September 14, 2009

The Gift of Misinformation

I was a neophyte during the fall semester of my junior year in college. In those days I had just three pieces of Catholic equipment--my New American Bible, my rosary, and my red vinyl cover St. Joseph Sunday Missal--and I needed nothing more. For Sunday Mass on campus we had a Saturday vigil at 5pm with a wonderful priest who was a very good influence on me.

I soon developed a Saturday routine. After brunch in the late morning or early midday--that's when weekend days start for college students, or at least as it did for me and my buddies--I would take my missal and start to prepare for Mass. I would pray through the readings, sometimes using my Bible to look them up in context. I would review the proper prayers for the day and set up my ribbons for Mass. (Without ribbons Catholic life would cease to be possible, I'm sure of it.) After this I would take the walk to the local parish church for confession. I would examine my conscience, make my confession, pray my penance, and walk back to campus in time to retrieve my missal and go to Mass. It was a blessed and zealous time.

However, as I used my little missal to follow through the Mass, I would notice discrepancies from time to time. One of them was that we didn't pray the Creed. It was the style of the priest to blend his homily right into the intercessory prayers without the Creed coming between these two moments in the Mass. So once I asked him about it, just because I was confused. How come this Creed was in my missal but was not included in the Mass? Father responded that the Creed was optional, and being a neophyte without any knowledge of rubrics or general instructions, I believed him.

Of course this is false, but it was the beginning of a pattern. Over the years many priests and teachers of the faith who were otherwise very solicitous and kind in their care of my soul, have told me that all kinds of things were 'optional' when they weren't: Parts of the Mass, such as the lavabo, the Gloria on Sundays, feasts and solemnities, the second reading on Sundays, etc., the Hours apart from Morning and Evening Prayer (for clerics), etc. To be fair, there were other times when I have disbelieved someone who told me something was optional that turned out to be true upon closer inspection, such as the invitatory psalm with its antiphon if the invitatory precedes Morning Prayer.

All this is to say that being misinformed and confused has been a gift in my Catholic life, because this is the experience that has driven me over the years to read the actual teaching of the Church and not simply absorb someone else's idea of it. There are religious who have never read the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours. There are priests who have not studied the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and even some who deride the very idea of doing so. There are lots of folks, cleric and lay, religious and secular who could not tell you the ordinary rights and obligations of their state in life from the Code of Canon Law, mostly because they don't know there is such a thing or never bothered to find out. Luckily for me, and this has been genuine Providence in my Catholic life, I never knew who to believe, so I looked it all up myself, and continue to do so.

I recommend this practice to everyone. How many times has someone called me or come into the parish office confused because one priest told them something and then another told them the opposite! One pastor has one policy and the next pastor has the opposite policy. One teacher of the faith says one thing and another gives a different doctrine. My answer is always the same: don't be a victim, or put yourself at the mercy of people who, though they might be charitable and pastoral to a fault, don't know what they are talking about. The Catechism, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and the Code of Canon Law are all available online and easily obtainable in print. Use them, read them, and be empowered.


Anonymous said...

But the thing with looking stuff up on the internet is - no ribbons!

Thank you for this advice! Lots of people should hear it. Canon Law isn't that scary. At least, it's much more readable than secular law!

Unknown said...

I know that this isn't the point of your post, but I completely agree that the world would stop turning without ribbons. In fact, I have a few extra sets of the 5 ribbon thingy for my LoH.

Brother Charles said...

Perhaps someone could make a Firefox hack that renames Bookmarks and calls them ribbons for us Catholics? :)

Brother Charles said...

I always have a replacement set of breviary ribbons on deck!

Unknown said...

Go for it Father. Or maybe Father Z can do it for us in his spare time.

Adoro said...

So true! I also was given a lot of information in the past and have learned so much more when I started reading and seeking for myself, not depending on others to give me the information.

Jeanne said...

What a great post! May I make a suggestion? Why not post a "recommended reading" list in the margin of your blog so it's there all the time? I'd love to read the authentic books, I'm just not sure where to start. It would be great to have a reference right there, all the time, instead of in various blog posts.

This post clears up a lot for me, by the way. When I moved from NY to VA there were many small differences in the Mass. Some things our pastor here in VA insists on I thought were strange. In the two parishes I lived in on Long Island, we never sang certain parts of the Mass, some prayers were said or not said, things done or not done differently from here in VA. Nothing major, just enough to confuse me. Now I understand why!

Oh and the ribbons...yes, I'm in choir; one of the gals makes little ribbon bouquets for new choir members so we can juggle or missals, or hymnals, and assorted music. What would we do without colored ribbons?

ben in denver said...

My ribbons got misplaced before mass yesterday, and it took me a good 15 mintues to figure out that it was the 15th Sunday after Pentecost. I just couldn't figure out why the introit and the collect weren't the ones I was looking at from the 9th Sunday after Pentecost.

I kept leafing though the Propers of the Saints thinking I must have missed something, but no...It was just that my Proper of the Season ribbon (the white one) was off by 6 weeks!

Brother Charles said...

I counted up the ribbons in liturgical books in my office: 49

Sacramentaries/Missals 26
Liber Usualis: 4
Hymnals: 8
Other ritual books: 11

(Breviaries are upstairs!)

That's a lot of ribbons!

Unknown said...

Now you have me wanting to count mine!

Rachel said...

Great post!

I'm not a religious but I try to say the Liturgy of the Hours according to the rubrics (if I say them at all), and I'm surprised too to learn that the invitatory Psalm is optional before Morning Prayer.

I entered the Catholic Church about two and half years ago with my eyes wide open, after reading many complaints on Catholic blogs about heterodox catechists and liturgical abuses, so I can fairly say I have *never* assumed I can just trust that whatever any priest does is the approved way to do it!

Definitely, it's wonderful to get the teaching from the source. As a candidate for entry into the Church, I was most interested to discover a section of canon law that applied just to my situation: what proofs of my Protestant baptism were acceptable, what to do if I couldn't find the darn certificate, etc.

Brother Charles said...


For the stuff on the invitatory, check on GILH #34-36. Don't miss 266 either.

I almost always pray the OOR before Morning Prayer, and so say the whole invitatory then. I confess, though, that I habitually use psalm 100 rather than the traditional 95, excepting of course those Fridays when psalm 100 comes up in the psalmody for Morning Prayer.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, your posts are so profound and relevant to so many people (witness the comments). It really would be great to have found someone who knows all the answers about the Catholic faith 100%. But as faithful Catholics, I guess it really is our duty to think through our faith and not simply take someone's word on the subject, no matter how much we trust that person. So, as you say, this misinformation can indeed be a gift.

I was awestruck and a bit disillusioned at one point in my life when I commented to a priest friend of my family that I was worried about the soul of my Muslim niece (at the time just a baby) should something happen to her, since she was not baptized. He responded, "if God forbid anything happens to her, don't worry. She'll go straight to heaven." I knew this MAY be true, but there was no difinitive answer or church teaching on it. So, for him to say this with such authority gave me my first taste of "misinformation". Once again, I don't doubt God's mercy in such a situation, but I don't dare presume it either. But when I got overr this experience, it did make me more vigilant in listening to priests of a certain personality and dooing my own "fact checking".

Anonymous said...

Br. Charles,

What hours, besides Morning and Evening, are also mandatory for Clerics? Thanks so much for this post.

In Christ,

Brother Charles said...

Anonymous: in short, all of them!
Office of Readings
Morning Prayer
Daytime Prayer
Evening Prayer
Night Prayer

With ordination to the diaconate, (which marks entry into the clerical state in the Latin rite), the obligation to pray the full course of the Liturgy of the Hours each day is accepted. That is to say,

Morning and Evening Prayer, the Office of Readings, Daytime Prayer and Night Prayer. Outside of established choir (e.g. in a monastery), one of the three daytime hours may be selected each day from Midmorning, Midday, and Midafternoon Prayer.

See the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 29, Code of Canon Law, 276.2, and, as a basis, Lumen gentium 41.

Note also that Summorum pontificum gives clerics the option of using the 1962 Breviarium Romanum instead of the post-conciliar Liturgy of the Hours.

ben in denver said...

Qualis Rex,

I too have a muslim niece, wellmabe not a muslim niece, but an unbaptized niece with a muslim father. I also have 2 other unbaptized nieces with a jewish father.

My pastor has been discussing this lately, and he has a good approach. He will readily acknowledge that we cannot know the final state of those who die without baptism because baptism is the ordinary means of salvation; however, the Church is also clear that only those who die in a state of mortal sin go to hell. Since the church also teaches that mortal sins are not possible prior to the age of reason, this leaves the eternal destiny of children who die without baptism a mystery.

pennyante said...

I've been doing the Liturgy of the Hours for the past couple months. If I use the Universalis online, I miss out on the hymns. But if I use my Christian Prayer book, I follow everything I am supposed to. I use the option of saying one of the daytime prayers especially since I am at work 4 days of the week.

I've learned a lot and really appreciate the psalms, especially when they speak to my situation.

This has been a very informative post, Fr. Charles. Thank you again...

A Bit of the Blarney said...

I am speechless...I can't often say that! This was a great dialog have here. Thank you! Cathy

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Thank you for the references. Sometimes one does not know what to read because the written information can be just as incorrect as the spoken information.

Sharon said...

I too was surprised to find that the invitatory psalm is optional when it comes before Lauds but I will keep on saying it anyway. I say all of the acceptable psalms in turn for the invitatory i.e. psalms 94,99,66 or 23. If Lauds or Vespers uses one of these psalms and I have said it for the Invitatory I just substitute 94.

I would very much like to sing the psalms but don't know the psalm tunes. Can you help me with locating tunes which can be used for the Grail translation of the psalms? I found a Lutheran site which sang all of the psalms but the translation was different to the one we use in Australia.

Sharon said...

I second your comment that it is not necessary to remain ignorant today but people may need to be told what are the books which will give them the orthodox Catholic information e.g. Mass Confusion by Jimmy Akin (new edition in preparation) and Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite by Msgr (Bishop) Peter Elliot. Of course the books you recommended are top of the list. I too think it would be a good idea to have a Recommended Books sidebar.

Brother Charles said...

I give Bp. Elliot to all of our newly ordained.

Qualis Rex said...

Ben, totally agreed. Thanks for the comment. It's difficult, isn't it : (

Sharon said...

In my Australian Ordo the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows was marked Hourof the day and not hour of the feast. The memorial of St John the Baptist and the Queenship of Our Lady were similarly marked. Other memorials e.g. St Monica and St Augustine were hours of the saint. Why the difference?

Brother Charles said...

Dear Sharon,

I'm not exactly sure about the terminology; there is a lot of variation in memorials, though most provide some proper parts, use the ordinary psalmody from the four week psalter, and allow one to take the reading and following from either the psalter or the common. I say, they vary.

for narnia said...

this is a great post, Fr. C! thanks for sharing it! PEACE! ~tara t~