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Boston Catholic Journal - Critical Catholic Commentary in the Twilight of Reason



Why is the word


Scrupulously Avoided at Holy Mass?


What we have gone out to see, as in the days of St. John the Baptist, was a priest and a prophet ... we have looked and have found neither. Not a priest of God, not a prophet of God — but most often a priest of men and a prophet of the world. Saint John the Baptist was, in a sense, the prototypical Priest of the New Covenant, a Priest of God, a Prophet of God, not in the raiment of the world, but clothed as one on a mission and set apart by God for His people. He did not compromise with the world, nor did he compromise with Herod.

Presider ... but not Priest and Prophet

Following Vatican II, the priest at holy Mass ceased to be a “priest” — and merely became a “presider”* (a neologism, or “made-up word following Vatican II, and outside the Novus Ordo Mass it is defined exclusively in a secular context) . As Catholics, we have gone out each Sunday to see a Priest and a Prophet ... and in the pulpit, sadly, we have more often than not found an entertainer; a man who seems never to have had, or has long since lost, the understanding his sacred vocation as a Fisher of Men; a man of perfunctory gestures and signs who most often excels in tiresome or irrelevant anecdotes ... and for whom the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass appears to be something of an aside, something rote and quickly to be gotten over since “more pressing matters” await him ...

We have gone out to see ... Christ! — and we do not find Him. But still we stay, for we know He is hidden, not only remotely in the priest, but most especially under the appearances of bread and wine, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. We believe. So we stay. Not because of the priest, but in a tragic paradox, despite him.

Why are priests so afraid of, so reluctant to use, the word “Sin”?

Unlike John, how often our priests invite us to take a moment to call to mind our faults and failings ... but not our sins!

I fail in many ways during the day, and I have countless faults ... my employer can enumerate them, my spouse can clearly point them out, my children may often remind me of them ... but none of them, not one, is a sin.

Are the words, then, interchangeable? Are they tautologies? Do they mean the same thing? Are faults the same as sins? Are failures sinful?

Perhaps something very commonplace can put this into perspective. The next time that you dent someone's fender or cause someone to drop their groceries, look that person in the eye and utter, “My sin ... Sorry”, rather than, “My fault. I apologize.” Or perhaps the next time that you fail to meet a deadline on the job, or to close a sale, try telling your employer, “I have sinned. I am sorry.” ... and not “I failed. I’m sorry.”

In both scenarios you will likely find people looking at you in astonishment. They will tell you that your utterance is not simply odd, but really out of context, out of place, inappropriate; that your fault or failure had nothing whatever to do with God and sin. They may also suggest a good therapist ... Certainly they will look at you askance and make a mental note to avoid you in the future.

Who will tell our Priests?

Did John, then, call the people to repent of their “faults and failures?”

No! He called them in no uncertain terms to repent of their sins! Did he accuse Herod in his sin of adultery of being at fault ... or of failing? No. He accused him of sin. Herod made no mistake about it — and had John’s head for it!

Why have we found it so expedient to have so many euphemisms for sin? Why are we reluctant to speak of it in no other terms? Why are we so solicitous of the sensitivities of men — and so hardened against the pronouncements of God Himself? It is not simply an odd state of affairs; it is a scandalous state of affairs!

Sin has largely become distributive, something social, and not personal. It is politely reduced to a mere solecism of sorts, and not an affront to God. It is subtly redefined into something for which there is no real personal accountability before God; it does not attain to a sense of our own, unique and personal responsibility. It is the sin “of the world”, sin inherent in the anonymous “structure of society” ... which then becomes far less my own sin. Our personal complicity in sin is absolved —  just as our own unique identity is an aside to, evanesces in, the notion itself of “society”, and “the world”. It is, oddly, a whole which is less than, and not equal to, the the sum of its parts.

We are clever. We know that if we indict the whole world, we indict no one. This was the rabble that called for the crucifixion of Christ. The “people” demand His crucifixion, and therefore no individual is guilty of it. Despite public lamentations from the pulpit, there is no “collective sin”. There is the sin of men, and each is complicit in the crime — and each responsible for it!

We want it named for what it is

We want to hear John because we want to be told of sin — for we know it, and we recognize our personal complicity in it!  And we seek deliverance from it!

When wolves come in sheep-skins and tell us that what we know to be inescapably true – true of us, and therefore likely true of the rest of mankind – is not true, or is something other than we know it to be, we turn away. This is the evangel of the world. We hear it day in and day out. And we know it is false. This is not why we come to holy Mass — this is not what we came to see, to hear at Church ... at the foot of the Cross during the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

So often it seems that not only has the world either forgotten or discarded the notion of sin — but that our very priests have as well ... in a deeply misguided attempt to console us, to assuage our consciences — rather than save our souls. But that is not what John was sent to do.

If the pews are less peopled, it is most often the case that the people had come to find John ... and found, instead, “a reed swayed by the wind”, a popular wind; one who seems to understand less of sin, of the gravity of sin, of the reality of sin, than even they do ...

The wilderness is all about us.

Where is the voice crying out within it?


Boston Catholic Journal

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* According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this word means: “a person in charge of a meeting, chair, chairman, chairperson, moderator, president, prolocutor, speaker” . There is no mention of religion, a priest or a cleric.

Presider is a new term that generally indicates that the priest takes the lead in offering the Mass. The word Celebrant is of older vintage and connotes that the priest is the person who primarily celebrates the Mass. In recent times presider has become preferred by some as a means of indicating that the congregation should take an active role in the liturgy, proper to their status as laity.”



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Scio opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti verbum Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum 
I know your works ... that you have but little power, and yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.
(Apocalypse 3.8)

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