General

A Bump in the Road

This summer, I took my annual vacation to Austria. I’ve been going to the same city, from the same airport, in the same month for the past 8 years. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit! I packed my case, I booked my taxi to the airport and assumed I’d be sat in my favourite restaurant by 7pm with a tall glass of cold beer and a steaming plate of delicious spätzle. Naturally everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong! First, the taxi was late. Then the check in desk computer went down. After that, the flight was cancelled after a four hour delay and I found myself on a plane to Germany instead with a promise of a “really quick train transfer across the border at the other end”. I finally arrived at my hotel in Austria at a quarter to midnight feeling more than a little tense. But despite the shaky start, I had a wonderful holiday in my favourite city and pretty soon I forgot about the stress and the frustrations of that first day. As the poet Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry” and in life, we often think we have things under control only to find that something happens and we’re left feeling a lost.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve faced exactly that situation and sadly, it’s been within my RCIA course. I had assumed that I’d complete the course at my local parish, be received into the church at Easter and could start to live my life as a happy and contented Roman Catholic in a congregation that I knew, liked and felt comfortable in. Unfortunately, my assumptions were wrong. Before I go any further, I want to stress that this post isn’t designed to shame anybody or to set one group above another. But in the despair of feeling totally lost, I looked around online at the experiences others were having in their own RCIA programmes and it seems that my experience isn’t exactly unique. There are big issues with RCIA and sadly, the result seems to be that many just walk away. Having said that, others couldn’t be happier in their parishes and many complete a course that they loved so much they take an active part in the following year. For some, RCIA is a wonderful experience. For others, it’s painfully difficult. The variation from parish to parish can be stark and really it comes down to what resources your parish has to hand. Priests do their best but sometimes there just isn’t the time, money or interest to invest in anything long term. Many have to rely on volunteers to lead their RCIA courses and so it becomes a bit of a lottery as to what sort of catechist you’ll actually end up with.

In my case, things started well and I don’t doubt the good intentions of the course director (who wasn’t our priest) but they quickly descended into something deeply concerning. It all began a month or so ago when a guest speaker was invited to talk to my group about the history of the church. Up until that point, the classes had been pretty ecumenical. There had been no mention of anything particularly Catholic and I think that was because in the inquiry stage of RCIA, people are still working out why they’ve enrolled and what they really believe. A slow introduction to anything new is usually a good idea and so it wasn’t particularly concerning that we hadn’t heard much in the way of Popes, Saints or the Catechism. But at this particular lecture, things changed pretty quickly. We heard about the early days of the church, the beginnings of the modern Catholic Church and the schisms that had occurred over time. And then the lecturer dropped a sentence that caused a few concerned looks from my fellow classmates: “And if the church isn’t careful, it’ll end up with another one on it’s hands”. What followed was a passionate diatribe on the evils of the pre-Second Vatican Council church. The Latin Mass was “cold, unfriendly and alienating”, altar rails were “quite frankly pathetic”, confessionals were “prison cells”. It was explained to us that “Before the council, the church only cared about sin. Now we don’t focus on it. It’s about community”.

Of course, we could debate that statement for decades and never reach an agreement so I want to quickly fast forward to give you an idea of other statements that were made by both the guest speaker (who became a frequent visitor) and by the course director who was basing much of the course material in resources written by the guest speaker. “The curia is alien to us, what is says isn’t really relatable anymore”. “We’re all equal so why can’t we just ordain women?”. “Same sex marriages in churches are inevitable so what’s the issue?”. One that particularly raised my blood pressure significantly was, “We really need a third Vatican council to get rid of these silly traditionalists. They just hold us back”. Based on questions I’d asked or statements I’d offered in group discussions, I’d pretty much been branded as “too conservative” and “too traditional”. So by this point, with the political agenda stepping up a gear, I naturally began to feel extremely unwelcome. Classes became a chore. I’d return home in a foul temper, unable to pray, unable to concentrate on anything but what I saw as an assault on truth. I couldn’t stick my head in the sand any longer. I had a difficult decision to make.

I could have bitten my tongue and carried on. I would have been received into the church at Easter and then I could have found a new parish that was far more orthodox in it’s approach. But reception into the church is a monumental step in a persons life. For me personally, it will be the happiest day of my life and something I’ve longed for for two years. The church in which I worship should feel like home. And I didn’t feel comfortable in being baptised and confirmed in a parish which had made it pretty clear that there was a very different agenda to follow and that I’d be expected to toe the line or keep quiet. It was a painful decision but this week, I sourced a new parish and met with the priest there. I explained the situation and I was shown so much kindness and understanding that it felt as if a huge weight was being lifted from my shoulders. Not only did the priest reassure me that I was right to have such concerns, he made arrangements for me to join the RCIA programme he leads and promised me that it wouldn’t affect my reception into the church at the Easter Vigil 2018.

So I want to stress to people who face difficulties as I did with their own RCIA journey that what you find at one parish, may not be the same as what’s being offered at another. Your first step should be to talk to your priest and explain your concerns but sometimes (as in my case), this isn’t always possible. Parishes have their own politics, allegiances and friendships. Being outside of the church, it can feel disrespectful or pushy to weigh in with your concerns. But if your priest isn’t receptive to your comments (and most absolutely will be, I promise you), then you have alternatives. It may not be as convenient in terms of it’s location but nobody said this would be an easy process. Speak to other priests in your diocese, try other courses until you find one that’s right for you. Obviously you can’t just switch up every time someone says something questionable and what I’m advising here is for those in the worst case scenario as I found myself to be in. But our church is blessed to have so many wonderful priests and they have dedicated themselves to helping people, to supporting them, to comforting them. That goes for you too, regardless of whether or not you’ve been baptised or confirmed yet. Priests want to help. Take the offer.

We all experience bumps in the road but our dedication to what we know is true and right cannot waiver. As the Gospel of St John tells us:

6 If we say that we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying because we are not living the truth.

7 But if we live our lives in the light, as He is in the light, we are in union with one another.

There are always going to be disagreements and differences of opinion but we know what we’re called to and we know what’s expected of us. We have to stand up for what is right and sometimes, that means stepping away from what’s popular. As Pope St John Paul II said, “The truth is not always the same as the majority decision”. Take courage in your faith. Remember that you’re not just fighting for yourself, you’re making a stand for Jesus who must be the focus of our entire lives. Speak with humility and charity, never be boastful or full of pride. But never be forced into accepting something you know to be wrong. Ultimately, it’ll simply lead you away from God and not closer to Him. Our church has seen some wonderful valiant truth seekers – and truth tellers. Follow in their example. If the journey you had in mind is interrupted, don’t be discouraged. It’s a test of your faith and it won’t be the last one you’ll ever experience. During this difficulty, I took great comfort in Our Lady. A mother always wants whats best for her children so ask her to help you and she will. “Mother, I’m struggling”. That’s all it takes. I pray that each and every one of you enjoys your RCIA programme, that it’s joyous and truthful and that it leads you home to Jesus.

The Mass

Put Your Hands Up…

It all began a few weeks ago at an RCIA meeting. The early church was the theme. Who were the early Christians? What were their lives like? How did they pray? Little did I know that within that discussion, an issue would arise which later led to a very passionate and heated debate in which the word ‘heretical’ was thrown around an awful lot. “When the priest holds up his hands, he’s adopting the orans posture”, our RCIA director said, “It’s a way of praying that the early Christians used and it’s making a bit of a comeback. You don’t have to do it but it’s now sort of encouraged”. For Church newbies, there’s a lot to remember and we all want to fit in. Genuflecting, the Sign of the Cross, the Sign of Peace…I mean, it’s easy to feel under pressure. And so, wanting to “get it right”, I dutifully held out my hands when we got to the Lord’s Prayer at the next Mass I attended. I noticed several other people had done the same and assumed that was that. It was simply a stance one took during the Lord’s Prayer.

Fast forward a week and I’m back at Mass. We come to the Lord’s Prayer.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been shot a look during a church service that made you feel as if a little demon had popped up on your shoulder but that expression of total shock, anger and horror was fired down the length of the pew so fast that it could have knocked me of my feet. The two ladies sitting next to me were not at all impressed with my upturned hands during the Lord’s Prayer (I promise you, they were clean) and actually shuffled down a little to put some distance between us. Embarrassed? Me? More like mortified. I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong – if anything at all – and so as soon as I got home, I dashed to Father Google to try to work out exactly why they had been so offended. I punched in ‘orans posture’, assuming that was the cause of their distress, and suddenly it all became clear. Orans isn’t just a way of standing – it’s an issue which gets people very hot under the collar.

Noah
Noah at prayer, as depicted in the catacombs of Rome.

I’m going to skip over the history of the orans posture, other than to say that our RCIA director is quite right. It was a stance adopted by the early Christians and many people adopt it today during the Lord’s Prayer. But is it encouraged?

The Church itself hasn’t taken a formal stance on the matter outside of the way a priest is called to say Mass. In other words, there’s no rule that says the laity must not adopt the orans posture but there’s no guidance that we should adopt it either. It’s left up to the individual to decide and naturally, you’re going to get opinions on both approaches. For those who support the laity “taking a stance” during the Lord’s Prayer (or even holding hands with the people next to them), it’s an outward sign of community and a link to the early Church they want to foster and promote. For those who oppose it, it’s a disrespectful imitation of the priest and taking from the sanctuary into the church what should remain something of the sanctuary. So who’s right? For those who want to become Catholics, what should we do and which example should we follow?

When man poses a question, God gives an answer. And this weekend’s Gospel provides the perfect response to the orans issue (in my humble opinion). In the 23rd Gospel of St Matthew, we hear Jesus preach on the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees.

You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.
St Matthew, 23: 3 -7

In other words, these were people making gestures or saying prayers without a thought for God. They just did it because they felt it would make them look holier than everybody else – and they encouraged others to do the same. But in reality, they were guilty of false piety. They were so keen to be seen as teachers, as Godly men, that they actually led people away from the true meaning of God’s commandments. In the same way, if someone is telling us to adopt a stance because it makes us outwardly appear more holy or understanding of God’s word, they’re just as guilty of hypocrisy as the scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus spoke of. I’m not accusing everyone who adopts the orans stance as seeking attention – I don’t have that right. Neither am I saying they shouldn’t. But later in the same chapter, Jesus says, “Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted”. If adopting the orans stance is something a person does during the Lord’s Prayer to humble himself before the Lord? That’s one thing. But to do so because it’s just what everyone else does these days? Well that’s quite another. If I make the Sign of the Cross but don’t give a thought to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then why am I doing it? To show piety? To prove my faith is stronger than that of others even when it clearly isn’t?

Our Lady of the Sign
Orthodox iconography often depicts Our Lady in the orans stance.

In the course of the debate online, one contributor knowing my fondness for Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “His Holiness endorsed [orans]! He wrote a book about liturgy and he told us it was fine!” – so naturally I purchased ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’. What the Pope Emeritus says is actually far more complex. Yes he does talk of the orans and yes, he absolutely does confirm that early Christians prayed that way. That was never up for debate. We know they did. But this is what His Holiness actually says:

Standing prayer is an anticipation of the future, of the glory that is to come; it is meant to orient us towards it. Insofar as liturgical prayer is an anticipation of what has been promised, standing is its proper posture. However, insofar as liturgical prayer belongs to that “between time” in which we live, then kneeling remains indispensable to it as an expression of the “now” of our life”.
The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 2000

When we stand at Mass, we’re like our Christian ancestors who were waiting for the glory of salvation through Jesus Christ. When we kneel, we’re reminded that we aren’t there yet. We’re humbling ourselves before the Lord as well as looking forward to His return. And yes, His Holiness does say that the orans is a perfectly acceptable stance to take in prayer (St Dominic assured us of the same)…but knowing the Pope Emeritus to be a man of great detail and clarity in his writings, I can’t help but feel that he would never have simply implied that the laity should adopt the orans posture during the Lord’s Prayer – he would have said so outright. Indeed, at no point in the book does His Holiness connect the orans to the Lord’s Prayer. The general message of ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ is that we have to consider the meaning of the Mass at all times during the liturgy because that’s what brings us closer to the glory of God. But we can’t just decide ourselves what God wants of us or how we should show our love for Him.

In doing so, we could attribute motives to God that actually belong to us and our own intentions.  In the Letter of James in the New Testament, we’re given a clear command; “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up”. If our devotion and all the expressions of that devotion come from a place of humility and of true love for God, then we’re fulfilling that requirement. But if, like the scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus spoke of, we’re just doing something out of false piety or misplaced guidance to prove our fervour, then we’re not only hypocrites but we’re also not humble before the Lord. Perhaps what we have to accept is that there is a compromise to be made here. The orans is a stance we take in the privacy of our prayer lives outside of the liturgy but we have to accept that it has no formal place in the public liturgy….that is, the Mass. When we’re at Mass, we come together as a community before the Lord but we remain individuals, each guided by our own conscience and answerable for our own decisions. At certain times within the liturgy we petition God together as brothers and sisters for the benefit of others and wee do so because the Church has constructed the liturgy to allow for both individual and collective acts of devotion – but nobody can seem to decide if orans is individual or collective. And therein lies the problem.

Personally speaking, I feel that if orans is this divisive in the setting of the Mass, then it has no place within the Mass. It already detracts from the Lord’s Prayer itself. I mean….we’re all focused on hands here guys. The Lord’s Prayer was given to us by Christ Himself. And what does he tell us? That we must respect God. Forgive our neighbours. Seek mercy. Accept God’s will. Put our trust in God to deliver us from evil. If anything distracts us from living out those truths then surely it can’t be beneficial? Personally speaking, the orans during the Lord’s Prayer isn’t something I’ll be continuing with for that very reason. I don’t feel it humbles, I feel it separates. I don’t see that it connects me to the priest or to my brothers and sisters – neither should it. I’m called to love my neighbour but at Mass, I’m being called to something greater. To lift up my heart to the Lord. And that’s what I want to focus on, not the lifting of hands.

N.B – The Spirit of the Liturgy by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is published by Ignatius Press and is available for purchase by clicking here.

 

 

All Saints
How to:

How to: Holy Days of Obligation Explained

Having been born in the last century, I feel that the 21st should have come with a warning: “May cause drowsiness due to excessive demands on your time”. If the governments of the world got together and agreed that we’d all add an extra hour to the day, I’d be thrilled. If you’re anything like me, you keep a list of chores and tasks that absolutely have to get done but as soon as you tick off the last, another 6 have suspiciously appeared from nowhere! So you begin to prioritise. The car needs to be serviced or you’ll have to walk to work – bang goes that trip to the cinema. The dog needs it’s vaccinations again – better cancel that lunch date with friends. An elderly relative may be sick and needs you more than they did before or the children need more help than usual with their homework. These things always come first in our lives because they’re obligations. They’re things we promised to do when we made commitments and so even though we’d probably rather be binge-watching Netflix or playing Crusader Kings II (just me there?), they’re non-negotiable in our diary. For Christians, especially Roman Catholics, there are a few more non-negotiable dates in our diaries: Holy Days of Obligation.

Before we look into the Holy Days of Obligation set by the Church, let’s look at what they are and where they came from. And if you already know what they are and you’re struggling to keep all 8 that appear in the liturgical calendar today, think of our forebears who had a grand total of 36 to keep! A Holy Day of Obligation, simply put, is a day during the year in which your attendance at Mass is required – or perhaps a better word would be ‘commanded’. People can feel a little nervous when they talk about this sort of thing as they panic that it’ll make the Church seem overbearing or too authoritarian in what it expects but what else are the Ten Commandments? They are sacred duties we are commanded to perform when we make our commitment to live for Christ. And I hear you. Life is busy. Is it really necessary to bother with Holy Days when they can be so inconvenient? Well…..purgatory is pretty inconvenient too. I joke. Sort of.

Though it isn’t often included in “the list” of Holy Days of Obligation, the Sabbath is a holy day – and a holy day you’re obligated to attend. Which meets the criteria for a Holy Day of Obligation right? We all know that attending Mass is a vital part of our faith and many older people will chastise younger Catholics who don’t seem to accept or acknowledge that failing to attend Mass without a good reason is actually a mortal sin. Of course, that’s not to say that there are older Catholics out there who no longer hold with that idea themselves. Note that I say Sabbath and not Sunday specifically. Canon Law allows us to meet our obligation to keep the Sabbath holy by attending Mass on a Saturday evening instead of a Sunday morning. Personally I prefer the Saturday evening Mass as it tends to be a little quieter but some people wouldn’t dream of missing Sunday morning Mass – both Saturday evening and Sunday morning attendance are totally acceptable and meet the requirements of keeping the Sabbath day holy. But what if you skip both? I mean, you’ve got to have some time for yourself right?

All Saints
The Solemnity of All Saints is celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation.

There are plenty of good reasons to miss Mass. Maybe you had an accident and you’re laid up with a broken leg. Nobody can drive you to Church and so you might say a rosary instead. Maybe you absolutely have no choice but to work and without working, you can’t feed your family. Or maybe you absolutely have to care for a sick friend when nobody else can possibly get there. These are all just causes not to meet your obligation and the Lord accepts that sometimes, you just cant be in two places at once. But let’s say you don’t attend because…..well…you need some “me time”. Ultimately, we’re all going to have to stand before the Lord and explain why we did the things we did. I don’t know about you but I’d feel pretty sheepish if I had to tell the Lord that I missed Mass because the new series of The Crown had just landed on Netflix. If you’re skipping Mass, it isn’t the priest you have to answer to. It isn’t even the Curia or the Pope. It’s God.

Dr Scott Hahn speaks of the Mass as an opportunity. He says that during the Mass, a veil is lifted and everyone present experiences heaven. Everyone is in the real presence of Jesus and in that real presence we can offer intentions, we can offer praise, we can show respect – but mostly importantly, we can show our love for Jesus. Mother Angelica used to say that she loved simply walking into her chapel and saying “Hi Jesus” – because she knew He was there and she was with Him. So whilst ‘obligation’ sounds like an angry Bishop pointing at you and ordering you to do something, ultimately the Church can only prescribe. It can’t force you to take the medicine. That’s what free will is all about. We can attend the Mass or we can skip it to go bowling but the reality of that decision is whether we are saying yes or no to God and what he’s asked us to do in His service.

The Mass isn’t the only Holy Day we’re obligated to observe. In the modern Church, there are 8 days set aside for specific observations and some of them will be more familiar than others. Let’s see what those days are:-

  • January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
  • January 6th, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
  • March 19th, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Mother
  • Thursday, 6th Week of Eastertide, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
  • Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood
  • June 29th, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
  • August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • November 1st, the Solemnity of All Saints
  • December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin
  • December 25th, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Now you have to two choices. You can see this as a list of dates you can’t make it to bingo or you can see it as an opportunity to come to know more about the life of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Saints. For example, tomorrow is the Solemnity of All Saints. It’s a celebration of all the Saints, known and unknown. I have a particular fondness for two saints; St Rita of Cascia and St Thomas More. So tomorrow, I’ll go to Mass not just because I’m obligated to but because I’ll give thanks to the Lord for their example and I’ll pray for the intercession of St Rita and St Thomas More to help me through my current struggles or trials. Again, by seeing a Holy Day as an opportunity to know holiness rather than as an obligation you’re forced to meet you’ll feel far more connected to your faith, to the Church and to God.

St Thomas More
St Thomas More, Pray for Us.

And whilst these Holy Days are known as “Solemnities”, they are all celebrated as being part of the mystery of our faith and they give us cause to be happy. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary doesn’t just remind us of the love our Holy Mother has for us or her place in Heaven but it reminds us too that we’re all going to have our own assumption. We’re all going to be received into Heaven – well, we hope so! All Saints in particular gives us thousands of examples of holiness to emulate and so whilst our busy lives do sometimes make our spiritual obligations seem a little excessive, remember that to skip out on a Holy Day is a mortal sin for a reason. It isn’t just a punishment from the Church. It’s disappointing to God. How much time do you really give to Him in your daily life? Could you give more? Well, tomorrow is your chance.

On this All Saints Day, I pray that you find peace and joy in the Lord and that the Saints will inspire you and bring you closer to God’s love and His mercy. Amen!

The Last Supper
The Mass

How to: Mass Cards and Missals

If you’ve ever been to a service in a temple, mosque or cathedral you’ll probably know the all too familiar awkwardness of standing whilst everyone else is kneeling or trying to make sense of a service book thicker than the complete works of Shakespeare when everyone else around you seems to know it all by heart. When I first started to attend Mass, it seemed like an Olympic sport of memorised responses and constant bobbing up and down and I often left feeling a little dejected. I wanted to experience the joy of it but I honestly didn’t have a clue what people were doing – or most importantly, why they were doing it. In this post, we’ll examine the Mass from the point of view of the beginner – both the spiritual aspect of it and the practical. For cradle Catholics it’s familiar territory but for those of us who are trying not to look totally lost on a Sunday morning, it can be quite an intimidating experience. If that sentiment sounds familiar, don’t panic! Journey into Faith has you covered.

My favourite definition of the Mass comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the big heavy intimidating volume, not the penny version) which says:-

1358 – “We must consider the Eucharist as:
  • -thanksgiving and praise to the Father;
  • -the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his body;
  • -the presence of Christ by the power of his word and his Spirit

If you understand nothing else of the prayers, the tradition or the custom present within the celebration of the Mass (or the Eucharist), for now just focus on that definition. We attend Mass to praise God, to remember Jesus but mostly importantly to be in His presence which for Catholics is a very literal statement. When the priest consecrates the wafer and the wine, a sacred process takes place whereby something made by man is transformed into the actual blood, body, soul and divinity of Jesus. By attending the Mass, we’re taking the place the Apostles took by Jesus’ side at the Last Supper. We’re in His presence and we hear His words spoken by the priest which have their foundation in the Gospel of St Matthew, Chapter 26, Verses 26 – 28:-

The Last Supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had said the blessing, he broke it and gave it to the disciples. ‘Take it and eat,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you,
28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Regardless of anything else anyone else might be doing if you aren’t sure what to do at Mass, you can simply sit and meditate on those words and what the Eucharist means for us as Catholics and to you personally. What’s important is that you’re actually there to be a part of the mystery, to praise God, to honour the sacrifice of Jesus and to feel the blessings that come from the Holy Spirit.

But everyone wants to fit in right? Every part of the Mass has been carefully constructed over many centuries to ensure that we give full honour and glory to God as we take attend it’s celebration and don’t misunderstand me, it is important to try to be a part of it’s celebration in terms of the prayers, the songs and the responses. But for a beginner, it can all be very overwhelming and we need a little help.

Let’s face it, we all have bad days. I’ve been into churches before where I’ve been dealt a killer glare from a furious old lady in a long black mantilla for sitting when I should have been standing and I’ve started saying the Our Father when everyone else is working through the Apostle’s Creed. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re there to commune with God, to be in His presence. He knows you’re trying your best and I’m pretty sure that He values a contrite and open heart far more than a lightening quick memory. In other words, you can know every word to a gospel but if you don’t understand and appreciate it’s meaning, you’re still falling short of what God wants from us. But this is Sunday morning, people have had an early start and they may be feeling a little crabby and less than generous. If someone sees you struggling, they may help but don’t feel you can’t ask. Yes the old lady in the black mantilla may well ignore you but on the whole, most will appreciate being asked and they’ll try to talk you through it or at least point you to the right page in the hymn book. Which brings us to….missals.

Once you’ve decided that you want to keep going to Mass, you’ll probably want to find something suitable to help you to follow the Order of the Mass and here’s where you can waste a lot of time and money and still feel like you’re wading through treacle in your bare feet. There are so many books out there ranging from $1 to $500 which all contain the Order of the Mass but which might not be so easy to follow. So I’ve gathered up four resources, all of which I’ve used (or still use) which I hope will make life a little easier!

Mass Cards and Missals

Let’s start with the blue ‘Order of Mass in Latin & English’ which was my first purchase. It’s published by the Catholic Truth Society, costs anywhere from $1 – $2.50 and is available from Amazon, Ebay or even at your local church. It’s a great little resource in that the print is fairly large, it’s pocket sized and it gives you the latin translation on the opposite side of the page. And of course, it’s cheap and won’t set you back all that much. But it has it’s drawbacks. I recently showed this to my priest and he agreed that it’s very much “An Advanced Study” in that it offers lots of different options for prayers depending on the time of the year and the various masses than can be said for particular days in the church calendar. And that can make it very difficult to follow. I’ve found myself flicking through pages during the most sacred parts of the Mass simply because I don’t want to get lost or left out and that can actually be detrimental to the whole experience. It’s little brother next door (the orange coloured Order of Mass published by Veritas) is a little more concise but it still relies on a wider knowledge of how the Mass changes throughout the year. Which may be a bit confusing for a beginner.

Now let’s deal with the top two items; The Missal and the Mass Card. Which as you’ll soon tell, are my preferred and recommended options. The Roman Missal (or Missale Romanum) doesn’t just contain the Order of Mass but it contains the scriptures used during the Mass itself depending on what day of the year it is. When you go to Mass, you’ll usually find (either online or on a service sheet) a handy identifier for that particular Mass based on it’s place in the liturgical calendar. For example; “Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A”. You simply find it in the Missal and there you’ll find the readings used for the Mass as well as the responses – saving you the hassle of trying to remember where you put the church bulletin you were handed as you went into the church!

Missals usually have three handy ribbons so you can easily mark the readings from the Order of the Mass and then you just have to work between the sections as the Mass progresses. Missals will also usually contain other prayers, novenas and devotions which can really benefit your prayer life and give you something to focus on before the Mass begins. But missals can be expensive. The blue missal you see in the picture cost me around $17 but I have seen them go for as much as $80. Unless you particularly like the way they’re illustrated or you want a particular colour or binding, I really don’t see why you’d spend that much but some people like to consider their missal as something precious they’ll use throughout their lives or even as a sacramental. So it really is personal choice depending on what you find easiest and what you can afford.

Finally, we have the Mass card. It’s simple, it’s easy to follow and it’s in apple pie order. But best of all, if your priest is as generous as mine? It’s free! It’s published by St Paul’s Publishing (located in the UK) but they’re widely available online for as little as $0.25. Some online stores even give them away for free if you ask nicely. Now for some Masses, you might find that the Mass card doesn’t include a particular variation of a prayer being said that day but for a beginner who just wants to get to know the basic format? I can wholeheartedly recommend the card over the books until you feel ready to progress. Personally, I like to use both the Missal and the Mass card, relying on the card for the Order of the Mass and then using the Missal to follow the readings. It’s pretty foolproof and even the addition of a hymnal doesn’t give you too much to flip between as you’re trying to follow along.

If you’ve been feeling nervous about attending Mass or you’re just feeling a little left behind, why not have a chat with your priest? He may well know someone who won’t mind helping you through and he may even have a missal or a mass card you can have or at least borrow. Whichever method you choose, remember why you’re really there. It isn’t about parroting words. It’s about celebrating the love of Jesus. And He’s always happy to see you there.

 

General

In the Beginning…

It’s 4am. You can’t sleep. You’ve tried remaking the bed and you’ve bolted down mugs of hot milk but to no avail. Spotify’s ‘Calm Sleepy Time’ playlist left you feeling more awake than you were before you climbed the stairs. It took strength beyond measure to do it, but you’ve finally rescued yourself from the rabbit hole of YouTube where the ladies laughing at pencils and people filling swimming pools with Orbeez live. And now you’re just surfing the internet before sleep. Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’re on a lunchbreak in the middle of a truly terrible work day. Your boss is being particularly vicious and you’ve spent the whole morning daydreaming about strangling him with the plug from the coffee maker. Or you might be a Roman Catholic who wants to see the faith from someone else’s point of view. Or you’re a committed atheist who hunts down blogs like this one to leave a few nasty comments to irritate those high and mighty Christians. Or you’ve just been dumped and your heart is breaking. Maybe you clicked on this link by mistake. Whichever of these statements apply to you, know one thing – I’m glad you’re here.

With the welcome over and done with, let’s get down to converting you to the Roman Catholic faith!

I jest. This blog isn’t designed to make you see the error of your ways, it isn’t about saving souls or trying to make you see the light. You won’t be tracked down by eager nuns who’ll strap you into a chair and fling holy water in your face until you repent. The purpose of this project really is very simple – it’s about sharing a journey into faith. Blogging is a little like screaming into a bucket. You can’t actually be sure if anyone heard you. You might take something from the posts you find here or you might not. But whether faith is something you consider a closed chapter or whether you find yourself on a similar path, every human being is on a journey into faith whether they’re aware of it or not. We’re consistently learning, discovering, thinking and examining regardless of the different conclusions we come to. Whether it’s Christianity or Judaism, Islam or Hinduism, Buddhism or Humanism, there isn’t a magical box locked away in a secret cave with all the answers inside it. There are just human beings doing what human beings have done since the dawn of time – searching for truth.

For some, that truth is that there is no God. For others, the truth is that God made the world in seven days. Whatever your truth, I’ll bet you the fortune I don’t have that you didn’t have it handed to you on a plate one day and just accepted it as being truth. For me, that’s the difference between religion and faith. We may have been raised within a certain framework with a clear and consistent morality but it’s simply a brand or the name of a collective until we make a personal connection with it – and that’s how we come to know what our faith is. As I get older, I see many of my friends in the same position as I am today. Suddenly, we’ve all hit 30 years old and the bigger questions in life have started to dance about in our heads. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What brings us true comfort and support when we need it? I have a friend who is converting to Judaism, another who has recently entered a Buddhist monastery and others are reconnecting with faith they put on hold during their formative years. It wasn’t quite that simple for me.

As a child of 13 years of age, I was asked to write a paper for school about religion and what it means to people. I hadn’t really given much thought to God to be honest and as the product of an atheist household, my parents quite liked it that way. Religion interfered. It was too demanding. But by the same token, we were free as children to decide what we believed and what religion we’d like to adopt – if any. So there was an audible sigh of relief when, instead of asking my parents about the finer details of God, Heaven & Hell, I opted instead to visit the local convent and see what the nuns could tell me. I was “allocated” Sister Oliver, a heavyset 80 year old nun with large thick glasses that made her eyes look far too big for her head and a thick Irish accent. She viewed me with suspicion.

“You’re not Catholic?”, she interrogated.

I muttered something about having Jewish & Catholic heritage but not belonging to anything.

“Nonsense”, she said defiantly, “You belong to God. Everybody does”.

It was said with such astounding conviction that I was a bit taken aback and lost all my concentration. Once I’d asked her the questions I needed to answer for my school paper, I thanked Sister Oliver and left the convent never to return. But Sister Oliver had worked her magic. She had introduced me to the concept of faith as something personal. It was no longer something other people had and I didn’t. It wasn’t the private possession of the clergy, it wasn’t stored away in vast churches, mosques or synagogues. It was tangible. It was accessible. I belonged to God. Because everybody does…

I would love to be able to write that my faith journey began on that day, that Sister Oliver became a firm friend and that she saw me through my reception into the Roman Catholic Church. But I was 13. Quite aside from the fact that I wasn’t old enough, I was just about to fall over the cliff edge into spotty, angsty teenage depression. And who has time to bother with God at that age? I was determined not to fit in. I didn’t want to hear anything other than what I already knew – and as we all know, teenagers know EVERYTHING.

Fast forward a decade or two and here I am. 6 weeks into the RCIA course after a year or two of private study and preparing to become a Roman Catholic. As I learn and grow in that calling, as I take those steps on my journey into faith, it seems a good idea to document that journey. But having said that, I don’t want this blog to be just another RCIA diary. This blog is designed to explore Catholicism from the point of view of a newcomer with all the questions and conflicts that discovery will no doubt involve as well as the facts and teachings that I just think I’d like to share. There’ll be Bible study, prayer, Saints and sin, debate on the hard moral questions we all face but in all these things I can only offer my truth. Your truth may be different and in today’s world, I feel we’ve taken a step backwards in remembering that the purpose of debate or sharing ideas isn’t to force someone to bend to our view of things. It’s about learning and seeking together.

We may disagree. We may make mistakes. But ultimately, I think the majority of people all want the same thing for themselves and for their loved ones – peace and a little more understanding of what’s out there. If you find that from this blog? I’ll take that as having done something right.

So without further ado, let’s start today. Let’s begin a journey into faith.