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Catholic leaders caution that federal spending must safeguard common good

Catholic leaders cautioned that federal spending must safeguard the common good after the White House released its fiscal year 2019 spending plan that boosts military spending and cuts human services, environmental protection, diplomacy and international humanitarian assistance while assuring that the budget deficit will grow over the next decade.
 
The chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees joined Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA officials in expressing concern that the proposed budget disproportionately cuts programs assisting the poor and elderly, placing human life and dignity in danger.
 
The White House plan, "Efficient, Effective Accountable: An American Budget," proposes slashing federal spending by billions of dollars on food stamps, federal housing vouchers and health care for the poorest Americans even as defense spending would rise by tens of billions of dollars.
 
The proposal from the Office of Management and Budget at the White House cuts $17.2 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and more than $1.1 billion from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It eliminates the requirement to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and caps the amount of money states receive for the program. It also widens work requirements to receive federal assistance in some cases.
 
Others set for elimination include the Community Development Block Grant ($3 billion), Community Services Block Grant ($715 million) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. ($3.4 billion).
 
Overall, the proposal eliminates 66 programs for a savings of $26.7 billion. The cuts are in line with President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to reform the federal government and reduce the federal workforce.
 
The budget proposal also serves to acknowledge that the $1-trillion tax reform law passed in December will spur long-term deficits that will not be offset by projected economic growth.
 
Reminding Congress that the federal budget is a moral document that sets forth the country's priorities, the USCCB chairmen urged lawmakers to "ensure a budget for our country that honors our obligations that build toward the common good."
 
"Budget decisions ought to be guided by moral criteria that safeguard human life and dignity, give importance to 'the least of these' and promote the well-being of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity," Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, said in a Feb. 13 statement.
 
"Our nation must never seek to balance the budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad," the statement said in calling on Congress and all Americans "to evaluate the administration's budget blueprint in light of its impacts on those most in need."
 
The White House budget is unlikely to be adopted. Congress adopted a two-year budget plan as part of the latest stopgap spending measure passed early Feb. 9 after a brief government shutdown.
 
While the measure only funds the government through March 23, it included a broad spending outline covering two fiscal years. It kept social services spending largely intact while giving the president his much-desired increase in funding for the armed forces.
 
Congress still must write an omnibus spending bill to keep the government in operation through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2018.
 
Congressional observers believe lawmakers will continue to stay the course and only tweak federal spending especially in an election year when every seat in the House of Representatives and one-third in the Senate are on the November ballot.
 
Even so, the prospect of having to defend vital human needs funding from cuts in the face of more military spending is troubling to leaders within the social service and humanitarian aid fields.
 
Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for CRS, said that the agency's concerns center primarily on the administration's proposal to reduce funding for international humanitarian aid, especially the elimination of food assistance.
 
While Congress is expected to write its own budget plan that funds key aid programs, uncertainty remains in what the amount of funding will be, he told Catholic News Service.
 
"(The agencies) know that Congress is going to reject the budget, but they're hearing from the administration that this is the budget," O'Keefe explained. "The last time we saw that some part of the government acted as if the president's budget was going to be the budget. Other parts of the government acted with knowledge that Congress was going to overturn it. That created uncertainty and inconsistency.
 
"Helping people in communities requires that when you say the funding is going to be there, then it's going to be there. Relationships depend on trust and trust depends on reliability. This undermines that trust," he said.
 
O'Keefe expects Congress will fund programs targeted for elimination such as McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Food for Peace "because millions of lives depend on it."
 
"Fortunately a bipartisan consensus in Congress is well aware that as the richest country in the world we have a responsibility to help the more vulnerable," he added.
 
Giulia McPherson, interim executive director at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, told CNS the agency's focus will be with Congress to pass a spending plan that holds the line on international humanitarian funding, which makes up about 1 percent of the federal budget.
 
Under the administration's budget, the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development would see more than 30 percent of their allocations slashed.
 
McPherson worries that the Trump budget signals to the world that the U.S. is withdrawing from its long-held leadership role in providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and forcibly displaced people.
 
"The U.S. historically has invested in these kinds of programs and has demonstrated the kind of leadership that brought other countries on board," she said.
 
Any rollback in funding for international humanitarian and food assistance likely will worsen, not lessen, dangers to U.S. security, she added.
 
"Without education for example, people would be recruited into other armed groups or would face things like early child marriage or would be on other paths that could lead to broader insecurity. There are clear links in investment and humanitarian programs that would lessen the need for (more spending on) security measures."
 
Agency representatives such as McPherson, O'Keefe and others know they have a large task ahead with Congress. They told CNS they will press the moral arguments that the church has long made about the importance of protecting the most vulnerable people in the U.S. and abroad.
 

CRS Rice Bowl

As Pope Francis asks us to “Share the Journey” with migrants and refugees aground the world, Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl offers Catholics in the United States a way to encounter Lent, to encounter the causes of migration and displacement and to learn about the challenges faced by families around the world in their Dioceses, parishes and homes.
 
CRS Rice Bowl, the agency’s flagship Lenten program now in its fifth decade, will begin once again on Ash Wednesday — Feb. 14 — giving Catholics throughout the country an opportunity to encounter the stories of people in need throughout the world.
 
“From CRS’ work in more than 100 countries, we know that people do not want to leave their homes, that they do so because they feel they have no other choice,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of church engagement. “Lenten sacrifices contributed through CRS Rice Bowl help give them that choice by providing sustenance and livelihoods in communities around the world.”
 
Begun as an ecumenical effort in the diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1975, CRS Rice Bowl soon spread across the country as it called on Catholics to perform a simple act of Lenten sacrifice: substitute a low-cost meatless meal for more expensive dining once a week during Lent and put the money saved in a cardboard rice bowl.
 
That concept remains at the heart of the program even as it has expanded to include broader Lenten faith enrichment through a wide variety of resources available for the millions of Catholics who participate. These include prayer resources, a daily Lenten calendar, weekly stories of hope that introduce families from around the world and recipes from various countries for meatless meals that can be enjoyed on Fridays during Lent.
 
Funds collected in the rice bowls, which are turned in at the end of Lent, are distributed both throughout the world and in local communities to combat hunger; 75 percent of every donation goes to CRS programming in targeted countries worldwide while 25 percent remains in the Diocese from which the donation came, supporting initiatives that help alleviate poverty.
 
But the goal is to go beyond collecting money and spur discussions — both in churches and around family dinner tables — about the meaning of Lent and the daily reality that people living in poverty face.
 
“We see CRS Rice Bowl as much more than a fund-raising opportunity,” said Rosenhauer. “It is an opportunity for Catholics in America to encounter what Lent means, what poverty means, what resilience means, what hope means.”
 
“We want families to participate together so they can experience the joyous feeling of solidarity that comes from generosity and sacrifice,” she said. “We know from years of experience that CRS Rice Bowl can be life-changing.”
 
As part of CRS Rice Bowl, speakers from throughout the world will travel across the United States telling their stories of how CRS Rice Bowl-supported programs are changing lives. For Thomas Awiapo, a feeding program in his village in Ghana funded by CRS Rice Bowl brought him as a hungry young orphan to school for food. He stayed for an education, eventually a master’s degree in the United States, returning to Ghana for a career with CRS there. Cassandra Bassainthe, who left Haiti as a young child, will talk about why she returned to her home country to help the poor and vulnerable. Micter Chaola of Malawi and Jacques Kabore of Burkina Faso will share their experiences working in agriculture in their respective countries.
 
“CRS Rice Bowl does far more than feed people,” said Rosenhauer. “It also helps develop agriculture so that families and communities can support themselves. As we heed the request of Pope Francis and ‘Share the Journey,’ we know that the best way you can help a migrant is to make sure that she doesn’t have to leave home in the first place. That’s what CRS Rice Bowl can help accomplish.”
 
To learn more about CRS Rice Bowl, go to crsricebowl.org.
 
 
 

A friendly Super Bowl wager

A friendly wager between the archbishops of Philadelphia and Boston for Super Bowl LII Feb. 4 in Minneapolis between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots will benefit needy people in both cities.
 
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, both longtime friends and classmates from their seminary days as young Capuchin Franciscans, are wagering $100 donations to aid the poor in their archdioceses.
 
If the Eagles win, Cardinal O'Malley will make the donation to St. John's Hospice, which provides emergency services to homeless men in Philadelphia as well as helping them to achieve a stable residence.
 
If the Patriots win, Archbishop Chaput will donate to Catholic Charities Boston, which provides a broad spectrum of social service care to thousands of needy individuals and families in Massachusetts. For example, $100 would help a family of four to pay their heating bill following the extreme cold snap of last December.
 
The bishops also added local flavor to their friendly bet: Philadelphia cheesesteaks and Boston lobsters.
 
"In the spirit of friendly competition," the cardinal and the archbishop said in a joint statement Jan. 31, "we have issued our wager because we have confidence in our teams and, more importantly, based on our admiration for the commitment of the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots to assist their local communities and respond to the needs of the less fortunate.”
 
"It is a blessing for the people of Philadelphia and Boston," the prelates said, that Eagles' owner Jeffrey Lurie and Patriots' owner Robert Kraft "have always held service to others as a foundational principle of their personal and professional lives. We pray for a safe and enjoyable Super Bowl for both teams and all spectators and that the gifts of God's love and peace may bring us closer together as a society."
 
The bishops also fearlessly predicted the game's outcome. Archbishop Chaput had the final score as Eagles 24, Patriots 20. Cardinal O'Malley predicted Patriots 34, Eagles 21.
 

'Love your Neighbor' on Valentine's Day

A coalition of Jesuit schools and universities is encouraging those in their network and beyond to celebrate Valentine's Day this year by sending cards to lawmakers, asking them and others to "love your neighbor" and send "migrants welcome" Valentine's Day messages from Feb. 11-18.
 
"On Valentine's Day, show your love to your neighbor. Every neighbor. Including your immigrant, refugee, undocumented, DACAmented neighbor," says the Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network on its website. It provides a template for Valentine's Day cards whose message inside says: "Roses are red, violets are blue. My faith teaches me to love my neighbor, and so should you."
 
The cover features a red heart with the words "Love Your Neighbor" and "Migrants Welcome." They are meant to be sent to members of Congress and it is part of a larger, two-year "campaign for hospitality." The network also is offering stickers with the same message. All materials are free and available at www.ignatiansolidarity.net/campaignforhospitality.
 
The campaign is an effort to promote a "culture of hospitality" toward those who migrate, said the network's executive director, Christopher Kerr.
 
"Our Jesuit/Ignatian partners in Latin America actually coined the idea and then encouraged us to put it into action here in the U.S. (and a little bit in Canada)," Kerr said to Catholic News Service. "This specific mini-campaign is to build off of the popularity of Valentine's Day in the context of Mark's Gospel -- encouraging people promote a culture of care, concern, compassion and welcome toward immigrants and refugees."
 
The campaign also encourages those who want to participate to buy Valentine's Day treats from a fair-trade chocolate company; to send "Love Your Neighbor-Grams" on Valentine's Day; and to encourage those in the Ignatian network to find ways to "share the stories of immigrant and refugee members of their communities in ways that promote a culture of hospitality."
 

Life Issues Forum: In The Direction of Life

By Chelsy Gomez
 
Recently we observed the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion throughout the United States. As in past years, hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington to pray, to march, to lobby and to work for the end to abortion. We mourn the lives that have been lost in 45 years of legalized abortion. At the same time, we look to the future with hope for those that might be saved.
 
Recent developments offer great promise in protecting the most vulnerable among us.
 
On Jan. 18, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office of Civil Rights. The new division more vigorously will enforce existing laws that protect the conscience rights and religious freedom of health care providers like Cathy DeCarlo, who was forced to participate in an abortion.
 
In recent years, these violations to federal laws have been ignored. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, as U.S. Catholic Conference chairmen, issued a joint statement applauding the new initiative "for its significant actions to protect conscience rights and religious freedom."
 
They continued, "For more than forty years—dating back to the Church amendment of 1973—Congress has enacted federal laws protecting rights of conscience in health care. We are grateful that HHS is taking seriously its charge to protect these fundamental civil rights through formation of a new division dedicated to protecting conscience rights and religious freedom."
 
On Jan. 19, President Donald Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, addressed those participating in the March for Life via a live satellite rally at the White House Rose Garden, pledging always to defend the right to life.
 
On the same day, the administration also rescinded the Obama Administration's 2016 guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that prevented states from withholding Medicaid funding from family planning providers that perform abortions. This action returns to the states the ability to direct these federal funds to institutions that do not provide abortion, allowing for pro-life advancements at the state level.
 
Also on Jan. 19, the House of Representatives passed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act with a bipartisan vote. This bill builds on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act by offering mechanisms of enforcement and accountability. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would require any health care practitioner present when a child is born alive after an abortion to provide the same degree of care as would be given to any other child born at the same gestational age.
 
Those not complying with these guidelines would face penalties. Cardinal Dolan praised this action and encouraged the Senate to follow suit.
 
These developments may seem small in comparison to 45 years of legalized abortion; however, they demonstrate that we are continuing to make significant progress. These advances increase conscience protections, draw attention to the humanity of precious life in the womb, limit funding for abortion and advance our ultimate objective of making abortion unthinkable.
 
Now is not the time to despair but to redouble and renew our commitment to the Gospel of Life. Our sustained and collaborative efforts can continue to advance pro-life legislation.
 
As we remember and mourn all whose lives have been lost or wounded through the scourge of Roe, we look to tomorrow with hope and joy because we know that Christ has already conquered death. May He make His truth new in our hearts, that we may continue to move our country and our culture in the direction of cherishing all human life.
________________________________________
Chelsy Gomez is program associate for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To sign up for pro-life action alerts, visit humanlifeaction.org/signup.
 

 
 

Catholics prominent in March for Life

In a sea of printed signs and huge student groups in colorful toboggan caps at the March for Life rally, Ed York was an outlier.
 
He'd made the two-hour drive to the National Mall Jan. 19 from his home in Martinsburg, West Virginia, not with a group on a bus pilgrimage, but only with his daughter Autumn and a small homemade placard emblazoned "As a Former Fetus, I Oppose Abortion."
 
He stood out in his solitary approach, but York, who has attended previous marches, didn't mind.
 
"This is David versus Goliath, all right," he said. "The media's still pumping out some old stuff about human rights. This (abortion) is going to end one day. But, you know, you have to be patient in life."
 
On a bright, sunny and almost spring-like morning highlighted by President Donald Trump's remarks to the rally before the march from the White House Rose Garden and members of Congress, there appeared to be little interest from the marchers in political questions. After all, they had all made their travel plans long before they knew the list of speakers.

Among those at the march were Catholics from the Diocese of Burlington.
 
"Certainly, to have the president show his support for March for Life is encouraging," said Katrina Gallic, a senior at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. However, she added, involvement for others is "more than a political stance, but should be seen as an ethic for all of humanity."
 
The University of Mary sent 200 marchers, clad in blue and orange caps, on a 30-hour bus journey from the frigid northern Great Plains.
 
Gallic. who traveled separately from from New Jersey, began attending marches with her family when she was in elementary school.
 
"My parents showed us by the way they lived" and dinner-table conversations, she said. "I'm very grateful for it. I think it requires a lifetime commitment on the political level and the cultural level."
 
Gallic met Vice President Mike Pence at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building before the march. "Our generation is very much behind him, and he has the support and prayers of many," she said.
 
Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now heads the pro-life organization Then There Were None, said culture change should have a higher priority than legislation.
 
"I actually think the pro-life movement needs to separate itself from the (Republican Party). That's what we need to be focusing on: opening the tent and bringing more diversity into the movement," she said, citing pro-life Democrats in Louisiana who have tightened abortion restrictions there.
 
Margaret Banloman and Emily Rogge, both freshmen at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic High School in Lee's Summit, Missouri, had a colorful placard with an image of the Mary and the slogan "Our Salvation Began With an Unplanned Pregnancy." The pair came up with the idea and drew the sign on their cross-country bus ride, which Banloman characterized as "redemptive suffering."
 
Caryn Crush, who spent 14 hours on a bus from Louisville, Kentucky, was with a group of 54 from Immaculata Classical Academy, and said she was attending in support of children born with Down syndrome. Appearing at March for Life and opposing abortion, especially for children born with Down syndrome, was her way to "change society's perception of them and show they do have value."
 
"We're here to be a voice," she added. "This is more of a celebration of life whether the president's here or not."
 
First-time marchers included Jerilyn Kunkel of Fishers, Indiana, who made the trip with her husband Larry, a member of the Knights of Columbus. "I got a good night's sleep. That helped a lot," she said.
 
Father Kurt Young was accompanying 700 high schoolers from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. They were part of what became a 14-bus caravan in a two-day trip that lasted a total of 32 hours because of icy roads in Mississippi.
 
He said politics and legislation weren't the students' main priority, either. "Everyone here is here to make a peaceful, prayerful protest," the priest said.
 
 
 

March for Life in Washington, D.C.

In remarks broadcast to the March for Life from the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump said that his administration "will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life."
 
He invoked the theme of this year's march, "Love Saves Lives," and praised the crowd as being very special and "such great citizens gathered in our nation's capital from many places for one beautiful cause" -- celebrating and cherishing life.
 
"Every unborn child is a precious gift from God," he said, his remarks interrupted several times by applause from the crowd gathered on the National Mall. He praised the pro-lifers for having "such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure parents have the support they need to choose life."
 
"You're living witnesses of this year's March for Life theme, 'Love Saves Lives,'" His remarks were broadcast to the crowd live via satellite to a Jumbotron above the speakers' stage, a first for any U.S. president, according to March for Life.
 
During their tenure in office, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush all addressed the march via telephone or a radio hookup from the Oval Office, with their remarks broadcast to the crowd.
 
Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed last year's March for Life in person at Trump's request, introduced the president as the "most pro-life president in American history," for among other things issuing an executive memorandum shortly after his inauguration to reinstate the "Mexico City Policy." The policy bans all foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.
 
Trump also has nominated pro-life judges to fill several court vacancies and a day before the March for Life the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights. Its aim is to protect the conscience rights of doctors and other health care workers who do not want to perform procedures they consider morally objectionable.
 
For the first time in a recent memory, the weather in Washington was more than tolerable for March for Life participants as they gathered on the National Mall to mark the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The sun was shining and the blue sky was cloudless. By the time the speeches ended and the march to the Supreme Court started, the temperature had reached 50 degrees.
 
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, opened the rally by calling on everyone in the crowd to text the word "March" to 7305 and to show their commitment to ending abortion and join their voices in calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.
 
"Do you agree that's important?" she asked the crowd. "Yes!" they shouted. March for Life, she said, is about educating people about abortion and mobilizing to end it and to love all those women and families who are facing a troubled pregnancy and other needs.
 
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was among several others who addressed the crowd.
 
"Thank God for giving us a pro-life president in the White House," the Catholic congressman said.
 
"Your energy is so infectious," he told the crowd, praising them for being "the vigor and enthusiasm of the pro-life movement."
 
Seeing so many young people "is so inspiring because it tells us this a movement on the rise," he said. "Why is the pro-life movement on the rise? Because truth is on our side. Life begins at conception. Science is on our side."
 
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, gave an emotional speech about the troubled pregnancy she faced about four years ago. She and her husband, Dan, were told their unborn child had severe defects, that the baby's kidneys would never develop and the lungs were undeveloped because of a rare condition. Abortion was their only option, they were told.
 
Today, that baby is 4-year-old Abigail. She and her younger brother and their father stood on the stage with the congresswoman.
 
"Dan and I prayed and we cried (at the news of their unborn child's condition) ... and in that devastation we saw hope. What if God would do a miracle? What if a doctor was willing to try something new? Like saline infusions to mimic amniotic fluid so kidneys could develop?" she recalled.
 
With "true divine intervention and some very courageous doctors willing to take a risk we get to experience our daughter, Abigail," Herrera Beutler said. She is a very "healthy, happy 4-year-old big sister who some day is going to be 'the boss of mommy's work,'" she said.
 
Herrera Beutler asked the crowd to imagine that 45 years of legal abortion had not existed and that 60 million babies had not been lost to abortion, and if out of those people had come those who could cure cancer and correct all manner of disabling conditions, including those that exist in utero, and eradicate poverty.
 
 

EWTN pro-life programming

Can’t attend the March for Life 2018?  You can still experience it from afar by watching events broadcast on EWTN.  For those who don’t get this channel on cable, you can access a live stream online, at the end of this article.
 
Below is a list of some of the programs EWTN will be offering in the coming days related to the March for Life:
 
MARCH FOR LIFE – OPENING MASS of the national prayer vigil
Live Coverage of the Opening Prayer Vigil for the Annual March for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
Thursday, 01/18 @ 5:30 PM ET
 
CLOSING MASS OF THE NATIONAL PRAYER VIGIL FOR LIFE
Live Coverage of the Closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
Friday, 01/19 @ 7:30 AM ET
 
MARCH FOR LIFE
Live and complete coverage of the most important pro-life event of the year: the annual March For Life in Washington DC.
Friday, 01/19 @ 9:00 AM ET
 
ONE LIFE LA
Coverage of this event from downtown Los Angeles, which is a celebration of life in all stages, from conception to natural death.
Saturday, 01/20 @ 6:00 PM ET
 
PRO-LIFE MASS FROM LOS ANGELES
Coverage of the Requiem Mass for the unborn at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Saturday, 01/20 @ 8:00 PM ET
 
WALK FOR LIFE WEST COAST
Saturday, 01/27 @ 2:30 PM ET
Live coverage of San Francisco's largest pro-life event, including speeches, and special interviews with dynamic pro-life leaders and walk participants.
 
EWTN PRO-LIFE WEEKLY
Every week, Catherine Szeltner and a team of pro-life experts shine the light of truth on abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the culture of death.
Airs every Thursday @ 10:00 PM ET, Sundays @ 10:00 AM ET and Mondays @ 3:00 AM ET. 
 
 
 
 

Ritual, consistency at Mass

So who really is singing "Gather Us In" at Mass?
 
Does the pastor asking people about their week really make the Mass friendlier and more engaging? Why is the Our Father so engaging? Do people like singing new songs at Mass, or do they prefer tried and true hymns they have been singing for years?
 
Two Catholic researchers are trying to find out.
 
John Ligas and Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor Michael McCallion presented a paper titled "Sociology of the Sacred in Post-Modernity: Ritual Dis-Attunement at Sunday Mass" during the Society for Catholic Liturgy Conference in Philadelphia last October.
 
The study's primary aim was to discover which parts of the Mass local Catholics were most actively engaged with and which parts lacked participation.
 
"We wanted to do research on tuning and dis-tuning at a typical Sunday liturgy," Ligas told The Michigan Catholic, Detroit's archdiocesan newspaper.
 
Ligas is a retired orthodontist and McCallion was hired in 2005 as the sociologist on staff for the seminary's licentiate program.
 
"I was telling John a while ago, there are studies — not many — that argue only 20 percent of Catholics participate in Mass," McCallion said. "(These) are ... very general studies that don't get at what participating actually looks like."
 
McCallion and Ligas went about observing 35 liturgies across 10 parishes — three parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese and the rest in Detroit's northern suburbs. The pair discretely took notes on who at Mass was actively participating in the Our Father, the opening, closing and communal hymns, the Gloria and the responsorial psalm along with other parts of the liturgy.
 
"A good analogy would be at a football stadium," Ligas said. "Everybody is watching the game, but who is participating in 'the wave'? Who cares about what's happening on the scoreboard? Who is checking their phone? We feel the Catholic liturgy is a collective action. So what things contribute to the collective actions and what distracts?"
 
Recognizing the limitations of conclusions one could draw from the observations of two people in a limited scope, McCallion and Ligas just focused on who was singing at Mass.
 
"At every liturgy at every church we observed, everyone joined in for the Lord's Prayer," Ligas said. "On the other side of the coin, the responsorial song was a bust, if you consider how many are participating and how many are not."
 
The summarization of the Ligas' and McCallion's research boils down to the idea that Catholics are more apt to verbally participate in parts of the Mass that are more ritualized, such as the Our Father. The response to the general intercession had the highest rate of response and participation, while more "changeable" parts of the Mass, such as the hymns, psalms or the pastor asking the congregation to greet one another, tended to have low rates of participation.
 
"From our initial responses, we found that ritual comes to form again," McCallion said. "If people are not singing the same songs, people are less likely to sing. That's our hypothesis that bore out in the data. Some hymns, some other parts of Mass that are constant, we found a greater rate of response."
 
Ligas and McCallion did make other observations at the Masses, from how many times people check their cellphones, to what they wear at Mass but limited their analysis to participation in singing.
 
"We might have had a feeling the Lord's Prayer was going to be No. 1 as far as the congregation participating," Ligas said. "But we were shocked with just how poor the responsorial song is."
 
The initial analysis implies that when pastors and music directors change the pattern of the liturgy in an effort to make the Mass more accessible, it tends to have the opposite effect.
 
"When you know what's going to happen, you will know what's going on," McCallion said. "When you go to a baseball game, nobody is sitting right next to you telling you every single rule. You just know them, because of the repetition. You know what you are supposed to be doing to enter into the collective ritual.
 
"The liturgy is supposed to be a communal event, but American postmodern culture is really focused on individualism," McCallion said. "I'd argue that our liturgy has been affected by individualism. Sometimes as, Emile Durkheim (a sociologist who studied the Mass) said, the 'secular invades the sacred.'"
 
The tension between making the liturgy a communal prayer experience while at the same time fostering an individual relationship with Christ is something everyone involved with liturgy -- pastors, music ministers and catechists -- will have to address in the new evangelization, McCallion said.
 
"In the new evangelization, there is a stress on having a personal relationship with Jesus, but the Mass stresses you are supposed to have a communal relationship with Jesus," McCallion said. "It is both/and, the sacraments are all communal. The Eucharist, if you want to find the physical body of Jesus, is communal."
 
The concept of a solely personal relationship with Jesus is a Protestant influence on the Catholic Church, McCallion argues, since the Catholic liturgy invokes the intercession of a communion of saints and the collective prayers of the church.
 
"In the liturgy, both sacramentally and sociologically, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts," McCallion concluded. "When we come together for Mass, something happens that can't happen when we're by ourselves. From a Catholic perspective, we hope the communion of saints, our deceased family members, are still praying for us."
 
McCallion and Ligas want to expand their research to parishes in the inner city, along with Hispanic and Tridentine Masses, looking for similarities and differences in Mass participation between those liturgies and the liturgies they have already observed.
 
McCallion hopes the research they've already done can be used by pastors and music ministers to better prepare a Mass that encourages more participation.
 
"All we are arguing, from the conclusions of the data we've collected, is priests and musicians need to come up with habits that encourage the social or communal ritual practices that people need," McCallion said. "Maybe encourage more seminarians and priests to take courses in ritual studies, recognizing the importance of ritual. It would help people to have a more personal, as well as a communal, relationship with Jesus."
 

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne’s statement on the death of Cardinal Law

"As a bishop of the Province of Boston, I join Cardinal Seán O’Malley and the Archdiocese of Boston in prayer upon the passing of Cardinal Bernard Law, and with them I entrust his soul to God’s unending mercy.
 
 “The world at large will rightly have much to say at Cardinal Law’s passing from this life. Like each of us, the measure of his days had its fair share of light and shadows. While I knew him to be a man of faith, a kind man and a good friend, I respect that some will feel otherwise, and so I especially ask them to join me in prayer and work for the healing and renewal of our Church.
 
“May Cardinal Law rest in peace. And in these days when, as Christians, we celebrate the Child who restored God’s goodness to our broken humanity, may we all recommit ourselves to making Christ’s Church a worthy, welcoming home for all, especially those most vulnerable and in need.” 
 
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