Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A blogging milestone


I thought I would write in celebration of my first milestone as a blogger-- just over 1000 visitors since I began the blog!

I must say, blogging is a lot more difficult than one would imagine! It has been difficult to balance my family life, my job, and everything else, and still find time to blog! I hope that, as I write more, it becomes easier, as well-- I don't know how people like Fr. Z crank out the volume they do!

An ulterior motive for blogging has been to keep my brain active while I am not working on my degree, and also, to work on being able to take more complex ideas and boil them down to a reasonable word-count. I hope that, so far, it has been as enriching for you as the reader as it has been for me as the writer to reflect upon these topics.

Anyway, I hope that you continue reading, and thank you so much for visiting! Feel free to pass the link along to a friend!

Be assured of my prayers for you today,


3 "-isms", a dangerous combination

(NOTE: I have been writing this for about a week now, but how providential for the topic to be posted on the Feast of the Chair of Peter-- happy feast day!)

There's no doubt about it, the Modern Church is having an identity crisis. Just this past week, our parish had a "listening session" to try and come up with creative solutions to the clergy shortage. The usual answers came out of the usual places-- womenpriests, married clergy, etc. I find it interesting that not many people are paying attention to what is being done differently by these young traditional communities with flourishing vocations. Perhaps many view them as idealistic, and could never work in a modern parish setting. I beg to differ.

In my travels, I have noticed that there are three -isms in particular that have combined in a very interesting fashion in the West today (though, there are probably more), which I think are at the source of this crisis.

The three I am referring to are Americanism, Conciliarism, and a new form of "anti"-Clericalism. I say, a "new form," because, rather than an extreme dislike for things clerical, there is an apathy or total lack of recognition of the role of the clergy. Indeed, perhaps this new form is actually the goal toward which anti-clericalism was originally oriented-- violent emotions cause for people to weigh in and take sides; apathy allows for something to quietly go the way of the buffalo.

I think, that, in doing a proper study of the Church, we would see that these three -isms have merged in such a way that they have influenced the standard method of operating a parish, or a diocese, or even a Bishop's Conference-- though, of course, we have those outliers that rebel against this model, and are bravely and (usually) silently on the edge of things, just doing their jobs as good parish priests or Bishops.

While I won't get into the nuances of each of the -isms, I'll give a brief explanation of how I see them in action today.

Americanism (see here) as a heresy could simply be defined as a national pride which sees America (or name your country) as on the cutting edge of progress, and therefore has more of a claim to pointing the direction of the Church in the future-- indeed, to the point that they may feel Rome should take notes from them.

Really, this is the same agenda that was being pushed back in the 4th-6th centuries by the see of Constantinople, struggling to gain equal or more authority than the see of Rome. Though I don't think that the USCCB or the BCEW, etc, would ever say that this is their objective (in fact, the Bishop's Conferences in general do great work within their scope), I do think that there are many members of the Conference who would like to see something of this nature happen. The solution? trust the hierarchy established by Christ. "Tu es Petrus..."

This leads very naturally in to the next "-ism". Conciliarism was a big idea in the Middle Ages, when bishops were trying to push the Pope around. The gist is that if Bishops got together and weighed in on an issue, then the Pope would have to do what they wanted him to do.

I think we're seeing this particular "-ism" on many levels in the modern western Church. First, the notion that Bishops Conferences have real authority to make decisions that are overarching in every diocese in the realm. This can be a problem when a local Ordinary voluntarily hands over his own authority to be exercised by the Bishop's Conference. His Excellency, Bishop Vasa, now co-adjutor of Santa Rosa, addresses this very issue here:

More locally, we are seeing that in a lot of dioceses, the priests are pushing for a different notion of conciliarism, called "collegiality," with regard to how they would like their Bishop to operate. Though this call for collegiality from the Council was rooted in being more pastoral, in practice, this has become a means of reducing the local Ordinary to merely a "pal," or "buddy," who exists solely to justify what a priest would like to see done, rather than someone who has authority over his flock, and whom they are obliged to obey. Sadly, many Bishops are forced into this role because of fraction and schism in the modern Church, in order to keep the peace. (Perhaps it would be good to remind folks what the crozier is actually for!)

Still more locally, we have the phenomena of "the parish council". Meant to be a consultative body, so that the Pastor can make informed decisions, in too many places, the council is simply a means of turning in to a democratic church, where these folks are elected to tailor the Church to how they would like to see it. When a good priest tries to implement any real change for the better in these parishes, too often the "vote" is made by the offering plate, or in parishioners simply moving to another parish.

Finally, we have a new "anti-"clericalism. Clericalism is used as a pejorative in many places, but I think today we should be trying to rehabilitate the term. Misunderstanding the role of the clergy in the Church is (imho) the main cause of the aforementioned issues. In America, a traditionally "anti-clerical" country, we have empowered the laity so far as to turn the priesthood in to a function of utility. "Stand here and say Mass, Peter," "Don't worry about how the finances are being spent, Peter"-- of course, in these churches they would not even think of calling a priest "father". And we wonder why there is a vocations "shortage"?

I should point out at this point that I am in no way discounting the importance of the laity. They have a very important role in the Church, and when rightly ordered, can contribute in dialogue with the clergy in a mutually beneficial manner. The document, "Ecclesiae de Mysterio," does a very good job of laying out the very real ministry that a layman exercises, and where that line is between the clergy and the laity, which in many places has been all but erased.

At this point, I hope you too recognize that these "-isms" are not unrelated. So what is the solution to all of this madness?

Ephesians 5 comes to mind, here-- what if the bride of Christ allowed her spouse to love her so much that he would sacrifice himself for her? Are our clergy formed to see this as the relationship they have with those in their care? Modern "pastoral theology" seems to me to be missing this element, and the generations of fracturing relationships between the priest and the community have led toward a lack of respect for the priest on the part of the community.

In rehabilitating the term "clericalism," it seems that the laity have to desire to be guided towards Heaven, and to allow their father to act in a fatherly manner. Similarly, priests have to be formed to view this as their relationship with their parish, and have a pure intention toward fulfilling this mission of bringing all people to Christ.

In recognizing that these tendencies exist in the Church today, especially in those who were formed in the years following the Council, I think we should also recognize that many of the young priests and seminarians that we have today are exemplifying heroic virtue in responding to their call to the priesthood, and to be spiritual fathers. What a blessing it has been to have met so many young, holy men in my travels!

These problems will probably take decades to lose their hold on the Church, until they inevitably re-appear under another form, but I think that the best thing for us as laity to do is to pray for our clergy, to support them in their decision making, to be in deference to their decisions (whether we agree or disagree), and to earnestly desire to have that spiritual fatherhood cultivated in our parishes and in our lives.

I think that, in recognizing these -isms for what they are, and how much of an effect that they have on parish life, we will find that this is the first step toward rehabilitating an "authentic clericalism," a truly healthy relationship between priest and layman; and by doing so, the Church will in turn be more effective in her mission of the salvation of souls.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Narrowing Gap Between the Church and the World

"Mind the Gap when alighting from the train". If you've ever been on the Tube in London, this is what the voice tells you to do. In the Church, we are seeing the gap between the Church and the world getting smaller and smaller. What happens when the train hits the platform?

It's hard not to notice these days-- the image of the Church in the world is not exactly a pretty one. Specifically, I think this is happening on two fronts. One from the perception of the Church in society; the other, how the society is having a negative impact on the Church.

On the first front-- have you noticed the number of films as of late that have taken specifically Catholic spiritual themes and made them popular? The exorcism movies have been on the rise by so much that they could probably take on a whole sub-genre of horror film. This will probably not bring about greater awareness of the reality of demonic activity, but will more likely have the opposite effect.

But it's not simply a popularization of explicitly Catholic themes-- there's also an adoption of sacred words and giving them profane meanings. In early 2011, the film called "Sanctum" hit the screens-- true to its name, this film has a very spiritual theme... going caving. Later in the spring we'll see a film called "Priest" coming to the big screen. Guess what-- it's about vampires. And there are priestesses.

And I still haven't forgotten how in the film "2012," all of the major religious symbols that were destroyed were Catholic, and not a single mosque touched.

But it's not only in the movies. We now have a show coming out on Fox starring "Fr. Cutie," an ex- priest who married some woman after having had some inappropriate photos taken of them while he was still a priest. Sounds like a great show to help solve the world's problems. (for more info, see here)

Now, just as I'm writing this, the Red Bull commercial has come on about the young man going to confession about chastity issues, then coming out of the confessional and saying to his mate, "I got two new leads"... 

Perhaps I'm hyper-sensitive to it all, but I don't think I'm being paranoid by thinking that the intrigue and popularization of this Catholic imagery being used in the media only serves to give people the impression that spirituality is nothing more than the stuff of fiction-- that having faith is something to joke about in our more enlightened "culture." That we should be grounded in the stuff of the modern world, rather than a spiritual life, and that subconscious spiritual itch can be scratched by our encounter with "spirituality" in the media, which is convenient because we tune into it when we want, then turn it off when we're finished.

On the other front, in the post-conciliar years we've seeing secular culture flooding through the church doors and in to our worship. In an attempt to be relevant and engaging to people, we try to be hip and have "contemporary music"-- music with words that are ambiguous at best, heretical at worst. Secular music is used with new lyrics to try to make singing at Mass popular; meanwhile, all I can think is that I heard that while drinking a pint of Guinness at the local Irish pub! (Compare this song with this song.)

Rather than talk about the holy sacrifice of the Mass, we talk about "sharing Eucharist," and inviting non-Catholics to receive communion, because "really, we're all one". We prematurely canonize the dead as symbolized by the wearing of white vestments at funerals, and, under  a guise of being pastoral, take liberties with the Gospel to speak of how it is they who have gone on ahead to prepare a room in Heaven for us! My understanding was that is what Jesus did. Perhaps I was wrong...

I was appalled over Christmas to see how people-focussed the Mass is in some places. There is more of an emphasis on community than on the Eucharist. The sign of peace has become an opportunity to catch up on all the news with your neighbors... need we remind you that Christ is present on the altar?

And it's a wonder we aren't getting vocations in this climate? What boy in their right mind wants to commit his whole life to Christ, when the image of God he sees is completely irrelevant to his life? These youth don't see the difference between going to Mass and going to the movies-- both are for entertainment... except, of course, the movie is more entertaining.

What we need to be working on is being a sign of contradiction. There's a reason for smells and bells and gregorian chant-- they're all sacramental... they point to the Other that is Christ. The beauty of our liturgy and pattern of Catholic daily life is that, though we live in the world, we strive for something that is not attainable in the materialism of this earth. In being this sign, it is a reminder to those who attend Mass who they are made for, what their destination truly is. Sure, there is a place for inculturation, but not to the detriment of the sacred nature of the Mass.

I really believe that the issue of liturgy will be the issue of my lifetime. Hopefully, please God, my requiem will be in line with a hermeneutic of development in continuity. If we get this right, then everything else will fall in to place. If we don't, then... ?

Sometimes I wonder if all of this effort to "be hip" (yes, I realize that phrase isn't "with it" anymore-- that was the point) is possibly because those folks who push the hardest for all of this innovation are on some level ashamed of the Catholic Faith-- ashamed to the point where they have to dress it up and make it look appealing. The paradox being that this is not what people want, anyway.

We can't do much about the secular media directly, but perhaps if our own perception changes, then the image they portray of us will begin to change, as well? Bring back the days of films like "I Confess" is what I say. When priests were real men, heroes even. How many people see our priests like that anymore-- as heroes? Certainly not many with films like "Primal Fear" being more akin to what the media wants to portray them all as.

Anyway, to bring the metaphor back round: a train and a platform both have their purposes-- they are a means to get you somewhere, and we need them both. But... we should be careful about how far one extends beyond its own boundaries, lest we create a wreck of the whole thing. "Mind the Gap."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

SWLC-- Final Thoughts.

Greetings from the final morning of the Southwest Liturgical Conference in Salt Lake City!

Well, it's not quite over yet, but I think that I have come to my conclusions about the conference. It was definitely worth coming, if only to better understand the problems. (and, it gives me blog topics for a while!)

I have had quite a few conversations with folks while here, including several people from my diocese. They might consider me to be "conservative," but I hope that, in charity, they can see my perspective as I have seen theirs.

Here's the thing. Everyone here has the same goal: renewal of the liturgy, that Christ might be not simply made present at Mass, but that we might be changed by that encounter with him. Unfortunately, many of the folks here think you do that by evoking an emotional response in the participant at Mass, or by trying to make it relevant, or respecting local cultures to the detriment of the culture of the Mass.

As for me, I'm looking at all this more theologically, rather than sociologically, or psychologically, etc. From my perspective, the Roman Rite does not need our fiddling in order to bring someone in to a real encounter with Christ. It does, however, need constancy and fidelity.

It finally hit me yesterday during a talk by Dr. Jane Regan from Boston College. She didn't talk very much at all about the Missal, but rather, people. She talked about how to do adult formation, and formational principles. It was all very good and all, and I even got a few ideas for our own adult formation program.

Here's what hit me: people need baby food before they can have a steak.

There's no way to dialogue over the transcendental nature of the Mass, or that music isn't a matter of taste, or that, in humility, we should bend our will to what the Church says, when, in the case of many of these folks, they're still on baby food.

These are the people who are standing during the Eucharistic prayer, playing feel good music on the guitar, trying to figure out how to involve more women, etc. Once I realized that its just baby food for most people, I was really able to stop being so critical, and just appreciate that, though a difference of experience and perspective, we have similar goals.

Whether it should be or not, the Church in the post-conciliar decades has been almost as wide as it is deep. The object, it seems, is that, especially with regard to the liturgy, we should be working with the Holy Spirit to turn that wideness into a funnel-- that's the only way to get to heaven, after all.

This wideness stems from a wrong-headed notion of inculturation, or the need to make the Mass relevant, or whatever good intention that people start off with. Unfortunately, it's wrong.

During one conversation, I posited that music is not about taste. It's about beauty, which is an objective quality. If there is such thing as more beautiful, there unfortunately has to be such thing as less beautiful. But we should take heart, because that also means there is something called most beautiful, and that is what we call God.

Many of the folks here are happy to talk about principles, and find that we come to agreement on them. Unfortunately, it's taking principles to praxis that is where the conflict begins.

In some ways, this makes me ever more critical of the main presenters. Their job, and the job of the organizers, is to be good stewards. They're not to be innovators, not pushing theological opinion on various topics (I still stand firmly by what I said after the first night), but simply baby food-- catechesis, not theology.

For example, how does singing the Mass, rather than singing at Mass, bring people in to a more full, conscious, and active participation in it? How is this different from hymn singing?

What is it that the rubrics call for in this situation-- why is it that, in humility, we should follow what the Church says here, rather than try and be "pastoral"? Is it truly pastoral to lead folks away from what the Church has to say?

All in all, the week has helped me to see the work to be done. I am by no means a "true believer"!  I have sat it out from the "worship" whenever I could, because of the overly horizontal nature of it all.

But the week has helped to "human-ize" those on the other side, and realize that they're not intentionally out to ruin the Church-- they're trying their best... they can just do better. And so can I, for that matter.

I think that I would much more appreciate an academic get together of folks who were able to engage at a deeper level on the subject. I wonder whether we'd have liturgies like we have had this week at that kind of gathering... something tells me probably not.

Right, well, it's almost time for the last session-- until next time, God bless!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

SWLC Day 1.

Okay, hello again!

Today has been very interesting. 

I skipped "morning prayer" because I thought it would be an occasion of sin for me, especially after last night's experience. I was told that it was probably a wise move.

Anyway, the first plenary session of the day was by Dr. David Fagerberg, a professor from the University of Notre Dame. The topic was "Being Formed into a Liturgical People by an Abiding Lex Orandi". I was blown away at the contrast between last night and today! This talk was PHENOMENAL, and I  ended up taking a ton of notes. I also had the opportunity to speak with the presenter afterward.

The most interesting thing is that Dr. Fagerberg was a Lutheran pastor, and, during his work on his doctorate, he ended up converting. Most of his talk was from the perspective of protestant theologians, which was probably smart considering the audience. I thought it was interesting how, once the ideas of worship and liturgy are boiled down to the essentials, even though from a different source, how compatible they are with magisterial teaching on the subject, and also the teachings of Benedict XVI.

Considering the majority of the audience, I thought that his approach was exactly what was needed-- whether they realize it or not, the principles outlined are along the lines of a hermeneutic of continuity with that which came before. But don't tell them that... perhaps we'll just see if it subconsciously affects how they understand the Mass.

I felt like what I heard last night and what I heard this morning were from two polar opposite perspectives-- one focussed on the ability to adapt to the times and be creative, the other spoke to the fact that liturgy is not created, but given, and that we are stewards of it. I felt bad for a lot of the people in attendance. So many are lay people who don't understand the theological implications, but are simply hoping to get concrete stuff on how to implement the Missal.

Right, well, the other major session was done by His Excellency, Bishop Kicanus. His talk was good, but more focussed on the challenge of culture and the Church, and how we reach that culture and make the changes of the liturgy accessible to those who won't understand why the changes.

Tonight we had Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeline. I thought that, for all of the hype about the choir, for the most part it was rather dull and uninspiring. The music was more performance oriented, and didn't bring me in to the Mystery by any means. The Mass had more in a foreign language than in english, including at least 8 languages for the intercessions. Apparently, this is not how Masses normally are at the Cathedral... anyway, it seems that affirmative action needs to swing back the other direction-- there were no men used for any of the readings or intercessions. I was thoroughly unimpressed that a Deacon didn't do the intercessions. I guess men aren't good at being dramatic enough in presentation. Sexist.

Right, well, it's been good to talk with folks about things, and the vendors are pretty good, so I can't say it's been a waste of time-- and the other bits have been humorous enough that it keeps things interesting.

I'm off to bed. I'll save my closing remarks until after I get back home. God bless!

The Southwest Liturgical Conference: Night 1.

Greetings from Salt Lake City, UT! I'm a block and a half from the famous Temple, so... Father and I are going to go march around it 7 times. (joke)

No, really... I'm going to give you my impressions thus far-- check back late tonight or tomorrow to hear how day 1 goes.

First, the organization of it all is really good. There is a lot of support from the folks who live here locally, from the school kids to adult volunteers that know exactly how to direct you to the brew pub. Kudos to them!

At first glance, the schedule looks promising! Evening prayer with the Bishop prior to the first talk!

Why, oh WHY do these folks always have to be cut from the same mould?

"Evening prayer" was not that at all. There was a psalm, yes, and some intercessions, yes. There was a bishop vested in a beautiful cope. And there were vietnamese women dressed not dissimilarly to geishas walking in with raised bowls of incense (I realize geishas are Japanese, but it's the nearest thing to compare to). There was a whole "dance" of sorts up the aisle, though very graceful, I couldn't quite help but miss the point entirely, even though I tried.

Next, the bishop, at the beginning of the psalm "O LORD let my prayer rise before you like incense," places a heaping spoon of incense in to the most prominent thing on the stage: A space-age looking stainless steel hospital bed pan type thing.

Guess what? No incense arose. For me,  not many prayers arising, either. Why can't they just use a thurible??? It's designed to make incense do its thing!  Instead, we have this dramatic thing, but it doesn't work. Ah well.

The music was a good effort by the choir of children. They actually used some traditional chant! They did a very good job. Unfortunately, it was ruined by things like a really cheap electric keyboard, and the handbell choir, which was a good effort, didn't seem to fit with the "mix."

Again, what with the multi-cultural expressions? It doesn't look like a terribly diverse crowd. Our response to the intercessions was that sung-response "Lord here our prayer" repeated ad nauseum in English, Latin, and Spanish. Again, the tinny keyboard ruined what wouldn't have otherwise been totally unbearable.

Before I get in to content, let's just point out that, after the night was over, there were AZTEC DANCERS who were meant to come and do a prayerful expression (by praying to the four directions, no less), and then process us down to the exhibit hall for refreshments. We stood there, trying to comprehend what kind of prayerful expressions these were, and how they spoke to the Genius of the Roman Rite (drums and all)... and then decided to go find that brew pub. I figure, those kind of spirits are much easier to handle than any spirits that might have been invoked upon us.

Okay. I'll stop now before I get too carried away, and get to actual content.

His Excellency, Bishop Wester, was given a topic: Liturgy and Justice. 

God bless him. He did a phenomenal job, and, I think, even though I have no idea what the intention was of the person who gave him this prompt, spoke to the deeper meaning of liturgy, and, I think, gave us a picture of what real Justice is. He spoke of how the Sacrifice of the Mass as divine justice is essentially justice par excellence. I think I could listen to him speak for the rest of the week!

Unfortunately, "the Main Act," Rev. Paul Turner, wasn't nearly as compelling.

Okay, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have no doubt that he has a love of God, the Church, and the Liturgy. He seems very sincere in his delivery, and very good at breaking down ideas to the practical for those who don't really know about liturgy.

The thing is, in order to talk about the new Missal, he used Eucharistic Prayer II as his main thread throughout the talk! I couldn't help but feel like an agenda was being foisted upon us, and if it wasn't, then my back was up the whole time so much that I probably missed out on some really great points to help practically implement the Missal.

He enunciated how EP II has become THE prayer of the Roman Rite, and the type by which the others can be understood by. He went through the history of the Apostolic Tradition, and talked about mystery, and how this might have been "the Roman Canon, " if it hadn't got lost. Thanks be to God for those folks of the Consilium who re-found it for us.

He neglects to mention that more recent scholarship doubts whether or not it was ever even used-- and the one in the Apostolic Tradition isn't even the prayer that we have at Mass today. He doesn't mention that some think it to be a compilation of various examples of Eucharistic Prayers. He simply says, "it was lost".

The complete lack of information about this prayer is one of many reasons why I think I would be dubious about it, even if I didn't know anything about it.

The question that remained unanswered in my mind was "Wait a second. The most holy prayer of the Mass, that is the type of every other eucharistic prayer, was simply lost? Surely, there's more to it. Surely there's a reason that the great Roman Canon, venerable in our Tradition for 1400+ years, and the only canon used in the Roman Rite for that time as well,  should be the primary one, if not for the fact that we just don't know anything about this alleged anaphora of Hippolytus (not to mention he was an anti-pope)."

Anyway, it seemed to end on the note of, "praise God for new prayers that can be used in new ways, even though they were made up completely by a committee of folks, and have very loose connections with the traditions of our apostolic faith, praise God for new prayers that we can make up, rather than be stewards of what we have received."

As I said, I genuinely think he was sincere, and really has a heart for helping implement the New Missal, but I can't help but think this is an opportunity to push an agenda on the Mass. Not what I need to be educated on to implement the New Missal. Whether he is complicit in that, I don't know. I know that the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome is full of the Consilium crowd, and that's where he received his education. Even still, I think I would really like the guy, and love to get into conversation about things if we were having a pint, rather than watching Aztec Dancers.

And for your reference, here's what the Sacred Congregation of Rites had to say about the Norms for which Eucharistic Prayers to be used.

I'd also point you to Fr. Cassian Folsom's article from Adoremus Bulletin, "From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many".

Needless to say, I'm not a true believer yet. But it is fun discussing these things with my colleagues. Say a prayer for me, please, that I survive the week. Today, we are off to the Cathedral of the Madeline. Apparently, they normally have beautiful liturgies-- I hope it isn't hijacked by committee.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Off to the Southwest Liturgical Conference...

Hello out there!

Happy Feast of Candlemas, the traditional end of the Christmas Season.

Today, my colleagues and I are headed to Salt Lake City for the Southwest Liturgical Conference. I'm going a skeptic. Will I become a true believer?

Check back in a few days-- I'll try and give a good analysis of the pros and cons of the event...

Until then, God bless you all!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Re-ordering" the Sacraments of Initiation

Fr. Ray Blake has an interesting commentary on what is going on over in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. I'd point you to his blog for some interesting commentary on the notion of reception of Holy Communion and Confirmation.

In our diocese, we do Confirmation in 7th grade. Apparently, prior to this move by the previous Ordinary, Bishop David Ricken (now of the Diocese of Green Bay-- go Steelers! haha), Confirmation was conferred in High School.

I am a fan of lowering the age, and even re-ordering the Sacraments of Initiation to the correct order: Baptism, Confirmation, Communion. I think that, generally speaking, the sooner one receives the Sacrament of Confirmation, the better, and even think that perhaps the ideal solution would be to return to the custom of the Fathers by having the Bishop Confirm all of the newly baptized during his yearly visit. If the only fruit of this would be to get rid of the silly notion of it being a "sacrament of graduation," I think it would be a success!

I say, "ideal solution..." Well, ideally, every parish in a diocese would have such a developed sense of community life being rooted in the parish, and all of the families would truly live a Catholic way of life-- if this was the case, then such a need for catechetical programs to educate the children/youth in the Faith would be non-existent: they'd be getting it at home, and by attending Mass regularly, and participating in the devotional life of the Church.

As it is, this is far from the case in most parishes. Pastorally, I think that, rather than a diocesan norm implemented regardless of the particular circumstances, it would be better to allow each parish to (in consultation with the Bishop) set an age appropriate to the needs of the community-- perhaps with an upper limit set on when they ordinarily should be Confirmed by.

I think, for instance, of the good parishes of St. John Cantius in Chicago, or the Birmingham Oratory which I attended when I lived in England. The families that flock to these types of parishes do so precisely because they are living a parish life that is in the heart of the Church! These parishes probably could do Confirmation at a much lower age, perhaps even for the newly Baptized upon the occasion of the annual visit by the Bishop.

As for our own parish here in Jackson, I'm not sure. With the hispanic community, the only time we see the kids is for a sacramental year, or if a girl wants to have a quinceneara. Very rarely do we get students who are active in the following year-- at least, that has been the trend in the short time I have been here. They consistently have a very low knowledge of the Faith, though their devotional life is very rich (though, sometimes bordering superstitious).

For our english-speaking community, I think, regardless of the age, more onus has to be put on the parents to engage their children in the Faith daily. Until then, it is probably a good thing to have a "mandatory" class for youth at an age that they are starting to become more independent, so that way they get the formation from the source on how to live their lives as Catholics. Is Confirmation the carrot that gets kids to that type of class? Unfortunately, yes. Should it be? Well... I'm not sure.

With regard to the parents in this whole situation, who are really at the root of the it all, I'd just say that this problem is not because they are "bad parents"-- they've just never been given the education themselves. We're now several generations on of people having received the catechism of John Lennon: "all you need is love". Is that the understanding of Faith of mature Catholic? Definitely not.

As for the solution... I think we have to be more assertive in parish leadership about what it really is to be a Catholic, what it is to be a Catholic married couple, what it is to be a Catholic family; and how that "being Catholic" is manifested in daily life and parish life. We have to require more than simply filling a space in the pews.

Solve that problem, and I think we'll see more than just the problem of the age of Confirmation being solved-- we'll see more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, more involvement in ministries of the parish, an increase in the collection plate, and an expansion of the Church like there hasn't been seen since the great missions!

Perhaps the discussion of the age of Confirmation is just the thing to help get the ball rolling.