The Personalist Project

Where I live, there have been no masses since mid-March. A couple weeks ago, President Trump declared religious services essential, but our Archbishop seems to have decided to go with our Democratic governor's mandates prohibiting them instead. So, even for Pentecost, no mass.

Having heard through the grapevine that they would begin again this Sunday, though with coronavirus measures, I've been struggling. I'm asking myself if I will be too angry over the measures to be in a proper spiritual state to receive Holy Communion.

Yesterday an email came from parish staff that didn't help. 

Things will look quite different at St. Agnes in the coming days and weeks as we come together again as a community. Please know that the decisions regarding how Mass will be celebrated and how the parish will operate in these days have been made with great prayer and consideration for how we can safely and effectively serve our community both spiritually and physically.

It goes without saying that the woman who wrote this means well. I'm guessing she's been fielding a lot of calls and messages from frustrated, opinionated parishioners. I'm sure it hasn't been easy. And I don't doubt at all that the decisions were made with "great prayer and consideration."  I don't even say that they are bad decisions.

Rather, I hold it up as yet another exhibit of the terrible structural disorder in the Church right now. On the most basic, practical issues affecting the very heart of life together as local Catholics, the laity have no say. None. We can't discuss and vote on the measures. We're not invited to offer our thoughts. We have no vehicle for voicing concerns, exchanging ideas, proposing solutions, or developing a consensus.  We just have to wait for instructions from on high.

After that, we have two options: Obey or walk away. Attitudinally we can be humble and cooperative or we can be bitter and complaining. Guess which the priests and their staff would prefer? Guess which they'll preach is more Christian?

Readers, this is not okay. 

And thankfully it's not really true that those are the only two options. Rather, they're only the two options under the status quo. But we can change the status quo! Actually, we have to. The status quo, like it or not, is collapsing. The only question remaining is what will replace it.

We—I mean us, the laity—can restructure the Church so that it better reflects the doctrines of our Faith, better accords with our dignity as persons and as baptized, and way, way better serves the mission Christ gave us to redeem the world. We can do it, even if the hierarchy oppose us. (Don't forget, we outnumber them by far, and they need us.)

Attitudinally, we can foster in ourselves courage, fortitude, hope, passion, wisdom, faith. We can call up the power of our baptism and confirmation—the same power that raised Christ from the dead. We can do it, and we will, for love, because it must be done.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Comments (7)


#1, Jun 5, 2020 1:52pm

I had typed up an email and tried to send it via the "Contact Us" page, but it was asking for me to submit a non-existent "Captcha" type image. I don't have time to retype it in full, but here is a short response:

I've been working in a couple different parishes for about 15 years, and what I've seen suggest a "co-dependent" relationship, where we as the laity have been happy to give all our authority away, because we have given away our responsibility at the same time (at least, so we think). Structure is certainly at play here; I also think that our tendency to try to stuff everything into Sunday Mass contributes (the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, but it is far from being the sum total of it!). Whether a cause or symptom, we have also made the word "parish" synonymous with the church property and activities that occur there. [Comment 1 of 2]


#2, Jun 5, 2020 1:54pm

[Comment 2 of 2]

As I was writing my original message, I had the thought: What about parish-linked lay associations--sort of like a spiritual "labor union"? "The Lay-Association of St. Somewhere Catholic Church". I think it would be wise for such a group to still be under the spiritual oversight of the bishop or even local pastor (I have too much familiarity with what can happen to a community that is completely independent), but with legal/financial separation, it would make it clearer who was responsible for what, and there would be a greater incentive for the pastor and the laity to collaborate.

I know various bishops (such as my own) are doing things to try to give more teeth to groups such as parish finance councils, but since that is entirely subject to the will of the current bishop, that can be undone in a moment (or ignored).

Looking forward to seeing your detailed proposals!

In Christ,

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jun 5, 2020 2:17pm

Yes, you're exactly right, Jonathan. The answer lies in lay associations.

And you're right about the co-dependence too. See this post from two years ago, right after the McCarrick news came out.

I'm sorry about the tech issues. I'll ask my husband to look into that when he comes home from abroad tonight. He understands all that much better than I do.

Thanks for commenting! 

Rhett Segall

#4, Jun 9, 2020 11:23am

Regarding "lay associations":

A friend is a Dutch Reformed Minister. In his church authority structure is democratic. Here's there official word:

" Following the example of the early church, we believe that decisions should be made by gathering people together to discern the will of God. Because the whole church cannot meet together at one time and place to make decisions, governing bodies made of those who hold an office within the church carry out the work of the church at various levels."

My friend says the ministers are subject to the prejudices of the group. Many of the laity (I suspect most) do not have the time to give to governing a parish community. But we do have many opportunities to voice our opinion and if we differ with the pastor to organize with others to make the weight of our opinion felt.

I am convinced that lay rule in a parish will lead to factions such as Paul admonished in Corinth and had to straighten out. In fact he said there gatherings were doing more harm than good.

Analogously Dietrich Von Hildebrand favored a constitutional monarchy. I don't agree with him but I see his point.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jun 10, 2020 8:28pm

I agree with you, Rhett, that most of us don't have the time or inclination for governing, which is totally fine.

I don't agree that we have many opportunities for voicing our opinion, never mind forming a consensus. In my parish, there are practically none. We can complain as individuals in person or via email. That's pretty much it. There are no forums, no publications, no gatherings, no debates, discussions, op-ed pages, surveys, votes...There's nothing except an invisible and utterly ineffective Parish Advisory Council, over which the pastor has veto power.

In secular society, I don't govern, but it's important to me that I have a voice in the government through my vote and through my representatives. That comes closer to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity than the current ecclesial structure.

Consider AA and its offshoots. You've got 70-plus years of self-governance by people whose main thing in common is dysfunction. Yet, it works. How is that? Where is factionalism there? Why hasn't it been torn apart? Why haven't its "doctrines" and rituals been "watered down"?

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jun 10, 2020 8:28pm

I say it's because they've got great founding documents, principles, and policies, plus a membership that truly values what the organization offers. It can be compared with the Benedictine Rule and Order on that score. That order has flourished for more than a millennia now.

For good self-government, you need a mission, sound values and dynamics, proper checks and balances, "enumeration of powers," etc. It's not easy to establish, but potential for bad self-government is not a good reason for perpetuating dictatorships, no matter how benign, imo. If it doesn't accord with our dignity as persons and as baptized, the status quo has to go.

Anyway, it's going, even if we wish it wouldn't. It's not sustainable. The only question is what will replace it. So, as for me, I'm going to be busy helping conceive and birth a good replacement.

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jun 11, 2020 8:39pm

I'm regretting the term "dictatorships." It implies things I definitely don't mean, and it sounds much uglier than either the reality or my actual thought. What I meant to draw attention to is the objective state of affairs wherein the pastor in a parish is the only one with decision-making authority. Of course even there, his authority is exercised under that of the bishop, so it's hardly dictatorial.

It is fairly total, though. And parish members have no franchise, unless he offers it to us on a given item. I have one pastor friend who, for instance, before he decided which of the Sunday masses he would drop, sent a survey to his parishioners. But that was an act of grace and generosity on his part. He didn't have to do it.

The pastor in our parish didn't ask for feedback when he decided to drop the evening mass. He just announced a fait accompli

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