Friday, July 13, 2012


Our life in Christ as Catholics is meant to have three very powerful aspects. The first is the vertical aspect. God comes to us in Christ Jesus but mediated in the human nature of the one Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus directs us to God the Father through Jesus' ministry to us as One Divine Being, with two natures, human and divine. Already in this divine scheme of things, we see the vertical and the second aspect of God's saving activity, the horizontal, at work in God's relationship to us, especially in the "abasement" of His son, our our relationship to God in our "elevation" to God through Christ.

Through the Church, God continues this activity of the horizontal and vertical aspect of our salvation individually and collectively through the Mass, other official prayers of the Church and in our own private devotions. The transcendence of God is very important for us to understand and experience. Without that transcendence we can become a congregation closed in on ourselves and no different than any other service club, country club or civic organization.

The third aspect of our celebration of Mass and life in the Holy Spirit is our service dimension, going out from ourselves at Mass to the world where most of the laity live, work and play bringing the love of Christ to all venues of one's life and serving the needs of family and the broader community, especially those most in need, and not just materially in need, but spiritually in need also.

But with that said, the horizontal aspect of being Catholic should never be neglected. By that I mean our relationships with each other as Catholics. The starting point is what we have in common as Catholics, our same beliefs, morals and obedience to the teachings of the Church and the living Magisterium of the Church in all things pertaining only to the faith and morals of the Church as well as the Church’s canon law.

We should accept it all, even that which is not “infallibly defined” since picking and choosing what we will believe as Catholics disrupts the horizontal unity we should have with one another. But if a profound vertical relationship with our transcendent God through a strong personal faith and accompanying good works is missing, the horizontal aspect of our relationship to each other is simply dross.

So as with so much in the Catholic Church, it isn’t either/or but both/and.

In the Diocese of Arlington, Virgina, catechists who are called by the Church to serve the Church's ministry of "teaching" the faith are being asked to make an oath of fidelity to the faith and moral teachings of the Church--the one aspect of the horizontal aspect of being Church that is absolutely necessary, without which we become a flock in disunity. And yet some don't get that, those who are into fierce individualism and verticality absent of the horizontal that is so important in Jesus' ministry to us:


Templar said...

On first reading of this post I am inclined to nod my head in agreement. However after thinking about it further it doesn't feel right. Accepting what you say at face value would be denying that Cloistered Orders or Hermits are somehow incomplete in their worship.

ytc said...

But the horizontal element is commonly thought to exclude the vertical. That is the problem.

This is my view:

If a parish puts its all into celebrating gorgeous and reverent liturgy, especially the Holy Sacrifice--ie ensuring a good vertical element--then the horizontal element, community, will naturally and of its OWN ACCORD spring from that. If a parish does good liturgy, especially the Mass, then the community will be taken care of; no one will have to worry about it.

We shouldn't have to worry about community building activities and making sure everyone has good social opportunities in the parish. That is a screwed up priority. If the parish makes beautiful and noble liturgy the center of everything, then after-Mass coffee 'n donuts, girls' tennis team, parish school fundraiser gala, men's group retreat, vestment-repair-over-tea-and-biscuits society, etc., will take care of themselves naturally.

Some parishes seem to be constantly pulling their collective hair out over making sure the parish doesn't completely explode from dysfunction. They worry about all these little things like committees, social events, etc. Rather than doing that, if they would simply celebrate gorgeous liturgy, most especially the Mass, then everything else will eventually fall right into place. One thing you typically notice about dysfunctional parishes is that they are very liturgically sloppy, or very complacent about liturgy.

If you put effort into the vertical, the horizontal will take care of itself. It WILL NOT WORK the other way around, *ever*.

Marc said...

I agree with you, ytc. The idea that lay people need to be involved in a "ministry" through the parish in order to be connected to the horizontal aspect of the Christian life is false. It has also probably hurt the Church more than it has helped also.

People feel like they are "better Catholics" when involved in reading during Mass or organizing drives or whatever at the parish. Therefore, they excuse themselves from living the Catholic life in the world. Really, this is a pernicious form of clericalism that denies the identity of the laity -- which should be simply living the Catholic life in the world (and may touch on doing some things through the Church). If the Church were still intact, we would see religious carrying out these missions through the Church while we live our Catholic lives at the office, in the university, or in the factory. We make money to donate to the causes of the religious. That is our apostolate (lay people do not engage in ministry).

If you go to a Traditional parish or chapel, you will find apostolates involving lay people - altar serving, laundering, things of that sort. "Mainstream" Catholic Churches are trying to compete with the Protestants in terms of busy-body activities to keep the people engaged and in the pews. We don't need that - we have Christ Himself on the altar (if only we could see Him as clearly in our liturgy these days).

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

While a goodly number of people are introverted or hermit like, a very goodly number of people do like and need community and would like Christian or Catholic fellowship. They also like doing ministry and serving the Church, so this shouldn't be neglected. And certainly Catholic hospitals, Catholic Relief Services and the like are managed and perpetuated by like minded Catholics who support and do the nitty gritty work. Why in the world neglect that kind of horizontal ministry activity?

Marc said...

Oh, it definitely shouldn't be neglected - some people have a calling to do work like that.

My point is that service in a "ministry" at the Church itself is made to be a major focus in these modern times. That is traditionally not a major aspect of the laity's apostolate. I would think that "traditional Catholic fellowship" is probably quite similar to St. Joseph - post-Mass coffee hour, dinners, and talks.

The problem areas I see are limited:

People socializing in the Church before and after Mass, which prevents an adequate preparation and, more importantly, an adequate thanksgiving. This is a HUGE problem at St. Joseph.

People feeling like they must be on the altar to be participating in the Mass - as readers, servers, EMHCs.

The general proclivity of laity to see nothing wrong with simply walking up the altar is a HUGE problem at St. Joseph - a problem that is amplified by the "inviting" handrails leading up the steps (which send the opposite message that the altar rail would - think about that).

That was my point, basically: people have a misunderstanding of their relationship to the actual ministry of the priest.

ytc said...

Father, no one is saying limit or neglect that kind of service. What we are saying is that, rather than focus on it to its own end, if a parish instead focuses primarily on the liturgy and the Eucharist, then these aspostolates and ministries will happen and become fruitful naturally and of their own accord through supernatural inspiration and fulfillment.

Rather than a parish being akin to a secularist community organizer a la Barack, a parish must allow the liturgy and the Eucharist to BE its community organizer.

Focus on the liturgy and the Eucharist and things will take care of themselves. Perhaps not to our preconceived liking, but things will work out well in the end.

Gene said...

When I spoke to the RCIA group this year...a group coming from Protestant churches and accustomed to the kind of frenetic, hyper-participatory activity those churches encourage...I told them that I would wish for them a more mature faith than one needing those kinds of self-indulgent, self-congratulatory reinforcements.
I agree with ytc and Marc that there is too much of that sort of thing most places, and St. Jo's is mild compared to some (I have often scratched my head over the handrails). Hey, ya'll...
"Be_still_and know that I am God."

Anonymous 2 said...

I have a couple of questions that I suspect Father is in the best position to answer:

(1) Isn’t some of the lay participation centered on the Church itself partly at least a resource issue? Would it be too great a burden on our priests and deacons to take on certain tasks currently performed at the church by the laity? If so, and we want priests and deacons to undertake them, presumably we need to ordain more priests and deacons.

(2) Wasn’t the handrail installed at St. Josephs so Monsignor Cuddy, and others for whom steps can be treacherous, would be safe?

These are not rhetorical questions. I don’t know the answers.

Anonymous said...

Quite frnakly, I don't see anything in this post to argue about.
Jesus didn't neglect the horizontal, folks. On the contrary, He made it Holy.
His ministry was filled with going TO the people and mixng with the people.

Therefore, how we are with people matters.

Parish activities outside of Mass do matter. They are a way of speading God's love that we received at Mass...a way of being a vehicle for the Holy Spirit.

Catholics are notorius for being individualistic, regardless of the style of liturgy.
Faith AND Works, folks.

Why can't we have good litugy AND good fellowship??


Anonymous said...

Your youth is showing.

While you are not wholly wrong, those other things won't happen on their own.

Both the pastor and the parishioners have to respond to the inner prompting and make it happen.
Somebody has to take personallyresponsibilty for bringing those fruits to fruition.
Great liturgy can inspire the heart to God, so that the motive is the service of hIm, not ourself.


WSquared said...

By no means does good fellowship not matter. But we should not see the liturgy as being opposed to that, but rather what grounds it and gives it wings.

Furthermore, the horizontal aspect of Catholic fellowship isn't primarily or exclusively about us and what we do, anyway. That's primarily the work of the Holy Spirit, so I guess it's active cooperation rather than just activism.

To some degree, I can be a bit of a loner to a fault, but what that experience has indeed taught me is where the true welcome in and of the Church is: it's in Christ. I would feel "welcome" in the Church, even if parishioners were not gushingly friendly and did not go out of their way to welcome me (and it's also what would allow me to hold my nose instead of walking out of Mass in an uber-liberal parish that rubbed me the wrong way, especially if I didn't have much of a choice as to where I attended Mass).

What's at issue is where I go from there in terms of sharing that welcome with others. And I don't deny that I need a lot of work in that area.

Anonymous said...

WSquared,...well said!

ditto from me