Thanks so much for your response to my recent essay regarding Eucharistic Revival and the Eucharistic Congress. You were so openhanded in offering me the benefit of your erudition and experience that I’m moved to reciprocate. I’ve been a communicator as a teacher, preacher, author, and broadcaster for 33 years, and my experience will color my response. For 26 of those years, I’ve been a priest.
I spent much of my professional life as a professor (undergraduate/graduate/university/seminary) of philosophy, theology and rhetoric. It’s natural for me to evaluate the substance and form of arguments, and I will bring those inclinations to bear in response to your essay.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Briefly, regarding form: I taught my rhetoric students that when an interlocutor begins his response expressing concerns about “tone,” keep your eye on his substance—because that’s where the weaknesses are most likely to be found. If he had the stronger argument, he wouldn’t focus on “tone.” I note that your first principal concern was about “tone.”
You admonish me for making my essay “personal”—and then get rather…personal. That’s unfair and doesn’t contribute to the substance of your argument. More on that in a moment.
You criticize me for simply doing a word search for the word “confession” at the Eucharistic Congress website. I certainly did do that. Most people are going to learn about the details of the Eucharistic Congress at that website. It was a good place to start my search, and I maintain that the results are disappointing.
You and a few respondents to my essay admonish me for being ill-informed: “Actually…” The respondents said that more information about confession could be found elsewhere. Ok. I was speaking of the website of the Eucharistic Congress. Please note that I wrote: “I’m on the relevant mailing lists and follow the corresponding web pages.” I’ve downloaded all the “Parish Leader” material available. Well before writing my essay, I reviewed the Revival material most Catholics won’t see. The great majority of Catholics aren’t “Parish Leaders,” so I wouldn’t expect them to go looking for material on confession or liturgical renewal in materials not intended for them. I don’t think I’m wrong about this.
I had already looked at the video you referred to (second introductory video for the Parish Year). Notice the conditional language in the video. A parish “could” offer extra opportunities for confession. A whole list of “coulds” were listed as options—confession was not referred to as a necessity. It was listed as one option among many. In other words, in terms of the evaluation of your argument, your reference to this video undermines rather than supports your cause.
It’s true that the Leader’s Playbook calls for “fidelity to the texts and rubrics of the Church.” Tim, what’s your basis for thinking that even “Parish Leaders” could name what those texts and rubrics are? What’s your basis for thinking that parishes on “liturgical autopilot” for decades will conform to liturgical law just because the Leader’s Playbook suggests it?
Will the Philadelphia parish that sang the Eagles fight song at Mass on Super Bowl Sunday readily conform? Will the parishes that use Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion even when such aren’t needed, readily conform? The parishes singing the heretical “Mary Did You Know?” at Christmas every year “because people really like it”—will they readily conform? Do you believe that they will do so because of the small print regarding liturgical fidelity that can be found in the Leader’s Playbook?
A small digression from your text: Tim, this points to a larger problem that I’ve not found in the materials for the Revival/Congress—Why did a revival become necessary? Something needs to be revived only when it’s been killed or allowed to die. How did Eucharistic devotion wither to such a degree that a national Revival and Congress are called for? Are we being asked to refill the leaky bucket without inquiring about the locations and causes of the leaks? Why did a revival become necessary? Something needs to be revived only when it’s been killed or allowed to die. How did Eucharistic devotion wither to such a degree that a national Revival and Congress are called for? Tweet This
In your section on methodology for “large ecclesial initiatives,” you write:
Parish priests simply don’t want to be told the “Seven Things You Have to Do to Bring About a Eucharistic Revival.” Typically, in my experience, this is because of the seriousness they take in their leadership roles as pastors of their parishes. Almost all parish priests want their parishioners to have a deeper relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist; it is why they became priests. They spent enough years in seminary learning and being formed in what that means that they don’t need to be given a checklist.
Most people, priests included, don’t like to be given lists of things to do. That doesn’t mean that such lists aren’t necessary. Speaking as one who has received and given seminary formation, I’ll say that if knowing what the right thing to do was enough to get it done, then we’d only need a Holy Reminder rather than a Holy Redeemer (Romans 7:19-24).
There are holy and heroic pastors throughout the United States. I know many of them. There are also very many—how shall I say this? There are many whom the military would refer to as “R.O.A.D.—Retired, (While) On Active Duty.” These men have let their parishes drift liturgically for years, and sometimes for decades. I’ve visited such parishes; I hear from their parishioners repeatedly; and I hear the laments of their parochial vicars who are forbidden by such pastors to attempt any efforts at liturgical authenticity.
Consequently, I wrote an essay called “What Many Priests No Longer Believe”—and what many of them no longer believe is that their congregations have the Faith; these priests come to this conclusion based on the way their congregations behave at Mass. I linked to that piece in my original CWR article. Tim, I must be frank: I simply cannot believe that you read that essay and then wrote what you did.
If you had read that essay, you might not have suggested that I’m just a sideline critic, carping on the internet, with no interest in Eucharistic revival. If I’m wrong about that, Tim, please say so, and then we’ll need another kind of conversation. But I just can’t see how you could have read my account of the anguish of parish priests over the congregations suffering from lack of guidance and discipline from pastors and bishops and then write what you did.
“No one knows their own parish better than those entrusted to lead it and no one is more well-suited to discern what would best be done.” In an ideal world, that’s true. Even in a fallen world, that could be true. Given the ongoing demographic and devotional death spiral of so many parishes, given the rarity of noble liturgies, the rise of funerals, and the decline of weddings and baptisms in the United States for decades, do you really want to say, “Leave it to the pastors—they know what’s best!”?
Wouldn’t it be more logical to say that one of the reasons we’re in such desperate need of Eucharistic revival is because too many clergy (of all ranks) have been failing at their duties for so long? The priests who tolerate sweat-stained polyester vestments, banal music, and insipid preaching, who offer the Holy Sacrifice on a table with glassware—do you really mean to say that they are best suited to discern what needs to be done? Does no one in parish ministry need firm guidance backed by an authoritative “or else”? Apparently, you and I have been visiting very different parishes and speaking with very different priests.
“While, a year and a half into the Eucharistic Revival, some choose to continue to just criticize, others have gotten to work.” Ok, this is where you, Tim, start to get “personal.” Quoting you, I answer that I find your “…line of argumentation so confusing and ill-informed that it seemed prudent, and even just, to respond.” Do you think of me as someone who chooses to “continue to just criticize”? Someone who has not yet “gotten to work”? (Asking for a friend.)
Are you implying that it’s impossible to say honestly, cogently, and convincingly, “I want Eucharistic revival too—and I think we’re going to fall on our face until we’ve asked and answered some hard questions first.” Among the hard questions: How did it become necessary for us to need a Eucharistic revival in the first place? Can we have Eucharistic revival without clear and firm teaching, correctives, and mandates from the hierarchy?
Tim, I noticed that you tend to speak in generalities (e.g., “common vision,” etc.). In my essay, I asked specific questions: “Who may receive Holy Communion? Who may distribute Holy Communion? How ought Holy Communion be received?” Is it your position that we can have Eucharistic revival without authoritative clarity and decisive action from the hierarchy on these matters?
“I understand the hurt and frustration found in many parts of the Church today.” I’m glad to hear that, Tim. I’d have more confidence in your understanding if you had offered evidence that you followed the link embedded in my recent essay; I would have even more confidence in your understanding if you had given evidence of what I have written in other places, such as New Oxford Review and Aleteia, about liturgical matters; I would have been over the moon if you had given any indication of having listened to the thousands of hours of broadcasting I have generated, especially about liturgical matters.
You could have, with less effort than it takes to download your Leader’s Playbook, found a link to my preaching. Unlike me, Tim, you have a staff—surely someone could have looked and filled you in. Like you Tim, I desire Eucharistic revival; like you, I have not been sitting on the sidelines and merely complaining. What you wrote leads me to believe that you doubt that; I insist that your doubt could have been very easily resolved.
The idea, though, that the bishops were somehow wrong for inviting the Church to this moment seems misguided to me. Many Catholics I talk to express a desire for the bishops to be spiritual guides and leaders. If they are responding by calling for a renewal of the Eucharistic heart of the Church, then, how are we not going to support them in that?
Who are you addressing here, Tim? Isn’t this a straw man fallacy? Who in this conversation has said, “No to Eucharistic revival! No to the bishops’ call to renewal!”? Not me. So why is this paragraph here? Do you mean to say that all people who have grave reservations about the current way of proceeding of the Revival/Congress don’t support the bishops or the need for renewal? If not, then (risking sounding “professorial”) this paragraph should be removed from your essay.
“It is easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize.” Again, I must ask, Tim (and I do so because you expressed such concern about making things “personal”), is that statement addressed to me alone? Is it addressed to anyone having reservations about the way you are doing things?
Tim, you criticized me for being “ill-informed”? Turnaround is fair play: How well informed are you about me, Tim? Did you look at my bio at CWR? Did you do a Google search on my name? I’ve been a Jesuit for 33 years, a priest for 26; I’ve been a missionary, a trauma center chaplain, a professor, a spiritual director; I have at least a million words in print, thousands of hours of audio/video content proclaiming Christ; I’ve offered Mass and heard confessions for 26 years. Are you sure that you want to suggest that I’m sitting on the sidelines and criticizing? (And the Teddy Roosevelt quote is a cheap shot, Tim. I’ve been to Hell and back more times than I can count—it’s unseemly to imply that I’ve not stepped into the arena on behalf of Christ. You’d know that if you—or your staff—had bothered to look.)
In closing: You didn’t address my concern that the Revival/Congress is a Catholic form of “do-somethingism.” Yes, it is (most often) true that it is better to do something rather than nothing. And, yes, Tim, you and your staff are working hard, with good intentions. In a spirit of charity, I quote Winston Churchill: “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”
Tim, you and I are both sinners; you and I are both loved sinners. We both want our Eucharistic Lord to be known and loved. You wrote: “I believe the Eucharistic Revival and Congress specifically have benefited tremendously from the ongoing dialogue about this work and how it could be best accomplished.” Great! Then let’s do that Tim, in this forum. Let’s show people how it’s done.
Let’s take your most recent essay as a first draft of an ongoing online conversation. Please do read my essays linked above; then have a look at some of my liturgical writing here and here. I think that these prove that I’m no sideline critic, that I love our Eucharistic Lord too, and that I have a zeal for souls. Then please write another response to my recent essay at CWR. I look forward to hearing from you.
Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J.