Web comment


Reading your recent editorial (“This Isn’t Normal,” February 24), I had a question: What is normal? While Trump’s presidency is in its infancy, it was disturbing to plow through the editorial. The litany of “new outrages and misdeeds” is evidence of a confirmation bias. Your editorial might well have been written before the election, before the inauguration, before anything was spoken or done. You proclaim that Trump has “vindicated many of the dark suspicions” some harbor. Sound balanced?

What is normal? What is abnormal? Your advice at the end, “Don’t get distracted,” might well be rewritten: “Remain hysterical about everything.”

Rev. John P. Rosson
Cooperstown, N.Y.


Published in the March 10, 2017 issue: 
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