Friday, April 16, 2010

Made to be broken

One of my pastor's themes is that there are people who are too concerned with knowing and following rules. That came to mind to when I read his remarks on the Church's sexual abuse scandal in his column in last Sunday's St. Al's bulletin.
I truly believe that after child abuse became a 'crime' in the legal sense, those who were involved with 'obstructing' justice needed to be held especially accountable.
If it's a tradeoff, I say it's better for a pastor to know it's not a recent development that sexually abusing children is a crime even if he's also a bit of a stickler on other rules.

See Weakland says he didn't know priests' abuse was crime


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Saving paper with unspoken messages

Dad29 notes Another Really Tough Production Schedule must have kept a west side parish from putting a U.S. Bishops health care reform flyer into a Sunday bulletin.

Here on the south side, I don't recall seeing any such flyers at my parish either, though its March 14, 2010 bulletin had this flyer from Justice for Immigrants.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Parish bracket$ announced

St. Al's parishioners sometimes return after traveling and suggest things to our pastor based on what they see in bulletins from the churches at which they attended Sunday Mass while away. One such suggestion was publishing a list of names of contributing parishioners (without amounts). He has responded on the current From The Pastor's Desk page of the parish website that there was generally negative response from parishioners.
I would like to offer the following statistics instead:
22.61% contribute nothing
14.19% contribute up to $100
30.20% contribute up to $500
17.27% contribute up to $1000
9% contribute up to $2000
7.43% contribute more than $2000

I hope you will find these statistics informative and helpful.

I do. For example, over 77% of parish households contribute something using the envelopes. (Some of the 22.61% with no recorded contributions might be putting cash in the collection at Mass.) It does suggest some additional statistics that could be of interest. For example, what's the correlation between frequency of Sunday Mass attendance and amounts given?


Monday, March 15, 2010

Back to front

Yesterday's Living Our Faith television program concluded its second segment with this.
Fr. Mark Brandl, associate pastor, St. Alphonsus Parish, Greendale, shares the story of his journey from lapsed Catholic to Catholic priest and explains how to help others who have drifted away from the church to find their way back.

He also blogs.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Integrating our energized vibrancy

Back to planning at Parish Council
CMMI: Capability Maturity Model Integration

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Play midsty for me

When Adoremus Bulletin reported US Bishops Approve Missal Texts, there was this local angle.
Bishop Richard Sklba, auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee and past president of CBA [The Catholic Biblical Association of America], also strongly objected to Liturgiam authenticam’s insistence on fidelity to the original text: “I’ve been very clear about my own conviction that the use of inclusive language translations, both in Scripture and in liturgical books, particularly when resulting in more faithful renditions of the original author’s intent, is an obligation for the Church. I do not see this as merely a question of option” (Milwaukee Catholic Herald, May 21, 2001).

During the November meeting, Bishop Trautman’s effort to delay approval of the Missal received vocal support from Bishop Sklba, who said, “In my judgment the text is still unfinished, filled with awkward grammatical phrases, over which I stumble every time I attempt to pray the text aloud”. Commenting on the Holy See’s recent gesture to Anglicans (the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus) Bishop Sklba said,
This will certainly have some consequences. One of which, I submit, will be the more public presence of the Book of Common Prayer in our midst as a living reality. The language of the Book of Common Prayer is elegant. It’s elegant in its phraseology and its cadence. So fine that it influenced and shaped our English language for almost five hundred years. Our proposed liturgical texts will be compared to that historic one, critically, I’m afraid, and with less than positive result. I still believe we need more time to produce and refine a text worthy of worship of our Church. So I ask that we continue to take the time we need.

On inclusive language, a recent Sunday's Gospel reading and homily at my parish demonstrated more effort at various evasions of the word "men" than the net effort at evangelization in a couple of decades.

On the new translation, English-speakers will, I submit, find it no more awkward grammatically than the phrasing "the more public presence of the Book of Common Prayer in our midst as a living reality." See Diachronic apostolicity.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Open agenda, hidden minutes

The St. Al's website has been revised. It's a nice clean design by Faithwebsites; better than FWS's own site, I'd say.

The Parish Council page has this description.
The Parish Council is both the process and structure which enables parishioners to share more fully in the task of continuing the Church's work in the parish neighborhood. Its primary role is to call forth and affirm the gifts present within the community to meet the pastoral needs of God's people and to make Christ present among us.
The page finally removed any reference to the council's minutes. Perhaps the long-standing indication these would be published online is about to be fulfilled. That could be part of the sharing and calling forth.
Through its committees, called Standing Committees, the Council extends the mission of Jesus in this time and place.
Some might question the potential ambiguity of "extends" in the context of church committee meetings.
New Council members are selected each Spring through a parish-wide process of prayerful discernment.
There are nomination cards distributed at Mass, but that's not literally parish-wide given only a minority of parishioners show up. Last I knew, the subsequent meeting discerns if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies to fill, which it usually doesn't.

The February 4, 2010 council meeting agenda is in last Sunday's bulletin.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Trust unto others

Last Sunday's St. Al's bulletin had an item asking Did We Confuse You? Confuse parishioners with asking for the annual parish pledge cards and Archdiocesan capital campaign pledge cards together, that is.

On the parish pledge,
Just as the parish has to trust these pledges will be honored, in the same way, the parish asks you to trust your gifts will be used in the most appropriate way possible.
On the Archdiocesan capital campaign pledges,
Once donations come to the Faith In Our Future Trust, the Archdiocese records the gift on the individual accounts. Once a month, the Faith In Our Future Trust transfers 100% of all the donations received by them from you to a special bank account of the parish. Once the parish receives these donations from the Trust, it restricts those gifts according to the intent listed above. Again, just as the parish trusts one’s pledge will be honored, it is asking for additional trust from you that the monies received will be used for the intended purposes mentioned.
Our pastor said at a Sunday Mass that the parish photocopies parishioners' checks before mailing them to the Faith In Our Future Trust. "Trust, but verify" he summed up.

Along those lines, I have stopped filling out the parish pledge card unless I get the current Status Animarum Report with the parish's historical statistics. It's not distrust; I merely want everything verified in writing from another source.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Calvary Comedy Club

Instead of his own closing joke, our pastor closed Sunday Mass with a joke that, he said, Archbishop Listecki is rumored to have used to close his radio Mass. On radio, listeners have to imagine the Crucifix the presider is standing under when he tells it. The joke was not one based on the claim that Catholics leave for mega-churches to be entertained.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Not in pink, but a bit in the red

Our pastor explains in his column in today's bulletin,
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. It is traditionally called Gaudate Sunday from the Latin word "Gaudate," which means REJOICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In some parishes, the priest wears a dusty-rose or even pinkish vestment to signify a change in emphasis of the readings.

That includes our parish, except for our pastor who has an aversion to wearing that color. At Mass this morning he wore purple, the deacon wore rose.

He also reported
Today, we also announce the results of our FAITH IN OUR FUTURE CAMPAIGN. Even though we did NOT achieve our goal of 1.5 million, we did achieve gifts of $1,275,595.

which brought out his conformist side.
To those who have still not made a pledge, I ask you to do so now. Even if you cannot indicate an amount at this time, please return a card so we know you are walking with us with FAITH IN OUR FUTURE.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Deciduous Jesus

'My God, My God,
why have you forsaken rakin' me?'

The return of the Crucifix full-time at my parish church meets the theme of the Autumn sanctuary decoration.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pray to Saint Prospectus before you invest

Our pastor addresses Sunday Mass attendance in his column in the November 8, 2009 bulletin (page 2).
A few weeks ago, we were required to take the semi-annual Mass attendance count and send the results to the Archdiocese. As I compare the results over the last ten years, they are remarkably stable. In all these years, there has been no more than a 10% variance from year to year for this fall count. Some years a few more, some years a few less in attendance. This year was one of the higher attendance figures.

In gross number or percentage of members? He doesn't exactly specify, but does say "our attendance is about 30 percent of our registered membership." The parish Status Animarum (1993-2006) includes these figures from the last ten years.
Year: Attendance/Membership (=) Percentage
2005 2,344/8,817 26.5%
2004 2,567/8,531 30%
2003 2,465/8,627 28.6%
2002 2,758/8,484 32.5%
2001 3,024/8,515 35.5%
2000 2,888/8,416 34.3%

Even without subsequent years, 30% is not "one of the higher attendance figures". The recent parish census total came in at just over 7,000 members, as I recall. That was a reduction from almost 9,000 members that had been shown on the books. Cutting the membership denominator would, in itself, increase the attendance. (See The 40% Solution applied) Thirty per cent of the updated figure would give an attendance number lower than every year shown above.

Over the past year I've been trying to obtain an update of the Status Animarum, putting off inserting a dollar amount on the annual pledge card in the meantime. The parish eventually wound up referring me to the Archdiocese, which recently wound up concluding I would have to get the pastor to request the report. At this point, I'd want to see the report and the parish plan to move the numbers in a positive direction. By that I mean more than our pastor's plan.
If you have the opportunity, please invite those whom you might know to be members but do not come to Mass to join you.

Compare that to the effort that goes into a capital campaign. If fund-raising got the same effort as evangelization does, it would be an appeal to donate any coins you found on the pavement.

Speaking of numbers, when I was on the Parish Council in the late 1990s, I suggested the parish publish an annual report on all its activities, not just financial reports. Maybe showing what's accomplished with the money would give more reason to participate, as well as more reason to give. Turns out much of the statistical information was and is available.

During that time on the council, we went through long range planning for the parish and the Archdiocese. We weren't provided these Archdiocesan statistics in connection with those processes. At dotCommonweal, "unagidon" posted on the pending federal health care legislation that "What I see here is that we have hardly left the brain storming sessions." That aptly describes a major problem with Archdiocesan and parish planning as well.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tithe is on my side

Finally the neglect or suppression of institutional memory at my parish cuts the other way. The stated standard for "how much to give" had been 10%, half to the parish, and half to other Church institutions or causes. If there was a parish building campaign (or subsequent debt reduction campaign), the suggested additional gift was an amount equal to the regular parish gift spread over three years, or 1 2/3%. Total 11 2/3%.

Now the current and what would have been the next three year parish debt reduction campaigns have been folded into the parish's cut of the Archdiocesan Faith In Our Future capital campaign. The November 1, 2009 parish bulletin (page 3) article on that campaign includes this.
How much should I/we give? ... As a guide, it is suggested each family ought to be able to work one hour a week for God. We offer this as a guide for your combined gifts to the Annual Parish Appeal and the Faith in Our Future campaign.

One hour's pay, assuming a forty hour work week, is 2.5% of income. It's a deal.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The back of the envelope

Remember to Pray For... is a new parish bulletin feature proposed by one of our deacon's in the November 1, 2009 bulletin (page 4).
It has been my experience during my years of diaconal ministry that I have come upon many situations where someone has had surgery or a recent diagnosis, and they came up to me and said, “Didn’t you know that I was ill?” I felt very uncomfortable, and I know that person felt forgotten.

The only regular communication with the parish is the weekly envelope. Don't keep up with those and you won't feel forgetten.
I would like to create a bulletin column entitled, REMEMBER TO PRAY FOR. With this column, you would have the opportunity to have your name only listed for a two-week period, which would be an initial request for prayer. If continued prayer is needed after the two weeks, we ask that you contact one of our prayer networks that are listed in the bulletin for that ongoing prayer.

How would you get on the list?
Prayer authorization forms will be available on a table in the Gathering area, from the parish office, or on the forms section of the St. Alphonsus Parish website.

Sounds good. Hope it works.

My idea has been to include prayer requests on the back of the weekly envelope; right now this is only done on the envelope for All Souls Day. I would have also included a space to put suggestions, comments, and questions for parish leadership. That would get the weekly envelope away from being a symbol of a one-sided relationship with the parish.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Faith in our fund-drive

It wasn't that long ago that parishioners were being berated in the Sunday bulletin for taking too many donuts at after-Mass hospitality. Now parishioners, or at least some of us, have been invited for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at our pastor's home, and also to a reception at a country club.

What's changed? The parish recently launched a $1.5 million capital campaign.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Seal off Confession

Our Associate Pastor blogged that
One of the things I have noticed while doing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is how unaware most people are of what exactly their sins are.

Perhaps that's because it gets no attention after First Confession. For example, in almost 20 years at St. Al's, I do not recall hearing anything about confession in a homily. Our previous pastor pushed for General Absolution. Penitential Rite A ("Confiteor") is a rarity.

This might help explain why so few parishioners go to confession. A fairly recent census found our parish has over 7,000 members. Back when I would go to confession here, there were as few as one other person. From what our pastor said in his October 25, 2009 bulletin column, attendance is down since then.
Please remember that the priest will be in the reconciliation room at 3:00 p.m. If no one is there, he may well leave in a few minutes.

Our Associate Pastor's post raised a concern about an excess of guilt. I haven't noticed that being a problem in the Church for a long time. It certainly doesn't look like it's a problem at our parish.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Death panel

Looks like the St. Al's parish council was found non-responsive, and our pastor's column in Sunday's bulletin notes the DNR order.
At the October Parish Council meeting, it was decided to have a formal process regarding guests who wish to address the council about a specific issue. Anyone wishing to do so is asked to contact the Chair at least 3 days prior to the meeting, if possible, to communicate the issue of concern. At the meeting, those who have requested time will be allotted 5 minutes each to state their concern. The council will listen and then refer the issue to an appropriate committee. The council will not act as a committee of the whole and engage in discussion or debate. Guests are reminded that during the meetings, except for their allotted time, it is appropriate to be good listeners. Only council members are engaged in active discussion.

He always likes to close with a joke.
We hope that this will make for better communication.

But serially, folks,
All parish members are invited to all council meetings.

It's been a long time since I went to raise an issue. After all, if I wanted to waste time, I could have stayed on the parish council.
In fact, the November 5 meeting will be our ANNUAL PARISH MEETING. A revised Constitution and set of By-Laws will be up for approval. All are welcome to attend.

Nah, I'll wait and read about the meeting in the minutes.

Just kidding! You might get the impression from the parish council's page on the parish website that minutes will be posted there (perhaps in pdf). Note the Internet Archive shows the council page has been up since at least January 2, 2007 and no minutes have ever been posted.

So far, no reason to change my earlier conclusion that the real, unstated, parish policy is against communication, just as it is against evangelization.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Parish Council Officers’ Training

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Coordinator for the Office for Parish Mission will conduct a 90 minute session to
- review council officers’ responsibilities and resources
- answer questions and
- organize a council calendar for the coming year

As a former council member and officer, I also suggest this article, These Time-Management Issues Will Be Easily Resolved With A Series Of Streamlined Meetings, by Cole E. Perthkey, The Onion, December 5, 2007

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

From donut to turnover

Our pastor writes in his column in the July 12, 2009 St. Al's bulletin about an article he read on why there is such a high rate of turnover among clergy. This turns out to be about all the other people that individual clergy blame.

First, they blame lack of support from denominational leadership.
There was a sense that parish ministry was somehow less appreciated and held in less esteem as compared to “specialized” ministry.

In the secular world, we sometimes refer to this sense as "envy".
Some felt that the leadership simply saw parish pastors not as uniquely gifted persons but as someone who could “fill” a slot.

I came away with the impression that everyone involved pretty much sees things that way when I sat in on the Parish Council Pastor Replacement Consultation. As have others.

Having blamed those above, we now turn to how clergy blame those below, the members of the congregation.

Though clergy want to be regarded as "uniquely gifted persons", the first complaint is that congregations expect too much.
Some congregations expected the pastor to be available anytime for almost any reason.

For example, because you're dying.

The next complaint, for married clergy, is the congregation's expectations of their spouses and children.
The expectation existed that the pastor’s spouse was to be part of the “deal,” like a two-for-one package, and there was congregational resentment when the pastor’s spouse or children did not live up to this. Also, family stress was reported because congregations were critical of the spouse’s personality or even family dynamics.

Despite everything he just said, our pastor concludes this point by saying,
One must wonder how many do not become Catholic priests because of current restrictions as to whom can be ordained.

The next complaint is characterized as "entrenched vision", described as
a “collision” between a pastor’s hope and vision to move a congregation and some members who follow the “we have always done it this way” vision.

Sometimes it might be some variation on the "after you're gone we're the ones still here paying the mortgage" vision.
In many congregations, there seem to be a group of “good old boys or girls” who have the “levers of power” and hinder or even dash the majority of members hopes and dreams. Pastors often feel caught in the middle.

It's almost as if people expect the pastor to build support for a course of action.
They also report that there are some in the congregations who view themselves as the “guardians of orthodoxy” and often send incomplete or even false reports to the leadership.

On the other hand, I've seen and heard of pastors giving parishioners a world-class jerking around to try to manipulate outcomes and suppress questions.

Finally clergy complain of petty the congregation.
This seemed to stand out as the main reason for leaving ministry. This was experienced when members of a congregation considered themselves more like members of a “Christian country club” rather than a parish committed to the Gospel mission. Some members would often say things like, “If you do not do this or that, I am going to leave the church and take my money with me.”

On the other hand, I've gotten an email from a pastor saying that if the Archbishop doesn't like the way he does things, he can have the keys to the place.
Others felt a sense of entitlement to sit in a certain pew or sing at a certain time or sing a certain song or lead a certain group within the church or demand to be scheduled for lay ministry on their own terms regardless of the larger needs.

An earlier clergy complaint was that "There was a sense that the pastor had no right to personal time for him/herself and their family." Maybe parishioners have the same concerns. From past experience, I recommend getting any time commitment spelled out in detail in advance to assist a pastor in resisting the temptation to lowball you.
Another related issue was the expectation that the pastor somehow is responsible for all the problems in the physical plant, i.e., the grass is too long; there is too much snow on the sidewalk; the flowers are not budding; the toilet is leaking; the door is sticking; it is too hot or too cold in church.

A previous pastor was always ready to rattle off the boiler specs from memory. Maybe that's where parishioners get the idea. And our current pastor did, in a prior column, report at length on a staff meeting dealing with people taking too many donuts at after-Mass "hospitality".


Friday, May 29, 2009

Memoirial day

From our pastor's column in the May 24, 2009 St. Al's bulletin,
I hope to soon read Archbishop Weakland‘s book A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church. I suspect it will be an interesting read. Perhaps we might do a discussion group in the fall for those who might be interested. ... If the response is good, I will schedule a time.

See Archbishop Weakland Memoirs to be Released


Friday, March 27, 2009

We preach Christ...mas tree trunks

Another thwarted wheel and point at Mass last Sunday at St. Al's. Our new deacon was speaking on the theme of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, and wheeled, and, there being no Crucifix, pointed to the Cross formed from bundled Christmas tree trunks. (Months ago parishioners were asked to trim the branches from discarded Christmas trees and bring in the trunks.)

This Catholics United for the Faith "Faith Facts" on Lenten Traditions Within the Home includes "3. Lenten Centerpiece".
It is ideal to use the trunk of a Christmas tree as the cross. The tree symbolizes the fullness of Christ’s incarnation, coming to us as a humble baby and saving us humbly on the cross 33 years later.

This is another case of a home devotional practice being scaled up for liturgical use at St. Al's. At the same time, the liturgy team seems phobic of a conventional symbol, such as the Crucifix, see Just doing his job and Crucifixes in government buildings.

Perhaps the homily was connected not only to the Season of Lent but to our pastor's column in the January 18, 2009 bulletin (no longer on-line). He discussed a June 2008 Priest Magazine article by Rev. Ronald Witherup on the Lutheran and Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. In the years since its October 31, 1999 signing, Rev. Witherup writes, the Declaration
has not sifted down to the general public thoroughly.

Our pastor's column does not mention if some review will be undertaken of the thoroughness of our parish's religious instruction on the doctrine of justification and the Reformation, or if there will be sermons or other instruction to reach those no longer of school age. For starters, remember
If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
--Canon I, Decree on Justification, January 13, 1547, The Council of Trent, The Sixth Session

Get people looking into things, though, and someone might come across this.
The cross with the image of Christ crucified is a reminder of Christ's paschal mystery. It draws us into the mystery of suffering and makes tangible our belief that our suffering when united with the passion and death of Christ leads to redemption. There should be a crucifix "positioned either on the altar or near it, and ... clearly visible to the people gathered there." [footnotes omitted] ...
--The Cross, §91, Other Ritual Furnishings, Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship, Chapter Two: The Church Building and the Sacred Rites Celebrated There, Committee on Divine Worship (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc., 2000)


Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Donutist Heresy

Since time immemorial – or at least since 1968 – any Catholic perceived to spend too much time defending doctrines or liturgical norms has been labeled a “Pharisee.”

So wrote Rich Leonardi at Ten Reasons on Sympathy for the Pharisee, and so I've been called at St. Al's for raising a liturgical issue.

It turns out that at my parish one is a Pharisee if one believes that the rubrics of the liturgy are more important than the rubrics of after-Mass donuts, see The call to holeyness. If, as Bishop Richard Sklba has written, there is a ‘heresy’ of rubricism, then, alas, St. Al's is in the grip of the Donutist Heresy.

The Donutist Heresy turns pet projects and pet peeves into policy, and puts pet phrases into mission statements, vision statements, even liturgy.

For another example, some time back our pastor was attempting to make a homiletic point by repeating gossip from another pastor about parishioners concerned that the altar candles should be beeswax. This was characterized as a negative that kept people from embracing the positive message of the Gospel. He summed this up as a call to "turn our 'nos' into 'yeses'". He then went on to insert that phrase into every part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Any "rubricist" present might have wondered if this didn't lend some support to those unnamed parishioners' larger point about rubrics, even if they were wrong on the specifics of altar candles.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 homily on today's Feast of St. Joseph that "The 'nos' of the Commandments are as many 'yeses' to the growth of true freedom." That might be applied to rubrics and liturgy. And if there is a law of the conservation of rubrics, better they all be used up in liturgy so that none are left for pastry.

P.S. Bishop Sklba points out that Pharisees come across pretty well in USCCB pamphlets compared to in the Gospels, see Renewing our Jewish roots during Lent.

Update: today's Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis
Pearls Before Swine


Monday, March 16, 2009

The call to holeyness

Last Sunday's St. Al's bulletin gives a rare glimpse into the inner workings of our pastoral staff.
We recently discussed our hospitality Sundays at a staff meeting, and we all agreed that this is a very important part of our parish, since it allows families and friends to linger after Mass and socialize. It was also mentioned that the cost of donuts, milk, juice and paper products has been increasing steadily to the point where the "free will" offerings cover less than 75% of the cost. Additionally, it was noticed that more than a few people (adults and children) were taking 4 or 5 donuts at time…. not for their table…. but for themselves. Some even were seen taking donuts home with them. Just a reminder that this hospitality is not meant to be a FULL breakfast but a time to have a snack and socialize. Thanks for your cooperation.
--From the Pastor's Desk, March 15, 2009 Bulletin, page 2

See Spontaneous combustion.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Feast (and Famine) of Tabernacles

MUHS Magazine Winter 2008 features the dedication of the new Marquette High chapel. See A state-of-the-art worship facility. The pictures used for the cover and article leave the impression the new chapel's aisle runs down the long axis of the rectangular space. The photos in the Then & Now retrospective show this is not the case. Unlike the one-time large chapel, and like its smaller replacement, the new chapel is sideways, that is, has the altar on the side of the rectangle.

Notice of blank walls below clerestory windows, now a common feature in churches. They put me in mind of Mass long ago in the "temporary" basement church at St. Veronica. Someday, we said, we'll build a real church. Unfortunately someday didn't come until the 1960s, and so the new church had windows set just under the ceiling, giving the impression of still being in the basement. The 1980s church at St. Al's has windows only along the gable. Not long ago one of our Xaverian fill-in priests made homiletic use of our worshipping "in a basement".

On the plus side, as recent MUHS alumnus Andy commented earlier, the tabernacle of the new MUHS chapel is returned to a central location. That's one for Eppstein Uhen Architects. By contrast, in the simulated discussion with parishioners for the 2001-2002 St. Al's building project, I questioned again putting the tabernacle in a separate chapel, rather than in the main church. The response of the architect from Plunkett Raysich Architects included his assertion that "We're not going back." Maybe he knows his client; it looks like Marquette High never quite got to the point of eliminating the Crucifix, and St. Al's has never gone back to regularly having one.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Real Absence

A drop in Sunday Mass attendance finally got a reaction at St. Al's a few weeks back when the assigned priest didn't show up.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bubble and panic

St. Al's version of this phenomenon is long stretches of complacency interrupted by a Financial Crisis.

In early December, a parish insider recounted that a parishioner had said the parish had been "transformed" by our current pastor. Long experience told me that when I hear things like that, a Financial Crisis could not be far behind.

The January 18, 2009 bulletin (no longer online) carried a bold print message from the pastor on weekly envelope giving.
We have fallen about $40,000 behind last year in just a two-week period.

A few weeks of such appeals and giving was back on target. I expect complacency will be back on target, as well.

In my files I have a January 19, 2004 "Projection for 2003-2004 Fiscal Year". The 2003-2004 budgeted income from the weekly collection was $1,413,600. Using Tom's Inflation Calculator, the equivalent for the current 2008-2009 fiscal year would be $1,629,168.35.

The "Parish Giving Results" in the February 8, 2009 bulletin (page 3) include a footnoted reminder that
The total Fiscal Year contributions needed from envelopes and offertory collections to support parish-operating expenses are: $1,370,000.00.

That is, in purchasing power, 84% of what was received five years before. Seems to me a reason to not be complacent.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spontaneous combustion

Can a parish at which the pastoral staff's top priority is not taking on more work light a spiritual fire in its parishioners? St. Al's is trying to find out.

The May 18, 2008 bulletin (no longer online) included an item called "Parish Leadership Retreat".
Jim Smith from Pastoral will be coming to lead us in looking at a larger focus for formation within our parish, which can challenge ALL people - children, teens and adults.

This May 20, 2008 "retreat", actually an evening meeting, was titled Dreams & Visions. We sat pre-broken up into small groups at tables. A member of the pastoral staff introduced Mr. Smith. That introduction included recounting that a couple staffers had seen his presentation and were so impressed they invited him to our parish. The introduction made a point of saying that an essential part of the attraction of the program is that it wouldn't involve a lot of additional work for the staff.

It happened I was at the same table as the pastor. I looked to see if he would jump up to clarify that remark; he didn't. He spoke up here and there on other points, but not to disabuse us of the notion that our pastoral staff's priorities include avoiding more work.

The July 20, 2008 parish bulletin (no longer online) carried the official meeting summary, titled "How Do We Make A Good Parish A Great Parish?"
The first step was gathering the leaders of the parish to hear about the process.

The second step is to form a core of leaders to develop a vision of how the process will work for our parish.

Regarding my level of skepticism of "develop a vision" leading to "process will work", see St. Dilbert's.

The January 18, 2009 parish bulletin (no longer online) carried an update, "Dreams and Visions: Creating a Pastoral Plan".
Since mid-May 2008, a group of parish members and staff have been meeting to reflect on the book, Dreams and Visions, by Bill Huebsch. As we look to develop a pastoral plan for lifelong faith formation, we decided that it was important to express both the strengths and challenges facing St. Alphonsus Parish Community [sic].

This was followed by a long list of strengths, then the sentence "We do have challenges" with no specifics. One parish weakness is failing to call attention to its accomplishments, in homilies, the bulletin, or the parish website, not to boast but to build upon. Another is obliviousness to its internal contradictions. The bulletin article goes on,
Our core work is to help people deepen their commitment with Christ, and to, thereby, light a spiritual fire within our parish.

Not likely when the pastoral staff acts as a spritual fire extinguisher.

Any regular readers might recall I had raised the issue of increasing Sunday Mass attendance during discernment for parish council around May 1996. The pastoral staff members present seemed aghast and immediately responded with reasons why this was not a pressing problem. This kind of response was a regular source of frustration for me when I raised this and related issues of parishioner engagement during my three years on the council, and after.

I believe it was at the first of our parish dinner and auction fundraisers that someone then in a position to know took me aside. (I think this was in 2002). That person told me that the real reason the pastoral staff opposed increasing attendance was because more people would involve more work for them. Apparently they've since repeated this so often among themselves that they've forgotten why they hadn't been saying it publicly.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Time of the more things change

This year St. Al's has requested an associate pastor, unlike last year, see Time Of Change.

Did passing on an associate last time not work out as hoped? Do this year's priests look more compatible?

Compatibility is still key, judging by our pastor's explanation in his column in the November 9, 2008 parish bulletin (no longer online).
There is an interview process, and there must be an agreement reached between the pastor (and the pastoral staff) and the potential priest-associate pastor.

There's no mention of simulated parishioner input from the parish council.

P.S. Since that earlier post mentions the parish fish fry, it's recently changed to add shrimp (butterflied deep-fried) as an entree option, and clam chowder (additional charge).


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Another rubric in the wall

Wondering if Mass at your parish follows "the rules"? We sometimes don't need to wonder at St. Al's because the pastor announces that it doesn't. The latest example was at last Sunday's 11:00 a.m. Mass when he underscored a homiletic point by noting the translation of the Gospel we're using is no longer the prescribed one.

If there are any regular readers, you know that I've raised issues of conflict between what the parish has us teach in Christian Formation and parish practice. Our parish Christian Formation program takes it for granted that the students and their parents aren't likely to be at Sunday Mass. (It's an example of what I call a "shoulder-shrugging scandal".) I'm somewhat dubious of suggesting to the kids that they should go to Mass so they can hear the pastor announce the latest thing we should be doing, but aren't.

P.S. In his column in the February 15, 2009 bulletin, our pastor writes, "it is difficult to understand why some Catholics excuse themselves from Mass for the slightest reason." In the same column he goes on to say "As part of the Lenten observance, I will not be telling a 'story' until after Easter." The story refers to the joke he tells just before the final blessing. He once explained that jokes aren't supposed to be inserted into the Mass, so he calls it a "story".


Friday, February 13, 2009

"What we got here is...failure to excommunicate"

An item in the February 8, 2009 St. Al's bulletin (page 2) addresses the lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops of what it calls "the Society of Pope Pius V" (meaning The Society of St. Pius X).
It might mean that this is the first step in a process whereby these "Catholics" might be once more in union with the church if they accept the teaching of the council.

If bishops who don't accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council can be called "Catholic", can priests who don't accept Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 be called Catholic* ?

P.S. See Revisiting Vatican II


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The 40% Solution applied

Last year at a meeting at St. Al's, our pastor explained how we could get our Sunday Mass attendance percentage up to around 40% by purging about 40% of the members off the parish rolls. (At least, that's one thing I took away from the meeting, see The 40% solution.) Some months back this process began with an announcement that remaining a member of the parish would require re-registering, see There went out a decree that the whole parish should be re-enrolled.

The (print-only) minutes of the September 4, 2008 parish council meeting announced the success of the program.
4. Pastor's remarks
  b. Re-registration
    i. 1,200 forms not returned

Last we were told, there were 2,915 registered households in the parish, see Reality Check: Some Little Known Parish Facts! A reduction of 1,200 to 1,715 is about a 41% reduction. The 2006-07 District 16 Planning Commission Report showed 8,937 parish members. The percentage reduction would take that down to 5,258. The 2,249 Sunday Mass attendance percentage then goes from 25% to 43%.

The least worrisome explanation of the reduction is that people who left the parish for other parishes were left on the rolls. If our parish's record-keeping is typical of all parishes, then the 700,000 or so members claimed for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee would really be more like 400,000. If so, many Archdiocesan percentages will also be improved considerably.

At our parish, this reduction might involve a bit of an overshoot. The little-known parish facts included that 1,921 parish households contributed money, and it looks like the re-registered parish is about 200 fewer households than that. The Pastor's Remarks continue,
    ii. Persons who have been contributing but have not registered will be contacted via phone tree.

Presumably to be told to either fill out the form or stop sending those checks.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

St. Dilbert's

It's hard to believe that Scott Adams hasn't been involved in a parish or diocesan "planning process".

Update: Bishops to Vote on USCCB Priority Initiatives Through 2011

(via Disputations)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cluster balm

Our pastor's column in the September 21, 2008 St. Al's bulletin (no longer on-line) reported
This week Tuesday, all the members of all staffs of our cluster parishes (St. Alphonsus, St. Martin of Tours, St. John the Evangelist and St. Mary) will be meeting from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. This is the first time all will gather. I trust it will be a productive time.

Depends on your standard for productive. Cooperation among cluster parishes was a topic of discussion when I was on the St. Al's parish council in the late 1990s. It seemed then to have already been a topic of longstanding. You might recall that the September 18, 2005 St. Al's bulletin proudly announced that the cluster had advanced to having its very own logo, see Cluster Is Not Just Chocolate With Nougat And Nuts. Now, a little more than three years after introduction of a cluster logo, the staffs of the cluster parishes have advanced to the point of an actual meeting.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Changes On The Way

This item in St. Al's September 21, 2008 bulletin gives one view of coming changes in the Mass translations.
The requirement from Rome is that all translations must be a literal translation from the Latin.

This might be a less than literal interpretation of Liturgiam authenticam.
The bishop in charge of the liturgy for the US Conference of Bishops recently wrote an article raising serious concerns about the appropriateness of a literal translation.

See U.S. Catholic Bishops' Liturgy Chair Raises Concerns Over New Worship Texts.
For example, instead of the congregation responding to "The Lord be with you" with "and also with you," it will now be "and with your spirit."

How spiritu ever became "also" remains unexplained.
This demand of the literal can often result in a stilted version.

Though it's not as if we're packing 'em in with the current approach.
Apparently his concerns were not approved by the US Bishops and confirmed by Rome.

Here are the changes.
In the end, it is the Power of the Holy Sprit [sic] that works through the liturgy. It is important not to get overly concerned about the details and miss the main power of our worship.

I'm convinced they're not overly concerned about the details.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Chalice as disease vector

From St. Al's August 31, 2008 bulletin, "Preparing The Communion Cups".
Several years ago a directive was issued by the Vatican instructing all parishes to conform to a modified way of preparing the communion cups. Many liturgists and pastors were not convinced that the rationale for the change was adequate and thus a good number of parishes suspended the implementation.

That's been a contagious attitude. There has also been a continuing trend of parishioners suspending implentation of giving to the parish or attending Sunday Mass. More recently I've seen indications more Catholics have suspended implementation of having their children baptized.
As the months passed it became more and more clear that our local diocesan leadership was expecting this modification to be implemented.

No more ad experimentum? First the cafeteria, now they're trying to close the lab.
Consequently, more and more parishes are doing so.

Including St. Al's. Who knows, someday the parish Mass would be the same as described in the order of worship in the hymnals in the pews and the texts used in Christian Formation, and pastors will again preach on Luke 7:8.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Font of wisdom

The St. Al's building project of a few years back included a baptismal pool just inside the entrance to the "worship space". Such pools for baptism by immersion were all the rage way back then. (At St. Al's, I've been told, there was a miscalculation and a tall adult climbing in risks a concussion on the low ceiling. Perhaps that can be corrected after the project mortgage is paid off circa 2028.)

With our pastor declining to deal with an associate pastor from the current crop, see Time of Change, even more baptisms are done during Sunday Mass. Since the pool is near the entrance, it's behind us when we're seated at Mass. The attempted fix has been to set up a video camera and projector so we can watch the baptisms on the big screen.

The font location thus virtually defeats (or defeats virtually) any non-workload purpose of having baptisms at Mass, so our pastor, in the August 24, 2008 bulletin, tells of possible Baptismal Procedure changes ahead.
each family having a child baptized would take some water from the font and carry it in a pitcher into church during the entrance procession and pour the water into a suitable container in the front of church. This water from the font would be used for the baptisms. By doing this we would incorporate the font into the baptisms while still enabling family and congregation to view the baptisms directly.

Watch for the next generation of liturgical consultants to tell us it's essential to build a Baptistry.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Faithful Citizenship

With an election upcoming, the September 7, 2008 bulletin at St. Al's included the Catholic Update version of this insert. The pastor also discussed it in his homily, concluding with a mention of life issues, including abortion. While there have been rose sales for right to life causes, and life issues have sometimes been included in the Prayer of the Faithful, I don't recall a previous mention of the word "abortion" in a homily in almost two decades of attending Mass at St. Al's.


Monday, September 15, 2008

If good means rhetorical

The news that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to get its first married priest, a married former Lutheran minister since ordained, gets a paragraph in the "From the Pastor's Desk" column in the August 10, 2008 bulletin at St. Al's.
In any case, today we have these married men willing to serve our church as priests. Some Catholics have asked about the logic of welcoming these married men to serve as priests and not allowing the same for married lifelong Catholics. It is a good question.

The page count of the bulletin has been down, so space constraints might have precluded answering it or referring to the Q & A: How married clergy become priests. It's a question I cover as a catechist, but that's only one tenth grade class at the parish, see bulletin page 3


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Just doing his job

At Disputations, a summary of Fr. Bill Byrne's approach as chaplain during the time that, Father says, the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland saw Sunday Mass attendance triple:
"God loves us, and His Son is here in the tabernacle."

Can he turn and point to it when he says this? It would have to be somewhat different at St. Al's:
"...His Son is out the exit of the church, make two lefts, and go the the far side of the new chapel, in the tabernacle. On your way, please pick up your pledge card to help reduce the mortgage that built this."

Reminds me of a homilist who, for emphasis, turned around to point to the Crucifix, then realized there wasn't one.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ascension Sunday

So says today's St. Al's Bulletin [5 pp. pdf] (p. 1). The readings at today's Mass were those for the Ascension while those in the bulletin (p. 2) are those for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

The homily started along the lines of The Rain of Christ Sermon Starter at Homilies By Email.
Ascension Sunday is very much about the reign of Christ. Notice how all the reading speak of it in terms of a king ascending a throne. King Jesus. Christ reigns!

As I thought of this and tried to understand it, it began to rain outside. I began to think of the rain that descends from heaven to help bring life...but it also returns or ascends to heaven through evaporation, so that it might return again with its blessings...Christ is the true Rain of Heaven... .

Not to be outdone in homiletic pun-ditry, our homilist went on to analogize the words of the two angels to Milwaukee Brewers announcer Bob Uecker's home run call "Get up! Get up! Get outta here!" But we shouldn't leave just yet, our homilist went on, not until after the "Ueckerist".

On page 4 of the bulletin is an announcement "Needed... A Few Good People!"
We still have openings for Parish Council and Parish Standing Committee membership for this coming year, beginning in August.

"Needed... A Few Warm Bodies!" would be more like it. (I'd rather be popping Imodium on the parish mission to Guatemala than be on Parish Council again.)

Also on page 4, is a farewell to the piano accompanist at (my) 11:00 a.m. Sunday Mass. She gave a moving farewell on an earlier Sunday. She had a young son who died suddenly and unexpectedly, and said she then found serving with our choir a great help in that difficult time. Asking that any pianists consider taking her place, she went on to ask rhetorically if Mass wouldn't be rather dull and uninspiring without the choir.

Under the circumstances, it's hard to raise questions, yet surely the Eucharist is more interesting than the accompanying music. And while the liturgical music is often praised in comments from the sanctuary, it has consistently been the biggest complaint of my Christian Formation students.

As a parting gift, she and her husband presented the parish with "Communion cups". These look like large wine glasses. It's not obvious how this complies with GIRM 328-329.

It's not as if parish practice on gifts from parishioners is "who pays the piper calls the tune". I might cite my experience with the new chapel. I've told before how the current church was built without a Crucifix, and, I was told, some parishioners raised the funds to buy one. You see it make a rare appearance in the fund drive video. As GIRM 308 indicates, a Crucifix is required, but when the fund drive exceeded its goal an image of the Risen Christ got added. Eventually it developed that most of the year we see not a Crucifix but some variation on Rainbow Jesus.

Around the time we were away on the parish Guatemala mission, the chairs for the priest celebrant and deacon were moved from their former place in the sanctuary, on the "far side" of the altar, to the front row of chairs of the leftmost section of seating. That is where the servers and lectors sit. If there was an explanation of this, I missed it; it appears contrary to GIRM 310.

In the past I've taken such issues to the parish, and the brush-offs, runarounds, doubletalk, blow-ups, and other evasions I get in response do provide bloggable material. The alternative is then taking an issue to the Archbishop, which I'm told has resulted in at least some changes. But the pace of these issues arising seems to be picking up to where they might pop up faster than the Archbishop could review them. I surmise the Liturgy Team has also been watching parish trends and is racing to perfect their alternative liturgy just as attendance drops to zero.

Update: Diogenes at Off the Record posts on the Wordsmiths of the Lectionary and their editing to produce the second reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Commenter Surewish adds
Good thing Ascension Thursday Sunday doesn't have an octave. Then we'd have Ascension Thursday Sunday Monday, and Ascension Thursday Sunday Tuesday, etc. ...


Friday, March 16, 2007

Parish Council Pastor Replacement Consultation

Last Sunday's St. Al's bulletin [5 pp. pdf] had this item on the calendar (p. 3).
Mar. 13 ... Parish Council Pastor Replacement Consultation 6:30PM, Community Room

This didn't explictitly invite parishioners; on the other hand, the Community Room venue sounded like they were prepared for a crowd. I decided to drop in to compare the process to what I saw and heard two years ago.

In attendance were the Parish Council, some committee chairs, much of the pastoral staff (see bulletin p. 1), Fr. Brian Mason, of the Priest Placement Board, Catherine O'Neill, Archdiocesan Parish Consultant (filling in for Mark Peters), and one other parishioner.

Ms. O'Neill distributed what appeared to be the standard form "Prayer in the Times of Pastoral Transition". On the back were a set of instructions, "Occasions and Ideas for Prayer". Prayer proceeded per the handout.

Fr. Mason then had everyone around the table introduce themselves, though saying he did not expect to remember our names. He reviewed the priest placement process. An outline of the process was also distributed, along with St. Al's Status Animarum Report (1993-2005), and the Parish Profile dated March 12, 2007.

Forty-five minutes had now passed. Next we were to count off into four groups, each of which would get a handout with six questions about how we saw the parish, what we'd like to see in a new pastor, etc.. This was to take a half hour, which would allow five minutes for each question.

At one of the Archdiocesan listening sessions on parish planning back in the late 1990s, I asked Bishop Sklba why we weren't provided in advance with the materials we were supposed to consider and the questions we were supposed to answer. He seemed taken aback, and said no one else had ever questioned this procedure before. And apparently no one has questioned it since.

Based on the Status Animarum, Parish Profile, and the answers to the six questions, and whatever else they know or have heard, priests up for appointment as pastors rank parishes in which they'd like to serve based. Fr. Mason also had said, though, that two years ago St. Alphonsus was not Fr. Meinholz's first choice, and maybe not among his choices at all. He said some thought him too young or not stable enough for the job. Since he got the job, it leaves the impression no priest listed St. Al's among his choices.

I didn't stay to discuss the questions.

Update: Later I heard that last time St. Al's was the first choice of at least one other priest.


Saturday, March 3, 2007

Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses

Bishop Richard J. Sklba writes in the "Herald of Hope" column in our Catholic Herald on the episcopal bureaucracy and the parish fantasy.
When the newspaper reports, therefore, that the bishops voted one way or another, it might be helpful to know that every action comes from a committee and each committee has its own circle of experts and consultants. Obviously the challenge is to make sure that any group of advisors contains adequate representation from each of the legitimate diverse viewpoints. It might be smoother if all are always of one mind or represent a single school of thought, but such single-minded advice may not always be the most helpful in the long run. That is certainly true of local parish councils, too.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

A visitor to St. Alphonsus Church

A reader emailed early last month with some observations about my parish after having been away at college.
I'd have to say, I have been pleasantly surprised by some small but unmistakable steps in the right direction! Is this so or is it just me? It's just that over this break I have heard twice in the petitions, prayers for an end to abortion. I don't mean to make mountains out of mole hills but, that's something I had NEVER heard before at that church!

Maybe it was one of those things that used to be impossible.
Also, I saw a children's religious ed book, and the books seem to be way more on the ball then they were when I was a kid. Even containing material about Chesterton and the Gregorian Chant! On the down side, what is with the greeting everyone before the start of the Mass thing they are doing? Where did that idea come from?

I assume some committee figured this would create, or at least simulate, community. Maybe the next step will be name tags.
We already do that with the sign of peace 40 minutes later!

One might almost conclude they are oblivious to how they undermine the very liturgical reforms they claim to be be advancing.
Also I notice some gender-neutralizing going on during the creed and at other times but that isn't new.

Fr. Aiken always used to do that with the Creed, saying one thing into his wireless mike while the congregation said another. Shortly after Fr. Meinholz arrived, he switched to the unmanned version, as well. I never heard either explain why they did this, and no one in the congregation seems to have picked up their alternative wording. Probably another example of intransitive ministry; they did their way, and this had nothing to do with us.

Since I then had my first session with my tenth grade Christian Formation class coming, I asked for more on the texts.
I have seen the texts used by 4th graders and those used by 5th graders. I don't recall the title, but throughout the chapters there would be sections entitled something like "Our Catholic Literature/Art/etc" I know the 4th grade text talked about Gregorian chant.

Update: For liturgical comparison purposes, here's Nell Braxton Gibson reminiscing at the Episcopal Urban Caucus.
The Sunday after General Convention I [in 2003] returned to my home parish for Gay Pride Sunday and participated in a Disco Mass for which gays and lesbians turned out in force. The opening hymn was a beautiful jazz rendition of "Over the Rainbow." Musical offerings came from gay men in sequined tank tops and from the Director of Music who was ushered into the service singing a disco number complete with Go-Go girls. The queen of St. Mark's appeared in full drag to deliver the homily and the closing hymn was, Sister Sledge’s "We Are Family." As I stood singing among straight men and women, young parents with their children, gays and lesbians, teenagers in hip hop clothing, Asians, whites, African Americans and Spanish speaking people I realized I was part of the realm of God and I was glad to be there - in a place where God’s creation of a new thing was being lived out.

(via Get Religion)


Sunday, April 2, 2006

7:00 PM Communal Reconciliation--Rite II

In his inaugural post, Mike commented on the state of our Archdiocese of Milwaukee, noting
There is still use of General Absolution at large parishes.

Since it's not supposed to be used, you might wonder how that can be. Here's how it's happening at St. Al's.

As a catechist, I received the class schedule which says student attendance is mandatory at tonight's Reconciliation service. A few weeks ago I heard that because some kids became unruly at an earlier reconciliation service for younger children, tonight's would be Rite III, general absolution. I discussed this with our pastor in person, and followed up by email. While the parish bulletins for last week [p. 2, pdf] and this week [p. 2, pdf] say Rite II, which includes individual confession, it was announced at Mass today that the service would be General Absolution.

I've been hearing that this is how it's done at other large parishes, as well. The parish bulletins are worded to conceal that General Absolution is being used. Maybe it's part of the local priests' union's General Absolution Action Plan.

Here's the pertinent Catholic faith and theology FAQ from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Q. Is attending a Reconciliation Service with general absolution the same as attending a Reconciliation Service with individual confession and absolution?

A. A general absolution cannot be imparted unless:
the danger of death is imminent and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individuals or
a serious necessity exists when the confessions of the individual penitents cannot be heard within a suitable time and the penitents are deprived of the sacrament.

The above is based on Canon 961, section 1. Section 2 goes on to say,
It belongs to the diocesan bishop to judge whether the conditions required according to the norm of [section] 1, n. 2 are present.

That is, whether general absolution is permitted absent the danger of death. Archbishop Dolan has given his answer.
The Second Vatican Council, far from discouraging the Sacrament of Penance, encourages it. Regrettably, it began to decline after the Council. Some priests began to offer “general absolution,” where, at the conclusion of a communal service of reconciliation, sacrament absolution, without personal, individual confession, was given.

While communal services to prepare for the sacrament are most effective and most laudable, individual, personal confession must always follow for a genuine celebration of the sacrament. Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, countless documents of the Holy See, Archbishop Cousins, Archbishop Weakland, and now yours truly offer a strong reminder that "general absolution" is not allowed.

The parish asks people like me to donate our time to teach kids material that includes the importance of individual confession, and charges parents tuition to have their kids learn this, and then our pastor goes out of his way to contradict it. It's part of a pattern at my parish.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Reality Check

Last week's bulletin at St. Al's [pdf 6 mb] has the weekly "Parish Giving Results" on page 2. These show weekly contributions to date. Then they show how much would be needed by this week to reach our budgeted income for the fiscal year. This is all in bold print. This week shows we are 2.6% "over goal." Sounds like good news.

Every week this is followed by an explanation that our budgeted income for this fiscal year is $100,000 less than last year. That goal was reduced because the parish wasn't going to make it.

Last week there was also, on page 5, a "Reality Check" by our pastor. It compares the amount actually given to this point in this fiscal year and last. It's down 3.8%.

Up is down, good news is bad news, financial statments are to obscure facts, here at the home of the Chapel of the Cross-purposes.

I went to the Parish Council meeting the following Monday. The agenda is on page 2 of the bulletin along with the date of the meeting. For the time of the meeting and the room location, you had to check the parish calendar on page 3.

I took along the Minutes of Finance Committee Meeting November 16, 2004. From those minutes, it appeared that most people the parish calls will hang up when they hear it's the parish calling. What, I wondered, did the parish do to follow up on this finding? Such data might be a starting point for finding out why parishioners give and why they don't. I was told they filed the results and maybe the info could be dug out of the records (or maybe from the packing in the crate with the Ark of the Covenant?).

One Council member suggested that since the selected parishioners had first been called on the parish's behalf by a marketing company, it was understandable that most would hang up on a follow-up call from the parish. I confess that does not satisfy me as an explanation. Another said the Council was told that our giving problems tracked nationwide trends. It was right out of Tom Peters, "But we're no worse than anyone else!" I told them these were the same kind of explanations I was hearing when I joined parish council. (I'm still waiting for some data I requested back then to be dug out of the records.)

I'd rather blog my parish's turnaround than its death spiral, but right now it looks like I'm betting on a long shot with my weekly envelope.