Lest They Receive It in Vain

Right lay preparation and interior disposition is necessary to effectively and fruitfully receive the grace of the sacraments, including and especially, the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist.

St. John the Evangelist by Flemish painter Pieter van Mol (1599-1650)

The Vatican II Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC),1 is a teaching of obvious importance in seminaries for priestly formation. The liturgy—especially Holy Mass—has an importance for Catholics that is difficult to overstate or overemphasize.

In this document on Sacred Liturgy, SC §10 expresses a teaching of the Church very successfully ingrained into the minds and hearts of Catholics, clergy, and laity. Because of its importance to the Church, that is a good thing. However, the next paragraph, SC §11, is apparently poorly taught and received. And because of the crucial importance of SC §11 to SC §10, there is a resultant serious weakness in the life and mission of the Church.

The Source and Summit of the Christian Life

Let us first review SC §10:

Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.

The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with “the paschal sacraments,” to be “one in holiness”; it prays that “they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith”; the renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ, and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ, and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.

As a seminarian comes to know the powerful, central importance of his ministry to the Church, it is no wonder that he is awed by it, focused on it, and protective of it. The liturgy “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” And the liturgy is to be his ministry! All the activity of the Church comes from that: the liturgy, and especially the Holy Eucharist. Without the priesthood, we would have no Eucharist, and the Eucharist is the center and the heart of the life of the Church!

The liturgy, and especially the Eucharist, however, is intended to have a real, personal, supernatural effect on members of the Church, and that effect requires more than merely the priest’s part in its celebration—no matter how liturgically correct, or reverently and beautifully offered. The well-taught and true importance of the liturgy among our priests can be undermined by an apparent failure to have learned and applied the truth of SC §11:

But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must, therefore, realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.

The full, beautiful effects that Holy Mass is intended to produce in the people (including the clergy celebrating it) will not be accomplished unless all come to it and celebrate it with right disposition. “It is necessary … that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.” Here, in SC §11, Paul’s exhortation is cited (2 Cor 6:1), “Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” It is possible that this supernatural outpouring of divine grace, effected by the liturgy with the ministry of the holy priesthood, will be received in vain!

Right interior disposition in the laity is necessary. SC §11 continues: “Pastors of souls must, therefore, realize” this truth, that “something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

The Power of the Words of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Word

Immediately preceding the Liturgy of the Eucharist, of course, is the proximate preparation for it: the Liturgy of the Word. How then does one prepare to receive the Eucharist, how is right disposition to be enabled, through the Liturgy of the Word? How is the faith of the members to grow, to be strengthened, to be deepened, to be brought closer to that maturity—perfection—in Christ that is our vocation? How are the members to be guided to a place such that this Mass, this self-offering in union with Christ’s, this reception of Christ himself—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—will be more complete, more fruitful for the glory of God, than the last Mass?

The Liturgy of the Word, with a good homily, cannot alone do what a lifetime of discipleship ought to do to prepare a Catholic for the Holy Eucharist, but it can do much. The USCCB published a study intended to help homilists in the difficult and demanding duty of proclaiming Christ to the people, from the words he has entrusted to His Church. The document is Preaching the Mystery of Faith(USCCB, 2012).2 The true heart of their recommendations, I believe, is in the section, “The Preacher as a Man of Holiness.” I would summarize the following passage briefly with this: “You cannot give what you do not have.”

To preach the Gospel authentically to the Christian community, the homilist should strive to live a life of holiness. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus strongly challenges those religious leaders who “preach but … do not practice,” those who “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but … will not lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:3-4). To attempt to evangelize through words and example those who need to revitalize their faith, without awareness of one’s own need for ongoing spiritual renewal, would be in vain. The homilist who humbly and confidently seeks the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the preparation of the homily proclaims God’s word with greater clarity, integrity, and effectiveness. This, in turn, enables him and the hearers to participate more fully and actively, with more understanding and authentic faith in the Eucharist.

Indeed, the time given to preparing the homily must begin with a fruitful time of reflection and prayer. Just as the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy itself is not a theatrical performance, or simply a matter of the rituals being correctly carried out, neither is the homily simply an exercise in good public speaking. Along with the study and care given to the content of the homily, and the manner of its presentation, there should also be time for personal reflection on the meaning of the Scriptures, and scrutiny of one’s own spiritual life in prayerful silence. As Pope Benedict XVI notes in Verbum Domini, “Preachers need to be in close and constant contact with the sacred text; they should prepare for the homily by meditation and prayer, so as to preach with conviction and passion.” In this sense, the evangelizer must also first make sure that his own life has engaged the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The people need and deserve homilies worthy of the inspired words they unfold. Some may appreciate jokes, many may not. Some may appreciate lengthy human interest stories meant to introduce the passage, but are they edified by these things? Many may wish the homilist would simply get to the point and quickly—the point being what God would have us hear, and believe, and live. Speaking of our “Present Cultural Context” the USCCB document says this:

We also recognize that many Catholics, even those who are devoted to the life of the Church and hunger for a deeper spirituality, seem to be uninformed about the Church’s teaching, and are in need of a stronger catechesis. At a time when living an authentic Christian life leads to complex challenges, people need to be nourished all the more by the truth and guidance of their Catholic faith. Aware of this present social context and realizing the need for a deeper evangelization among our Catholic population, with renewed vigor the Church’s preachers must inspire and instruct the faithful in the beauty and truth of Catholic Tradition and practice.

… Yet, the homilist of today must realize that he is addressing a congregation that is more culturally diverse than previously, one that is profoundly affected by the surrounding secular agenda and, in many instances, inadequately catechized. The Church’s rich theological, doctrinal, and catechetical tradition must, therefore, properly inform the preaching task in its liturgical setting, for Jesus Christ must be proclaimed in a new way and with new urgency, and the Sunday liturgy remains the basic setting in which most adult Catholics encounter Christ and their Catholic faith.

Because so many Catholics in the pews have so little formation in the Catholic faith, doctrines, moral teachings, and prayer, those few words that make up a typical, brief homily are precious, valuable! Please do not waste them. Please bring forth the fruit of your own spirituality, your own faith, your own heart. Unfold the holy words with your own words in authenticity and sincerity given you by the Spirit for the people! Yes, your time is required—much time with the Word. Bishop George Leo Thomas3 of the Diocese of Helena recently (2012) published some guidelines for homilists, which included these:

The effective homily always draws deeply from the wisdom of the Gospel, and goes beyond an interesting story or clever wordcraft. All effective homilies have a sense of urgency and freshness that focus on Jesus Christ, and reveal the beauty and promise of his kingdom.

Subscription homily services can be useful in triggering ideas, or serving as a catalyst to creative thinking. However, the effective homilist cannot substitute canned homilies for the serious, prayerful, and important investment of time, as he carries out responsibly his ministry of the Word.

Adult Formation in the Faith

There is much that can be done, and done better, in the homily. Again, from SC §11, the homilist is “to ensure that the faithful take part fully, aware of what they are doing.” It is the duty of pastors to form the laity so that they can participate in the Mass, in each part of it, with right disposition. We all need to know the Catholic moral life, and our own sins, so that we can participate authentically, sincerely, in the Penitential Rite at the beginning of the Mass. We need to know the Gospel! We need to know the Scriptures, so that we can follow the readings of the Word, and a mature homily that ought to follow! We need to know the meaning of the Passion, Cross, and Resurrection—and the Ascension, and Pentecost—so that the Consecration at the altar means something to us. We need to know of the Last Things, so that Holy Communion in Jesus, here and now, is rightly understood, and received. We need to know the flow and the movements of the Mass. We need to participate as the Mass proceeds; we need to be fully conscious and active participants. We need to be “rightly disposed,” so as to receive the graces of the Mass effectively and fruitfully.

As the USCCB pointed out above, “… many Catholics, even those who are devoted to the life of the Church and hunger for a deeper spirituality, seem to be uninformed about the Church’s teaching and are in need of a stronger catechesis.” What exactly, then, is happening in our churches in the celebrations of Holy Mass?

One thing that may not be happening, in many cases, is believing. A 1992 Gallup poll4 showed serious confusion among Catholics about this very important tenet of the Catholic Faith—the Holy Eucharist:

  • 30 percent of those surveyed believe they are actually receiving the Body and Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.
  •  29 percent believe they are receiving bread and wine symbolizing the spirit and teachings of Jesus.
  •  10 percent believe they are receiving bread and wine in which Jesus is present.
  •  23 percent believe they are receiving what has become the Body and Blood of Christ because of their personal belief.

A more recent study (2008) from CARA,5 although imprecisely worded, showed the following responses:

  • 57 percent: “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.”
  • 43 percent: “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.”

Of course, this second study, poorly worded, leaves some questions. Of those 57 percent, how many believe “Jesus is really present, but only spiritually, in the bread and wine”; how many believe “Jesus is really present physically in the bread and wine”; and how many believe that “Jesus is really and substantially present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine” (the Catholic teaching)?

Such studies, and other studies of Catholic understanding of the Faith, show the need for radical improvement in adult faith formation. Again, the question comes forward: what is happening in the celebration of Holy Mass, when the “right disposition” necessary for fruitful reception of the Eucharist, is only partially met because of a deficient and defective formation in the faith?

We have a bewildering contradiction! The Sacrifice of the Mass and Holy Eucharist—the source and summit of the Christian life—is the epitome, the defining act, of the priestly ministry and, perhaps, of the personal self-identity of the priest. Yet, this defining act of priesthood is intrinsically bound to a ministry—adult faith formation—that many pastors may omit entirely or relegate to others, and then forget, more concerned for their sacramental ministry and pastoral concerns. But adult faith formation of the laity is necessary and essential to what is essential to their priesthood—the Holy Eucharist! Right lay preparation and interior disposition is necessary to effectively and fruitfully receive the grace of the sacraments, including and especially, the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. Yet this ministry of evangelization and catechesis is least personally attended to by many of our pastors, priests, and bishops—and for some, it is not attended to at all.

Without question, the Holy Eucharist has power because of what it is in itself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC §1128) affirms:

  • (Cf. Council of Trent, 1547) that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all.
  • From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ, and his Spirit, acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister.

But—and this “but” cannot be overlooked—the Catechism then immediately adds, “Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.” Our disposition, the condition of our souls (mind and heart) when we receive—this is crucially important! The Church affirms that for the sacrament “to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.”

Starving Faith, Feeding Superstition?

If a pastor is doing little or nothing to enable growth and deepening of “right disposition,” he is “starving faith.” Is he, thereby, “feeding superstition”? Can a modern Catholic be (or become) superstitious concerning the Holy Eucharist? Yes. Listen to the Catechism yet again:

Superstition … can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance, in some way magical, to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers, or of sacramental signs, to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition. (§2111)

Can a Catholic, in receiving the Eucharist, believe that it is efficacious and fruitful in him merely because it was properly and beautifully consecrated by a priest in Holy Mass—regardless of his own interior dispositions that are required for right reception? If so, that would be superstition. What of a Catholic priest who does little or nothing to pass on to the laity an adult formation in the faith, to help them have and grow in right disposition? Is he thus an enabler of superstition, and not of faith, in his congregation? Can a Catholic priest be so focused on the priestly role of right delivery of the sacraments, including the Holy Eucharist, that he ignores and overlooks his pastoral role of enabling proper disposition and interior reception of those sacraments? Can the priest, in other words, become so specialized in sacramentalizing that he seriously neglects responsibility for evangelizing and catechizing? Can a Catholic priest become superstitious personally toward his own priesthood and offering of Holy Mass and, thereby, lose sight of true faith, true priestly shepherding, and the true mission of the Church?


The above questions are not rhetorical. I do not understand why many of our pastors so neglect adult faith formation. I understand their focus on sacraments and liturgy! But I cannot understand how they can ignore the disabling ignorance of the laity in matters of the Catholic Faith. Proper, full, fruitful reception of sacramental grace requires proper disposition and, thus, substantial, comprehensive formation in the faith. I shudder to think that the explanation for our “inadequate catechesis” could be liturgical superstition! A personal request: If any priests read this, please respond and share with me your sense of “why”: why is adult faith formation so neglected?

R. Thomas Richard, PhD About R. Thomas Richard, PhD

R. Thomas Richard, PhD, together with his wife, currently offers parish presentations and adult formation opportunities. He has served as religious formation director for parishes, director of lay ministry and deacon formation at the diocesan level, and retreat director. A former teacher, engineer, Protestant minister, and missionary, he has earned graduate degrees in Catholic theology and ministry, Protestant ministry, and physics. He is the author of several books in Catholic spirituality, which are described on his website, www.renewthechurch.com.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with what Thomas Richard is saying. However, I am amazed that almost everybody under the age of 65 ( or, perhaps, if we’re being optimistic, 60) does not know his faith. In my day ( I was born in 1943) every Catholic knew their faith and could defend it if necessary. That was my experience and we used to pity other Christians who confused the dogma of the Virgin Birth with the Immaculate Conception. Now, very few Catholics either know of them or if they do believe them. How did this happen? The lapsation rate of those who have attended Catholic schools from the age of 5 till 16 is over 90% and that is while they are still at school. I returned to teaching ( part time)in a Catholic school when the children were more grown up and I was horrified to find that very few knew basic prayers like the Lord’s Prayer (and the one who did was a Protestant!). This is the U.K. I am talking about and, at first, I thought that it was just us in our benighted land who had neglected to hand on the faith until I heard a Spanish teaching assistant called Concepcion ( after Our Lady’s title of The Immaculate Conception) explaining what her name meant and it became clear that she too though it was about the Virgin Birth! That’s when I realised that this problem was not confined to us in the british Isles but was probably much more widespread than I had imagined. I found that it’s no use speaking to the bishop or the director of Religious Education, one just gets threatened ( in the nicest possible way) with being reported to the authorities for abusing one’s children because somebody heard me shouting at the boys at 10.45. p.m. for making a slide from the top bunk instead of being asleep – the next day being a school day. My parish priest visited ( and they almost never do) to tell me that he had just stopped the Headmaster of the local school ringing the authorities with this story. I laughed, until I realised that he believed it! He believed it because I had had 7 children so, obviously, was much more likely to abuse them than other good Catholic families who only have two. What Thomas Richard wants seems like Paradise to me – I can count on the fingers of one hand when I have heard in my married life a sermon such as he describes. It is encouraging to hear that some people are thinking and writing about such ideas and I pray that it will soon come to pass sooner rather than later. My husband is not a Catholic though he is in Church every Sunday; in our parish church we are surrounded by people who are more interested in women priests, married priests, changing the Church’s teaching on divorce, contraception and abortion. If we still lived in the Church I grew up in, I believe he would have converted long ago as my mother did.

    • Hello Lochain. Thank you for your comments – your experiences and observations about the culture, and the Church, are not unlike my own. The changes – even within our own lifetime – can be stunning, and deeply saddening. We must not become disheartened, however – God is still working, and it’s not over yet! God and His righteousness will triumph; we have His assurance. In the end, all will be well.

      The following passage can be a great encouragement to all of us, in these days:

      Rev 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
      Rev 21:3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;
      Rev 21:4 he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
      Rev 21:5 And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
      Rev 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.
      Rev 21:7 He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son.

  2. Excellent article! I was cheering at the end of every paragraph.
    The question that arises, which perhaps inspires your next blog post, is how does one bring parishioners to adult formation or catechism? I notice you have worked in that capacity. What made it possible for you to gather an “audience” of disciples? I’ve found resistance when it comes to people taking the time for and making the commitment to a more intense spiritual journey.

    • Hello Greg. Thank you for your comment. And your “cheering”! Whenever I have written an article that calls for more, better, more comprehensive, more substantive adult formation, I have heard from a few lay Catholics in response who strongly agree – and I am grateful to hear that. I do have a blog article, “Proposal for a Parish Adult Formation Program” on my blog site – link is here:

      In that article, I make this statement concerning the need for sincere and strong support from the pastor:
      “The active support, leadership and involvement of the pastor or at least one resident priest is very important. If the pastor does not give genuine, sincere and continuing support to adult catechesis it has small likelihood of widespread success.” So to your question, “How does one bring parishioners to adult formation or catechism?” I would respond quickly, “First step, find a pastor who really wants to provide it!”

  3. The conclusion to be drawn from the collapse of understanding of the ancient teachings of the Catholic Faith is that these teachings are considered to be an impediment to ecumenical reconciliation. Somehow it has occurred to those responsible that the problem preventing the reconciliation of all nominal Christians was the Christian Catholic faith itself.* Either the Faith is taught and (the hoped for image of) reconciliation is not achieved^ or the faithful are de-Catholisized via the omission of faith formation, so that unity could now be possible in a yet-to-be achieved way.

    *Where as the Church Herself teaches that the failure of reconciliation is the lingering effects of un-repented, un-forgiven, and un-penance’d sin.
    ^As if this were a higher priority than the salvation of souls or that the unity for which Jesus Christ prayed had not already been achieved in the Catholic Church Herself.

    • Hello Darren, thank you for your comment. I can hear and understand clearly what you are saying, but I would very much like to hear how you have come to that conclusion. I’d be grateful to hear you elaborate further about this, if possible.

      • The matter boils down to this: people, Churchmen and professed religious in dedicated roles of theological work (not all but far too many), came to the conclusion that they had no authority to teach what they were teaching, namely, that outside of the Church there is no salvation.

        And they were right.


        They did not, in and of themselves, by which I mean intrinsic to their nature, have the authority to teach these things. However, Jesus Christ* did and He gave to the Church the authority to teach this. Just as God gives fallen man the grace to restore He also gives the authority to proclaim His Kingdom and plan for salvation.

        Now, I claim zero original insight or a surfeit of intelligence to figure these things out. I just listened to what the Church has always taught. As a result, the problem resolves itself in the light the “traditional” catechism throws on the situation. Call me weak, but I tend to go with what removes confusion as opposed to what increases confusion.

        It isn’t terribly complicated. Unfetter the Church and She will fulfill Her role in God’s work of being the teacher of Mankind.^

        * And this is the critical point, without saying credo to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man, you do not have faith. No faith, then no faith formation.
        ^ Or ask yourself who doesn’t want the Church acting as She was empowered to. Answer: the Devil. Game, set, match traditional catechism.

    • Avatar MAC Danner, OP says:

      I would add to this, if I could. Logistically, the modern Church in America today has reduced itself to a business model. Most parishes that I have worked in and been affiliated with are more concerned with numbers and revenue stream than they are with the salvation of souls.
      This directly contradicts John 6, the Bread of Life Discourse, where it is revealed to us that its not about the numbers. The Discourse begins with thousands begging Our Lord for the Bread from Heaven. As He expounds further on His revelation of the Eucharist, thousands dwindle to hundreds. And then, when He declares that the Eucharist is His Body and His Blood, the hundreds turn away and He may be left with just a few dozen, whom He rebukes sharply to see if even they will remain.
      Once the priests realize that a successful parish is not about numbers but about True Faith and they step out on the limb and truly believe themselves “give us this day our daily bread,” there will be little hope for change.
      How soon we forget that the last time religion was turned into a business it all ended rather horribly in 70AD with the total destruction of the Temple.

  4. Thomas, this is a tremendously well-written and researched article. I think it is best summarized by its title, borrowing from Vatican II via St. Paul. Never should a gift from God be received in vain. Much is needed to be done. The heart of the matter lies in priorities: urgent things cannot suffocate important things! Priests and leadership are busy, but all things must fall to the homily preparation and to adult formation. There are many parishes that have “caught the fire” and are re-aligning priorities. This is a good first move. But, again, much is needed to be done!

    • Thank you Fr. Kirby for your response. As I wrote in my article, I really want and appreciate comments and especially any insights from clergy, concerning this crucially important matter.

      Please bear with me, as I write what I realize well that you know. Possibly everyone who reads this could say, “Yes, yes, I know that. Of course. Amen!” But it cannot be that everyone does know this, obvious and basic as it is, because it is not being done. So, I will write a bit more. You included in your response this true comment: “The heart of the matter lies in priorities: urgent things cannot suffocate important things!”

      Since what is being suffocated here is not only important but essential to the Church, the wide-spread misdirection in pastoral priorities is serious indeed. It is essential to the Church to “make disciples,” and to a large extent we are failing. We continue to sacramentalize, and fail to catechize. We minimally feed, but fail to build up, empower, and send out. We’ve got to get past the “bland”, and find that fire that must be caught and kindled. We form our precious committees to attend to maintenance, but we ignore the funding, planning, organizing and working the mission given us all by Jesus:
      Mt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
      Mt 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

      It is not complicated; it is not “rocket science.” It is very simple, and the yoke of Jesus is “easy.” It does require everything a man is and has, and so it is very inconvenient, calling for radical changes from the ways of this age, and radical embrace of Christ and His Spirit. I suspect it would cost much, for dioceses and parishes and persons! But as the Lord promised, He has for those who follow Him, “a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mk 10:30)

      Thank you again. As you wrote, “priests and leadership are busy.” Paul called us all to careful discernment of our use of the days God gives us:
      Eph 5:15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
      Eph 5:16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
      Eph 5:17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

  5. Avatar MAC Danner, OP says:

    Kudos for hitting the nail squarely on the head! The number one problem in the Roman Catholic Church in America today is the failure of our priests to teach the supernatural faith of Jesus Christ–especially in regard to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist. Our priests are more concerned with “Rebuilding” their parishes in the model of Protestant mega churches than they are in feeding their sheep Truth. I directed RCIA for many years and I cannot tell you how many sacramentalized cradle Catholics could not articulate a correct understanding of any of the 12 points of the Apostles Creed. Most do not believe in transubstantiation and the Real Presence, but rather believe in consubstantiation because its easier for them to understand. And the priests enable this heresy to foster and grow when they replace adult faith formation with small parish discussion groups designed to make us feel good about faith and that we can decide for ourselves what the Truth is. In essence, in not promoting the objective and universal Truth concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist, and the Real Presence, the priests are effectively creating a very Protestant anthropocentric church where our feelings are more important than revealed and dogmatic Catholic Truth. This spills directly into liturgical praxis as well–while not a supporter of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, Benedict XVI’s rationale for allowing it to co-exist with the Novus Ordo was genius. Priests need to apply the same rigorous discipline and attention to detail demanded by the Extraordinary Form to the Novus Ordo. Lex credendi, lex orandi. Are they willing to do this? Some, yes. But I fear that the majority have given up on the Truth and are now more than willing to settle for what is convenient, what is nice, and what won’t impede the revenue stream into their parishes.

    • I think it was Augustine who really hit the nail on the head! He said it this way (City of God, Bk XIV Ch 28):
      “Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.”

      Through salvation history, men have tried to do the impossible: find a “middle ground” – a [non-existent] compromise between God and the world. Men want to have it both ways – to keep their worldly ambitions while not too greatly offending God. The result: the lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, who can neither be sent as mature disciples, nor be converted to new babes in Christ. They already “know”, they already “see”. God help us!

      We must be faithful to the grace and the place we have been given – indeed, “entrusted with.” I am sure God will do the rest! He will surely do what only He can do, and we must do what He has entrusted us to do.

  6. Great and much needed article on the state of adult formation in general (there are parishes which are wonderful exceptions) I am an associate at my second assignment in 5th year of priesthood. From my limited experience.. the lack of adult formation is a complex issue that I’m not sure can be pinned only on the pastors. First, I think liturgy in itself is meant to form the people, it is important to have a beautiful liturgy, with sacred music, art, chant, and traditions which create a sense of reverence and awe toward the Eucharist. In my experience most average suburban parishes have contemporary music, often modern church architecture devoid of sacred art and sanctuaries filled with lay ministers of Holy Communion which does not exactly foster a deep reverence for the Eucharist. Holy Communion is given out in such a methodical almost “processed” way it almost seems to me like something from a factory. Having said that, I would agree that having a reverent liturgy which builds on Catholic traditions, is only the start. Such a liturgy will not by itself form the people. The congregation needs scripture inspired and faith filled preaching. But more than that, they need some kind of way to learn what it means to be a Christian and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Majority of our people have no idea what discipleship is all about, and preaching about it is not enough. Perhaps they need intense one on one formation, small groups, and real examples of mentors to begin to learn. I don’t think what we (priests) are doing currently is enough. On the other hand, our efforts seem to be having little effect. Over and over I have seen pastors and myself prepare talks for adult formation only to have a small group of seniors show up. Some of us have written excellent articles in the bulletin, but who reads the bulletin? The majority of the Sunday parish population we would like to reach: the young families, singles, middle-agers, never come to adult formation opportunities. This can be discouraging to priests who are already overwhelmed with ministry demands. Our people get their “formation” from CNN and the media… which teaches them lies about the Gospel. They are immersed in it, and how do you pull them out? Do you keep giving talks to a small group of seniors who come to adult formation? We need to rethink our structures and approach but it needs to be a joint clergy and laity effort and above all in the Holy Spirit.

    • Fr. Tom, thank you for your thoughtful, straight-forward and honest response to my article. I am very grateful for all of your thoughts – and above all I am grateful for what I hear in your response as sincere concern to better minister to the people entrusted to your care. Such sincere concern is beautiful. I pray with you, that the Lord may send light and grace into His Church, that we might all be aflame in the holiness and truth of His will – that we as Church “make disciples”, worthy of His Name and HIs intention.

      First, you speak of the beauty and power of Liturgy, well-celebrated. Certainly, the Liturgy is a moment of authentic and transformative encounter with the living Christ, for persons of living faith in Him. The Liturgy is a work of worship “in spirit and truth” – but for members lacking a true and vibrant faith, the temptation in a given celebration of the Mass is to be merely “audience” – “spectator” – rather than worshipper, rather than fully conscious and active participant in the sacrifice. The externals can be beautiful – but if the interior of the man in the pew is impoverished of the truth of the Gospel and the life of Christ in the Spirit – then what is happening in the celebration is much less than what is intended.

      Adult formation has been so neglected, for so long, for so many, that the situation is dire. Many parents are incapable of their (primary) responsibility to form their own children in the faith – nor can they even support and complement, in the home, what the children may begin to learn in parish programs of religious education. The “investment” of trying to form children (and “youth”), while ignoring their parents, is near-sighted and foolish: the children are learning only contradictions, and that what ought to be is not what is. Parishes must begin to minister to adults, to catechize adults, as a first priority – and then, when the integrity of the family is acknowledged, catechesis for all will be credible.

      We have, for so long, neglected adult formation that we must begin at the very beginning and rebuild the temples now in ruins. We must evangelize, then we can catechize, then our sacramentalizing will have a foundation that is appropriate and that can be fruitful. Until a man is evangelized – until he has encountered the living God in Jesus Christ – “formation in the faith” is merely academic, sterile, merely words and opinions. He needs encounter with the living Word! He needs to meet Christ! He needs to hear the words of the Word, so that he can believe into Him. And until there is that life of faith in him, growing in him in the grace of the sacramental life, liturgy is and can be little more than ceremony to him.

      Fr. Tom, I think you are right to see the need to “rethink our structures”! We need to think beyond the usual parish schedule, the usual offerings and calendar, to find new ways to reach out to the people with the power of divine life. We need what protestants might call “a revival” – regular, frequent parish missions, perhaps, with truly on-fire preachers – authentic and sincere – who will challenge the lukewarm with the power of the Gospel. We need regular opportunities for retreats – of extended times in solitude and silence with the holy Word of God, Scripture, with guidance in listening so as to hear, and hearing so as to believe, and believing so as to live in Him. We need to make ways for persons to meet Christ, to grow in His Word, to mature in Him, to live in Him, to be witnesses of His life in this dark and darkening world.

      How can we draw people to come to such new programs, to support such “new structures”? Only clergy have their ears on a regular basis, in the Sunday Masses. A ten-minute homily is a brief opportunity for many needful intentions – but it seems to be the time to preach it, again and again: Jesus died for us, to enable much more of us, and much more for us, than most of us know.


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