Mass Distractions: The Less Is More Principle [Akin] week at St. Anonymous the Ambiguous, there was a priest I hadn’t seen before.

He was a younger priest who struck me as sincere, earnest, and orthodox, so I was favorably disposed to him.

I was also grateful that he wasn’t the emotionally insecure, narcissistic priest who sometimes fills in and makes himself the center of attention by pacing up and down the aisle and into the transepts, sometimes going as far back asfourteen rows *down the main aisle, so that he’s standingbehind* most of the congregation (and directly behind many of them)*as he yells his scoldy, overwrought sermons into the wireless mic.

That guy drives me nuts.

So I was really glad it wasn’t him, and that automatically made me like the new guy.

This didn’t stop there from being some distractions, though.

Heart Trouble

Early in his homily, the new priest said the following (quoting from memory):

The heart of the gospel is the Sermon on the Mount
And the heart of the Sermon on the Mount is the Beatitudes
And the Beatitudes show us the heart of God.

I get what the priest was trying to do here. He wanted to say that the Beatitudes show us the heart of God.

But this is a case of less is more, because he should have just*said that.

By introducing the statement the way he did, it popped me right out of the sermon, causing me to become distracted as I tried to figure out what he meant.

The heart of the gospel is the Sermon on the Mount? Really? Not Jesus? Not his death and resurrection? Not God’s love for man? Not something like that?

Also, the Sermon on the Mount is in Matthew 5-7, so it’s right near the front of Matthew’s Gospel, not at its heart.

And the Beatitudes are right at the beginning of Matthew 5, so they aren’t “geographically” at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, either.

One wouldn’t even want to say that the Sermon on the Mount is the heart of Jesus’*ethical teachings, because that would be the first and second great commandments, which aren’t discussed until Matthew 22.

So I was distracted by trying to figure out what kind of “heart” language the priest was using when the priest finally got where he was going: The Beatitudes show us the heart of God.

Homilists take note: Getting rhetorically fancy like this can severely distract your audience, so apply the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Sir).

Ex Cathedra

A little later in the homily, the priest started to explain the term**ex cathedra.* (I’m not sure why.)

He explained (correctly) that it means “from the chair,” the chair being a symbol of a pope’s or bishop’s authority.

He explained (incorrectly) that the pope sits in a special chair when he proclaims a dogma.

At least, that’s what I thought I heard him say.

I may have missed a verb tense, and he may have said that the pope**used to* sit in a special chair when proclaiming a dogma.

But I have no evidence that that’s true, either. As far as I’m aware, the use of the phraseex cathedrain connection with dogmas didn’t come about until the Middle Ages, when the term**cathedra* had already begun to be used* for a bishop’s magisterium or teaching authoritymetaphorically.

I certainly can’t think of any dogmas that were ever proclaimed by a pope while sitting in his cathedra.

In reality, popes proclaim dogmas via special documents.

Since I’m not really sure what this had to do with the Beatitudes (the subject of the Gospel reading), I’m inclined to say this is another case of less is more. Omitting the digression about the meaning of**ex cathedra* would have let him make his point more clearly.

Becoming a Christian

Toward the end of the homily, the priest said something along the lines of:

When we become a Christian, we lose all fear.
When we become a Christian, we gain great confidence (or maybe he said “perfect love”).

Bang! Again I’m popped right out of the sermon.

The distraction in this case is that all of the baptized already**are* Christians, and it’s plain that they don’t lose all fear.

So I’m off thinking about 1 John 4:18, where John says:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.

But John is talking about being perfected in love–something that happens later in the Christian life, if it happens in this life at all, not when we first become Christians.

This forced me to wonder, “What is the priest is going for?” Doeshe realize he may cause scrupulosity among some who are present if they infer from their fears that they aren’t truly Christians yet? Doesn’the realizes that he’s in a building full of people who werebaptized as babies and therefore have no memory of a time when they were**not Christians? Why is he saying something that would (at best) apply only to adult converts?

I could only conclude that he was trying to employ some kind of rhetorical flourish by stating things in hyperbolically absolute terms.

So once again, his rhetoric was getting in the way of his message.

So once again, less is more.

The End of Christmas

At the end of Mass, during the announcements, the priest said that we’re coming up on Candlemas, “which is the end of the Christmas season,” that it “comes back for a day” and then goes away.

This is false. According to the Universal*Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:

Christmas Time runs from First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of the Nativity of the Lord up to and including the Sunday after Epiphany or after 6 January.

That means the Christmas season ends no later than January 13, which is weeks before Candlemas occurs on February 2.

It isn’t clear to me whether the priest thought that the Christmas season**literally* ends on Candlemas or whether he thought it “kinda-sorta” ends on Candlemas, since that day commemorates events in the Infancy Narratives.

If the former, he was simply wrong*and does not know the details of the liturgical calendar.

If the latter, he knowingly misled the congregation, who is not familiar enough with the details of the liturgical calendar to be able to detect the “kinda-sorta” aspect of what he was saying.

Either way, people in the congregation will end up thinking that the Christmas season**literally* ends on Candlemas, and that’s false.

I have some sympathy here. I’ve been in situations where I’m pressed in public to give an answer I’m not 100% sure of, and I’ve made mistakes. (I’ve afterwards made scrupulous efforts to check myself and to avoid making similar mistakes*in the future.)

However, this was not a situation where he was being pressed. It was a situation where he was volunteering something.

Bottom line: If you aren’t sure of a claim, don’t make it.

Less is more.

If nothing else, it helps avoid distractions and makes your message clearer.


Grandiloquent critique of a “younger” priest!: rolleyes: (For all the world to see)

Sir, while you are obviously very knowledgeable, great at presenting an argument and probably wonderful at giving speeches, don’t forget to pray for the poor guy…it seems clear that you wish to give some constructive criticism, but probably the best way we can do that is to ask God to step in and help the priest/s who need it.

Maybe you already have, and if so I salute you brother, if not, don’t forget to do so. Maybe that should have been the “heart” of your message. Pray for our priests!!!

I find it very sad that a Catholic apologist would write such a harsh criticism of a priest. :mad:

And we wonder why we have a vocations crisis in the US.

Mr. Akin, if you can’t be part of a solution, maybe you should keep your opinions to yourself. :rolleyes:

I think you overanalyzed a lot of what this younger priest was saying. The “heart” thing arguably makes one pay better attention to his point through repetition of the word “heart”. Trying to figure out the meaning of that three line statement is a good thing IMHO because now you are really thinking about his words.

I don’t know what “candlemas” is, but I assume that it’s a tradition in that particular church that has an element of Christmas festivity to it. I’m sure that’s all the priest meant. In an case, laity don’t really need to memorize the dates of the liturgical calendar. It’s not a matter of salvation.

Edit: Just looked up “Candlemas” and it is in fact traditionally the 40th day of the Christmas-Epiphany season. In many countries, decorations are left up until Feb. 2nd, so your priest wasn’t wrong at all.

It seems Mr. Akin is also wrong about the end of Christmas being Epiphany. Those who pray the breviary know that it officially ends on the Baptism of the Lord Jesus, which occurs just after Epiphany. After the Baptism, vestments go back to green for ordinary time. My church doesn’t remove Christmas décor until after the Baptism.

Usually, the feast of the Lord’s Baptism occurs on Sunday after Epiphany, but this year, due to the lateness of the calendar, the feast was moved to Monday, the 9th. It was solemnly celebrated in my parish. My church doesn’t remove Christmas décor until after the Baptism, and they were in a crunch to have these cleared before Tuesday morning’s Mass, which began Ordinary Time.

It’s no wonder the posters on CAF are so critical of the pope and the clergy. The experts are as well.

*Maybe I heard incorrectly. *

In all sincerity and peace, put down the red pen.


Well stated. I think one really can be way too “academic” in listening to a homily. Yes, the purpose of a homily is to help us learn, but to get hung up on every last word is to place way too much pressure on the priest.

I got the impression that praying for priests was the heart of his message.

And that we the listeners need to focus on what the Lord is saying to us as the priest speaks.

:eek: The word count is 1180, yet I found nothing that suggested prayer for either this priest or others. It was an admonition not to distract Akin!

Yes. In my own life as a professional musician who used to be a Music & Liturgy Director, I know very well that I can be far too critical of music at other parishes, and even the one that in which I work in another capacity.
It’s easy to do, and I have to take a breath and realize that I’m not running the ministry.
In the context of liturgy, we all have to put our “expert” hats down. No hats in church. :wink:

Excellent article. Are communication skills a part of seminary training? Also there are good, orthodox Biblical commentary resources readily available online for priests to help with at least the Sunday homilies. The Sacred Page and Dr. Brant Pitre. I think Dr. Scott Hahn has weekly commentary. Of course there are hard copy sources too like the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series.

Our sermon today actually lead to thinking that the beatitudes were Jesus. Most of us are lucky to be one of those things but Jesus was all of them. I liked his point and I certainly didn’t do it justice here.

We’ve all sat through a poor homily. However, this sounds like a priest doing his job and it’s still not good enough for Akin.

[quote=Catholic Opinion

Funny, I always thought the heart of the gospel was Jesus’ question, “And who do you say I am?” Then again, I’m not an apologist, just another sinner in a pew.


Exactly. :thumbsup: The author is displaying his ignorance for all to see. :frowning:

A priest giving a poor homily is doing his job. Nothing wrong with encouraging doing a better job.

However we need to pray for our priests for much more than good homilies…

I thought it was implied. :slight_smile:

I got the impression that the heart of his message was a celebration of how “right” he is about everything, and what a burden it is for him to have to listen to a priest who isn’t as smart as he is. Ironically, he becomes more tedious and tiresome (i.e. the opposite of the virtue of simplicity that he is trying to promote) than the priest he is besmirching.

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