Sunday, April 30, 2006

The cult effect at St. Agnes

St. Agnes Church

Yesterday we were so busy in the Store that at one point I remember ringing at the register, one Guest after another, without being able to look up - I felt like I was a sort of robot continually processing orders. At days end we were all completely exhausted, our feet, our legs, our backs - everything ached. I went to bed early Saturday night and was too tired to get up for 6:30 AM Mass this morning. I went to the 8:30 AM Mass instead.

I haven’t been to the 8:30 AM Mass for a long time. I forgot there was organ and singing at that Mass. I love the silence of the early Mass. I am always amazed by the large families at 8:30 AM. It’s a more crowded Mass as well and so it just seems noisier and distracting. The retired pastor celebrated the Mass. I had not seen him for sometime either. He rather startled me because of how old he looked and the slow pace of his entrance reminded me of John Paul II when he was showing his age. He impressed me as being quite close to death.

Leaving Mass I noticed a chunk of stone on the stairs that had fallen off the building. For some reason I thought of the dream of Pope Honorius of St. Francis holding up the Church and Francis’ own vision when our Lord said to him, “Rebuild my Church.” I wondered what will become of St. Agnes? After Monsignor dies will they turn the altar around? Will they allow altar girls and Communion in the hand? Will there ever be a female lector? After the current pastor retires will the parish change from what it has been? What will become of the parish?

I had the occasion to ask this same question of a priest and a very astute gentleman at our Store one day a few weeks ago. They both agreed that the more traditional tenor of the parish would stay intact, but the priest said he thinks the parish will have to change in other ways. For instance he felt there needed to be a greater social outreach program, and he simply used “loaves and fishes” as an example. He pointed out how insular in some respects the parish is. They both agreed that the “dogma of faith” would be preserved, but new priests were needed. They implied that there currently is a “cultish” atmosphere in the parish.

I caught that this morning. As I got out of my car and walked towards the Church a very nice woman was approaching to get to her car. I recognized her as a frequent Guest in our Store - she knows who I am. I smiled and said “Good morning.” She barely replied. I was sort of surprised, but not offended. In the Store she speaks to me if she needs something. Going up the stairs the married couple who sit behind me at every single 6:30 AM Mass were just exiting the Church. I smile again and say hello - they ignored me. They also know me from the Store. Again I was not offended because they do not speak to me there either. They were calling after the other woman to get her attention - so it might have been the “excitement of the moment.“ It’s just not a friendly parish though.

Our Lord has granted me a wonderful grace, that is to be recollected at Mass, so I often do not notice people at Mass. Today was different however. I noticed. Coming into Church the veiled contemplative women were scattered about apparently absorbed in the prayer of quiet. The man whose daughter is a cloistered religious was heading back to the sacristy to speak to Fr. Altier. He is always in the sacristy before Mass - I see him when I arrive, and now I discover, he’s also there after Mass. His veiled wife remained in the pew. Apparently no women are allowed in the sacristy. This couple are among many of Father's entourage who seem to only attend Fr. Altier Masses - if for some reason Father does not have the early Mass, they know about it and go to the Mass he is celebrating. There is a regular cast of characters who hang out at St. Agnes, not just the ankle-length, jumper-clad veiled women, but others as well. (Maybe I am one of them and that is why people do not speak to me.)

There is an older adult altar server who has a group - sort of a religious confraternity. (There are a few “make-your-own-habit-and-religious-order” people at St. Agnes in addition to this man.) He wears the altar boy cassock between Masses, at Mass he even wears a sort of cape that is part of the habit of the group. He wears it over the surplice when he lectors at “High Masses.” Some of these people appear to have some sort of "hold” over things at the Church. It can be kind of a weird place. There is a strange, underlying elitist attitude many people seem to have that attend there, a Roman Catholic snobbery of sorts.

Nevertheless, I like the Church. I don't attend for the "community" but for the Sacraments. I am guaranteed solid Catholic teaching there as well as dignified liturgy. It’s worth the 30 mile round trip on Sundays. However, I do believe I will keep to the 6:30 AM Mass while being more vigilant about maintaining custody of the eyes and more rigorous in mortifying my curiousity.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Terry,

    Very perceptive post. Many of your thoughts echo those that my wife and I have expressed from time to time. And I agree completely with the comments of the two gentlemen in your store. I'd like to talk to you more about it at some point - compare notes, if you will.

  4. Hi, I'm new to blogging (but definitely not new to St. Agnes) and I thought I'd pass along my comments on your post. It seems to me that there are two related phenomena taking place there: 1. a predominant disposition that I refer to as "cerebral Catholicism." That is to say, that the light of the Holy Spirit shines strongly through the fidelity of doctrine, proper administration of the sacraments, etc. However, the imagery of the Holy Spirit as fire is not unintentional (duh, right!). Fire does two things: light and heat. An example of the heat-but-no-light would be the STEREOTYPICAl Charismatic Catholic, Pentecostal Protestant. St. Agnes is suffering by *knowing* too much about the Faith and *living* too little of it. I personally think this is a tragic side effect of St. Agnes spending so much time and effort in catechizing its flock throughout the crazy 60's - post-modern present, that it hasn't been able to step back for a moment to take stock in its collective sould, like a parochial moment of recollection, and see whether, as parish/pastor/parishoner, there has been enough INTERNALIZING of "God is Love."

    The second phenomenon is equally tragic: there is a major misunderstanding among virtually all segments of the parish on the the role of the laity in the world. Ironically, this is probably the ONE SINGLE problem that St. Agnes shares with the dissenting parishes such as St. Joan of Arc, Pax Christi, et al. These parishes all have a very clerical view of the church. At St. Agnes, this is manifested by the custom some folks have a giving a respectful bow to each other (as the clerics sometimes do as a sign of respect), your lector friend who thinks Sunday is Cleric Dress-Up Playhouse (and acts like it is his duty and honor as a faithful Catholic to uphold sacred dogma by not only (disobediently) saying "This is the Word of the Lord" after the First Reading, but stressing 'THIS...' - you know, to let any heretics in the crowd know that he's not going "there." (Sorry for the sarcasm in that sentence- but he's too much and he's been told by someone in authority to knock it off and he still won't! A true Crusader in out time.) Also, you can see this in the reverence that folks have for the priests (which is certainly good and right) but then have no time for the person next to them in the pew. This is what you experienced outside in the parking lot. If you had a collar, you'd be bowed to; you look like any one of the early Christians who anonymously gave their lives in the lions' den and they won't even notice you.

    I've expressed all of this to one of the priests there, with whom I am very close. Not much to disagree with, I'm afraid. God Bless.

  5. Anonymous12:30 AM

    The previous comments posted were well written and I think dead on. My wife and I started attending St Agnes a couple of years ago after we started having children. We drive 20 miles one way to do so, simply because its the one place we have found that is authentic to the teachings of the Catholic Church. We also are interested in the school when are children are old enough to attend. Previously, I attended St. Olaf for over 10 years and I think St. Agnes needs a bit of what St. Olaf has or had. I found St. Olaf to be very sacramental, but it also had a great social feel and outreach. Maybe the new priests at St. Agnes will keep the best of what St. Agnes currently has but will also give it the something extra that the previous comments (in my opinion) correctly identified as being missing.

  6. I need to make a couple gentle corrections. I know a little about St. Agnes.

    "Apparently no women are allowed in the sacristy." For Pete's sake. Of course women are allowed in the sacristy. Go back and see for yourself.

    "There is an older adult altar server who has a group - sort of a religious confraternity. (There are a few “make-your-own-habit-and-religious-order” people at St. Agnes in addition to this man.)" Ehem... This is an officially sanctioned international group called the Militia Christi, rooted in Dominican spirituality. It is sanctioned by the Archdiocese. It even has a priest assigned as a chaplain. This is not a "make your own" group.

    "However, I do believe I will keep to the 6:30 AM Mass while being more vigilant about maintaining custody of the eyes and more rigorous in mortifying my curiousity." And perhaps being a bit better informed?

    There are some good points in your post, to be sure. Parishes also can be places where corporal and spiritual works of mercy are fostered. Yet, not everything which is being done is entirely evident to the casual observer.

    All the best!

    Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

  7. St. Agnes is a great parish. One of the things I like about it is that people DON’T talk in church.

    Please remember that not everyone is a perky morning person. The same person who gives you a glassy-eyed stare at 7:30 a.m. might be a regular chatter-box in the afternoon. Also some people maintain a morning fast before they receive the Eucharist. That tends to make one in more of a hurry to get home and eat.

    However, if you are looking for conversation, try going down after mass to the donut and coffee gatherings in the church basement. Most people there are quite friendly. You can strike up a conversation on just about any topic. The gatherings are hosted by different parish organizations each week, and are quite well attended.

    When the priests have time, they come down and chat with the folks eating donuts between masses. It’s quite congenial.

    Please make the effort to get to know people and you won’t feel like such and outsider.

  8. Anonymous12:03 PM


    I agree with you with the not talking in Church during Mass. What bothers me (and my wife) is that when we became members we called the parish office and didn't get a return call. When I've had questions about the school I've left several emails without a response. My wife called to join an organization and didn't get a return call. It would be nice if the parish had a welcoming commitee or something. In terms of the liturgy, we love it.

  9. Sue Sims12:16 PM

    I know this is almost completely irrelevant, but - what's wrong about saying '"This is the Word of the Lord" after the First Reading' (or the second, for that matter?). As a (female - sorry) lector, this is what I have to say: I mean, it's written at the bottom of each reading in the Lectionary. Or are things different in different countries? (I'm in England.)

  10. Hi, Sue,

    Thanks for the question. I'm not an authority on the rubrics here in the U.S., much less in England, but it's my understanding that the rubric was changed several (5-10) years ago from "This is the Word of the Lord" to just "The Word of the Lord." I'm not a fan of the change and would love for that rubric (among others) to return to the former way. That said, however, I even more firmly believe that priests, deacons, lectors, etc., don't have a right to implement/modify/ignore the rubrics that they personally feel is better. Lobby, petition, beg, go ahead and even preach and write columns on the way things should be done. But it's just not that one person's option to do it any way other than what is permitted. Period. It's distracting from the readings and the rest of the Mass. Over the long run (years), it also causes people irritation-- not a good thing to fall into and not a good thing to be the cause of it.

    More than you specifically asked, but thought I'd be a little more specific on my earlier point. Thanks for asking. Vid


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.