Father Kenneth Doyle

Father Kenneth Doyle


Q. We have been members of one parish for more than 20 years, but now we have a priest who reminds me of why Jesus was critical of the Pharisees: This priest has no spiritual depth, and he emphasizes external flourishes, like “ad orientem” Masses.

My husband thinks that this priest is just young, arrogant and naive and that we should simply wait it out until he is reassigned. Right now my husband and I have reached an agreement: We have cut our financial contributions to the parish in half, and I attend our parish church once a month but go to other parishes on the other Sundays.

Our teenage children prefer one particular parish nearby, but I hesitate because it seems so informal and not in keeping with church guidelines. (It uses lay preachers, for example, and has people go to confession by writing things on pieces of paper to be burnt.)

For us, attending Sunday Mass as a family is now a thing of the past, which is very sad. Do you have any suggestions? (Name of city and state withheld)

A. First, to explain a phrase that might puzzle some readers: “ad orientem” Masses. Literally, it means “toward the East,” indicating that the priest and the people both face in the same direction, following an ancient custom.

More commonly today, the phrase is used when the priest and the congregation both face toward the front of church, as opposed to Masses where the celebrant faces the people.

A bit of a flap ensued in July 2016 when the Vatican’s top liturgical official, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, suggested that priests begin to celebrate Mass facing away from the congregation.

Quickly, though, the Vatican’s official spokesman — Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi — noted that there was no new directive and that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the church’s official liturgical “guidebook”) indicates in No. 299 that, wherever possible, the priest should face the congregation.

Now, to the substance of your question. I attach a high priority to a family’s celebrating Sunday Mass together as a family unit.

I do recognize the argument that people profit most from a eucharistic setting that matches their individual taste and best helps them sense the divine, but I feel that is outweighed by the lasting value of worshipping God as a family.

And, though I have no empirical evidence to back this, my sense anecdotally is that families who have worshipped together continue their fidelity to the Eucharist far into the future.

So my suggestion would be for you to sit down with your family, discuss the value of being with each other on Sundays and reach an accommodation — whether it be choosing a “neutral site” (a nearby parish where everyone seems fairly comfortable) or, perhaps, rotating as a family each Sunday among three or four different parishes.

Q. When is it appropriate to call out verbally the word “Jesus”? If his name is not being used in a disrespectful way but to implore his help, certainly this would not be considered swearing, right? Some people seem to have a fear of uttering his name, lest they appear to be swearing. (Timberville, Virginia)

A. What you intend when you say something may not be what hearers understand. Although you mean to implore Christ’s help by calling out spontaneously the word “Jesus,” someone listening might well think instead that you are expressing surprise or dismay — which would contribute to the growing disrespect for the Lord’s name.

Why not instead say, “Help me, Jesus” and remove any doubt? Reverence for the divine name, in addition to being mandated by the Second Commandment, has a rich scriptural basis. It was the first point made by Jesus when he taught us how to pray. (“Hallowed be your name,” Mt 6:9.)

And in his Letter to the Philippians (2:10), Paul says that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Some of the saints, in fact, whenever they heard the name of Jesus being used with disrespect, would bow their heads — as a silent reminder of the reverence they felt was due.

Given the fact that the holy name is so often and so casually abused in today’s world, perhaps all of us have a duty to ask the Lord’s forgiveness and seek to make reparation. We need to stand in awe of God’s mystery and majesty, realizing that even the opportunity to approach him in prayer is a gift of his mercy.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.