I received a copy of This Rock in the mail today. I must admit it was not the way I would normally like to have begun my day, but nonetheless I did read your editorial. I stopped reading when I finished your essay (Reasons for Hope).
You mention in your article about the greeting of peace that "many people would interpret its omission here as a sign that we don't care about community or peace." Whether you say or believe that or not, it is clear that it is your understanding about liturgy that is so lacking.
The fact that many like you are unwilling to simply reach out to those around and offer a simple greeting of peace is truly sad. It’s sad because you see liturgy as something which is simply between you and our Lord—that is not a communal prayer. History would tell us clearly that the early Christians would have certainly reached out to others as they celebrated the Eucharist in their homes; that Christians who celebrated the Eucharist during times of persecution would have most certainly embraced each other in fraternal love and support. Yet there are those like yourself who feel this is demeaning and even sacrilegious. What a shame.
Please, please do remove my name from your mailing list. I do not want to waste your time, mail and resources by sending me a copy of this kind of publication. As pastor of a very large suburban parish I would likewise discourage my parishioners from this kind of misinformed information. My prayer is that as you continue to seek the Lord in your private "hands off" manner, that one day you will recognize that the person next to you whom you hesitate to greet at the Greeting of Peace is none other than the person of Jesus himself.
— Fr. Brian Chabala
Farmington Hills, Michigan
"Oh would some gift the Giver give us, to see ourselves as others see us."—Robert Burns
Your editorial in the March 2007 issue of This Rock was a classic example of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Your discussion about the "sign of peace" was actually a diatribe against something in the Mass you don’t like, and so you had to include all the distortions that have crept in to spoil and disfigure this part of the Mass. But you also wrote something else, which seems to illustrate the fact that you haven’t gotten the message and apparently have concluded that others also haven’t—as you use the plural form "we" when talking about sinners who have conflicts and tensions, which they apparently have not reconciled before coming to celebrate the liturgy (cf. Matt. 5:23-24). In other words, "We skip [the sign of peace] . . . In that moment of silence, with nothing to distract the conscience, any lack of peace resounds like a foghorn."
Of course, peace is not accomplished by a simple gesture at Mass. The symbol is supposed to be a sign that this peace has been accomplished within our hearts before we came to Mass. If we cannot do that, but have to turn our noses up at what is supposed to be an outward sign of inner peace, even when it is abused, then we haven’t made much progress in our Christian lives.
— Fr. R. Kosterman
You like the omission of the "shake, rattle, and roll" at the daily Mass. Maybe you need to join a monastery. We have people who walk out of the children’s Mass because they are telling jokes in church—would you follow?
There needs to be some bit of cameraderie with churchgoing. Some people go out of their way to shake hands with those from a different bent, which makes more people feel included. I’ve heard regular churchgoers expressing deep-felt thanks because someone shook the hand of a reluctant outsider, friend, or loved one who didn’t feel welcome or comfortable at the service. Maybe the priest could tone it down at your church if it is outlandish.
Reverence in the Mass is a key element, but not an exclusive element. I think the Catholic Church is struggling against an image of being unfriendly, as well.
— Jack Brett
Editor’s reply: My Baptist grandmother occasionally attends Mass with me but she refuses to kneel, saying, "Kneeling is an empty ritual. In our church we say we kneel in our hearts."
"Gran," I once responded, "You can’t tell from the outside whether the ritual is empty or not— perhaps we are kneeling like crazy in our hearts."
Now, if I refused to offer a sign of peace during Mass, my critics would be justified in their responses, which really boil down to the same response I gave my grandmother. But the truth is that I have never refused to give a sign of peace during Mass; I don’t even "hesitate" to do so. I did not write that I am "unwilling" and I do not turn my nose up at it. I did not write that I "see liturgy as something which is simply between [me] and Our Lord" as opposed to "a communal prayer." I did not write that I feel the gesture "demeaning" or "sacrilegious." Nor do I advocate the its abolition.
So much for what I did not write and do not believe. What I did write is that at our private, daily Mass, where none of us is a stranger, I like the silence. The Church allows for it. Who, then, has the right to say that I should not like it?
I agree with Fr. Kosterman that peace should be accomplished before we go to Mass. I agree with Mr. Brett that many parishes seem unfriendly and the kiss of peace is a welcoming gesture. But I am not alone in being uncomfortable at the way it is conducted in many parishes. Indeed, the issue was addressed in the latest Apostolic Exhortation:
By its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace. At Mass this dimension of the Eucharistic mystery finds specific expression in the sign of peace. Certainly this sign has great value (cf. Jn 14:27). In our times, fraught with fear and conflict, this gesture has become particularly eloquent, as the Church has become increasingly conscious of her responsibility to pray insistently for the gift of peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family. Certainly there is an irrepressible desire for peace present in every heart. The Church gives voice to the hope for peace and reconciliation rising up from every man and woman of good will, directing it towards the one who "is our peace" (Eph. 2:14) and who can bring peace to individuals and peoples when all human efforts fail. We can thus understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace at a liturgical celebration. Even so, during the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one's immediate neighbors (Sacramentum Caritatis 49, emphasis added).
When Did We Visit You?
As you can no doubt tell from the return address, I am a prison inmate. I am fairly new to the Catholic faith (hopefully being baptized/confirmed this spring or early summer) and have been trying hard to learn all that I can. I have been blessed by Catholic Answers and given a free subscription to your fantastic magazine. It really helps! Each issue is passed through at least a dozen hands of others to read. It often sparks a number of in-depth conversations among ourselves and with our priest. For example, last week in our Catholic Inquiry class we discussed the topic of Catholics in non-denominational Bible studies—a discussion sparked by the article in your January ’07 issue.
— John Mebane
Editor’s reply: Because of the generosity of our supporters, we are able to provide free subscriptions to prisoners. If you would like to contribute to this cause, please call Customer Service at (888) 291-8000.
Correction: Regarding Stephen Berardi’s letter in the April issue, the argument presented by Patrick Beeman in "Elementary Logic and the Beginning of Life" was indeed valid; the error was introduced in the editorial process by the introduction of a negative. The argument should have read:
If the zygote is not already human, then the zygote will not become human.
The zygote will become human.
Therefore, it is not the case that the zygote is not already human.
For more information about medical ethics and to read the original version of the essay, go to Patrick’s blog at http://catholicmedstudent.blogspot.com.
We regret the error.
Correction: In the February 2007 issue, the photo credit for The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece (page 7) should have been attributed to the Bridgeman Art Library.