Review: Mass Appeal

Mass Appeal

The Mass is nothing less than awesome! All of it. Time is suspended, heaven and earth are joined, our Lord is literally present, He speaks to us through our priests, angels and saints worship with us, we are present at the Last Supper and kneel at Calvary. The Mass is not a play or re-enactment and is far more than just a worship service. It is an incredible, supernatural mystery.

Too many Catholics know the Mass mostly in a routine way. They know the “people part” of prayers, the flow and the essence of the big picture. There are some who would have a difficult time articulating the differences with a Protestant worship service. It is a serious problem of catechesis that can lead to loss of faith. It is so, so sad.

There are plenty of books on the Mass, many focusing on mechanics, history, vestments, vessels, trivia and so on. The supernatural aspects, the whole point of the Mass, are often under-explored. I am not talking about weird theories, but an orthodox, solidly doctrinal presentation.

There are probably others I have yet to find, but I have found one (thanks Rigsby!) and it is excellent: David DesOrmeaux’s Mass Appeal – The Depth and Beauty of the Eucharistic Celebration at an Understandable Level. As far as I can tell, this is David’s only book and was written 10 years ago when he was only 22. That makes him light in credentials, but is well made up for in enthusiasm. It is quickly evident that he knows his “stuff,” loves the Mass and has researched carefully listing over 60 references in the bibliography.

Structurally, the book is a 132 page paperback organized to follow the liturgy. Where options exist, David picks one such as Eucharistic Prayer II (the other 3 are in the appendix). The table of contents is extensive allowing quick access to any part of Mass. References to scripture are extensive.

Since the book is 10 years old, it is obviously does not quote the new, corrected English translation of the Roman Missal. It would be a nice touch if it were updated, but that is not a serious drawback.

This book is inexpensive and perfect for a wide audience. If you are “more Catholic than the pope,” you will still find this insightful and a good resource to tie together bits and pieces you already know. If you are interested in Catholicism, you will be surprised how the Mass is thoroughly based upon scripture and hopefully get a small taste of its wonder. Everybody in between will simply get a beautiful, deeper appreciation for the Mass. It would make a great gift too, especially for those being confirmed or returning to the faith.

The Mass is an essential part of this divine action, for in it Christ, the Son, true God and true man, offers Himself to God the Father for the sake of his Bride, the Church. Jesus was sacrificed at the Crucifixion and that sacrifice is eternal. He stands as the slain Lamb in Heaven (Rev 5:6) forever and ever. This sacrifice took place so that our sins, the sins of Christ’s Bride the Church, would be forgiven. Instead of us suffering, Christ put our burden on his holy shoulders and offered Himself to God the Father. “No greater love can a man have than to give his life for a friend” (John 15:13). Now Christ’s Bride is pure because of what He did and his spotless Bride is worthy to be his wife.

The offering that Christ makes of his own life to the Father is also eternal. It is the same action He makes as He returns the perfect life and love to the Father, for He is the perfect life and love. Jesus gives Himself in the Trinity just as God the Father gave Himself to the Son. This not only takes place in Heaven, it also takes place on the altar at Mass. Christ is offered to the Father by his earthly servant, the priest, who stands in his place (in persona Christi). Therefore, because the Mass imitates the perfect action, and the action that takes place within the Most Holy Trinity, it is the highest action that we as humans can participate in here on earth.

Review: The Church and New Media

The Church and New Media

Brandon Vogt’s new book The Church and New Media will be released tomorrow (preorders are accepted now at OSV, Amazon paperback / Kindle and probably others).

The book is endorsed by “heavy hitters” Archbishop Timothy Dolan (New York), Cardinal Seán O’Malley (Boston), Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Washington), Archbishop Charles Chaput (Denver/Philadelphia) and many others. Contributors to the book include some of the most popular Catholic bloggers on the web. The first 6 chapters alone were written by 6 bloggers I routinely follow: Father Robert Barron, Jennifer Fulwiler, Marcel LeJeune, Mark Shea, Taylor Marshall and Father Dwight Longenecker. With endorsements and contributors like these, the book was a must read for me!

You will want to read the book if you are interested in how the Church has begun to harness the immense power of the online world. Perhaps you feel called to share your faith in this way, to evangelize and to bring others into the Church or deepen their own faith. Perhaps you are a capable apologist or perhaps you simply know some great recipes for meatless Fridays. There is a constituency “out there” and new media connects you to them. You will benefit too, through the discipline of writing and researching your content ideas, your own knowledge of Christ and His true Church will be deepened and strengthened.

The book is divided into 4 parts, of 3 chapters each, focusing on evangelization, formation, community and the common good:

  • Father Robert Baron begins, stressing the importance of evangelical engagement via videos and his positive experience addressing “Youtube heresies.” I know Father Baron through his YouTube ministry Word on Fire.
  • Jennifer Fulwiler discusses how she was converted from atheism to Catholicism through her blogging experience. She presents the interactive power of the medium and its broad reach. I know Jen through her blog Conversion Diary.
  • Marcel LeJeune looks at the challenges and opportunities in reaching young adults. He discusses the very impressive results Texas A&M has achieved through a wide range of online initiatives. I know Marcel through his blog Aggie Catholics.
  • Mark Shea examines the content of a blog, topics, ideas, comments and so on. If you are thinking about blogging but have concerns about what to say and how to say it, this chapter is for you. I know Mark through his blog Catholic and Enjoying It!
  • Taylor Marshal positions new media as a teaching tool and presents his reference based approach to apologetics. I know Taylor through his blog Canterbury Tales
  • Father Dwight Longenecker (married Anglican priest convert) blogs in a wide variety of styles, including “guest bloggers” he invented! I know Fr. Longenecker from his blog Standing On My Head

The last 6 chapters apply new media beyond blogging. Scot Landry discusses new media opportunities at the diocesan level with lots of powerful tips and advice. Similarly at the parish level, Matt Warner explores ways to connect with current and potential parishioners. Lisa Hendey looks outside of our formal organizational structure, focusing on Catholic communities wherever they are. Tom Peters looks to bypass old media through “Catholic online activism.” Shawn Carney tells how he uses new media to grow a powerful digital movement – 40 Days for Life.

Brandon concludes his book looking to the future, potential pitfalls, how new media can be leveraged in digital evangelism and the good outcomes it could achieve. New media is a game changer comparable to what Gutenberg brought the world 500 years ago.

Structurally, The Church and New Media includes a table of contents, an afterword by Archbishop Dolan, a glossary, an appendix, acknowledgments and extensive endnotes (clickable in the eBook version). Many interesting sidebars appear throughout the book.

All proceeds from the sale of the book are directed toward establishing school computer labs in the Archdiocese of Mombasa, Kenya.

The bottom line: this is a unique, insightful book written by people with a ton of street cred, folks who each have had significant success in new media. We are each called to be disciples and the online world has huge potential for saving souls. The Church and New Media tells us how.

Full disclosure:   I am quoted in one of the sidebars.

Review: Mega church pastor

Mega Church Pastor

For many different reasons, some non-Catholics are interested in exploring our faith. They might be engaged to a Catholic or are married to one for decades. They may have joined many churches but never found their true home. Their church might be interesting, engaging and even fun – but somehow leaves them spiritually unfed. Their church might be embracing secular beliefs, man’s will, theological relativism, political correctness and “tolerance,” “non-discrimination,” and “non-judgmental acceptance” of sinful acts. There are many reasons.

Yet, in this early stage of their inquiry – the amount of time people are willing to invest in learning the Catholic faith is limited. That is not unreasonable. Except in rare cases, they have heard all sorts of myths – not to mention the mainstream media’s relentless anti-Catholic message. It is amazing that people overcome all that and look anyway!

What can interested, but as yet uncommitted, folks read that would advance their journey to deeper study? The Catechism is great, but too big for this job. Pamphlets summarizing our beliefs, without explaining why, could do more harm than good.

I believe that conversion stories uniquely fill this role. In them, people can follow the journeys of others just like themselves who have already traveled this path. They can relate to the internal and external struggles, the questions and even the doubts. The stories also give a glimpse of the joy of discovery and peace of finally coming home.

One such story is presented in Allen Hunt’s new book Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor. Allen is no typical convert (is there really such a thing?). He was a United Methodist pastor here in Atlanta. Not just any pastor, but the senior pastor – the force behind Mount Pisgah. It is one of the largest Methodist congregations in the world with 15,000 members. Academically, Allen’s credentials include a Yale Ph.D. in New Testament and Ancient Christian Origins.

What motivates such a successful, educated, highly respected, deeply loved Protestant pastor at the peek of his career to leave it all behind and become a Catholic layperson? Without giving away the story, it is basically the same reason many Protestant clergy before him have given…   so succinctly summarized:

To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.

Blessed John Henry Newman
Cardinal and Catholic Convert

At the time (January, 2008) Allen wrote the following to his friend, Methodist bishop Lindsey Davis:

I am relinquishing my status as an ordained United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia Conference. This deeply personal decision reflects my sense that God has called me to serve in a new mission role. Moreover, I believe that God has led me to a new spiritual home in the Catholic Church, so I have made provision to be received as a member into that Church.

Allen subtitles the book with “How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church.” In it, he uses the metaphor of rooms in a house and the words of owner and builder to his son – “this house will take care of you.”

Allen’s background and situation is much different than mine, but I was struck by the many conclusions we shared. I guess that while every story is unique, there remains much that will resonate with interested readers.

The book ends with a series of 3 option suggestions in several areas. Allen does not say if he personally did all of them, but I was surprised by how many I had. Even some of the unusual ones (e.g. visiting other parishes in your diocese for Mass – I am up to 33 so far). Good stuff!

I recommend the book as a wonderful introduction to the one Church Jesus founded, the fullness of our faith and where Protestantism falls short of that fullness. It is very readable, interesting and personal.

For those who would like a “sneak peak” at Allen’s story, you will find it over at Why I am Catholic (my story is there too!).

These days, Allen has a widely syndicated daily talk radio show. His motto is “it’s not about right or left, it’s about right or wrong.” How Catholic is that?! The show has been recognized as one of the country’s top 100 (#37) talk radio shows. See Allen’s website for more information.

The Baltimore Catechism

Baltimore Catechism

The first Catholic catechism I read was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I read this early (while still in RCIA) and it is still my favorite. Since then, I have also read the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. The former is sometimes called the “universal catechism” as it is not specific to any area and is the “gold standard” reference for our faith. The latter is the US specific catechism, an approved national version, not so much a reference as instructional.

A few months ago, my friend Bernadette loaned me a copy of her 1945 Baltimore Catechism #2. It is tiny compared to the other two and was superseded by them in the late 1960s. This catechism was intended for students and came in 4 versions (#1 to #4) for different audiences. #1 was abridged, had larger type and was intended for younger children. #2 was the standard version. #3 was for studies by older students. #4 was a more annotated teacher version.

There is something about it that is timeless. It is less wordy, less cross-referenced, little or no attempt to reference authoritative sources, etc…   just to-the-point. It also is easy to read and a wonderful review of our beliefs.

Researching the history a bit, I found that the 1945 version was a descendant of the original 1885 version. The 1891 version is no longer covered by copyright so it may be freely shared. Every so often, I will post a chapter from the 1891 #4 catechism right here. This includes the questions and answer format of the #2 standard version, but with quite a bit of annotation for the teacher. Just read the Q&A if you want to get a feel for the standard version.

There are 37 “lessons” in total. Subsequent student editions of the catechism were also Q&A, but included summaries, definitions of words and various exercises.

For some it may be nostalgic or historic. Others might see it as a quick refresher on the basics. Those interested in Catholicism will get a good introduction in bite-sized chunks. I think that you will find it very interesting.

The only risk is that some practices have changed a little. Not our dogma or doctrine, of course, but some disciplines have been modified in the last 120 years. Where I notice it, I will make a notation so that no one is misled.

Sometimes I may comment and when I do, it will be clearly marked and will follow the original text.

Review: Set free to love

Set Free To Love

In many ways, we are all on a continuing journey to learn about some of life’s most important topics. What is love? Why is sex a minefield? How do we view our body?

Sometimes parents give “the talk” to explain mechanics, risks and the need for “protection.” Some children are subjected to “sex education” classes. Often we learn the importance of chastity through our faith but fail to pursue real understanding of why.

Mostly, we learn about love and sex from the culture we live in where it is abundantly displayed, discussed – and wrong, very wrong. Heartbreak abounds through shallow relationships and failed marriages. People use, and are used, leaving only emptiness. Real love, being a real man or woman, and the enduring joy in the gift of ourselves to another as God intended eludes us.

Pope John Paul the Great understood our pain and confusion. He undertook as his special mission, before and throughout his papacy, to explore and explain every facet of this topic. Collectively, his work is known as the theology of the body.

As a non-Catholic, I had never heard of it. As near as I can tell, many Catholics have not either and that is a shame. The answers people are looking for are there. For many, it is a complete “paradigm shift.” I simply ask those in doubt – does your way work?

I first learned about this from the excellent videos of Jason Evert and his wife Crystalina. See a sample of those in my 7 Quick Takes Friday #13 if this is entirely new to you.

Marcel LeJeune, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at Texas A&M’s St. Mary’s Catholic Center recently wrote a wonderful book entitled Set Free To Love: Lives Changed by the Theology of the Body. Marcel writes one of my favorite blogs (Aggie Catholics) and is one of the driving forces behind the incredible Catholic community there.

I like the book. After a good introduction to Theology of the Body, a dozen personal stories are presented detailing how it has changed their lives. Each story is unique and very different including not only single and married people, but same sex attraction, a priest and a sister.

Friends, this is an inexpensive paperback book. Being introduced to (or deepening your understanding of) the theology of the body is priceless. I recommended this captivating and inspiring book.