Rebuilt Liturgy

At the request of PrayTell’s editor, I visited Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland so as to be able to offer my impressions of the liturgy there and how it fit with the vision outlined in Rebuilt, which Scott Pluff has reviewed on this blog. I visited three times (taking my 17-year-old along on two occasions) and watched the live stream twice, in part because I felt that I did not simply want to do a “Mystery Worshipper” style snapshot (as entertaining as these might be), but attend enough to try to get a feel for how the liturgy expressed the ethos of the community. All the liturgies that I attended or watched streamed were the 5:30 Sunday evening Mass, but as Michael White and Tom Corcoran note in Rebuilt, all the liturgies as Nativity are in the same style and have the same “message” (i.e. homily) each week, so I presume my experience would not have been much different at other Masses. I will first describe the setting and music and how the liturgy unfolded,  and them make some general observations.


The first thing that struck me at Nativity was how easy it was to park; there is a ministry of parking attendants with orange vests and flags who direct you to a parking space. There was also always someone stationed at the door to greet you as you arrived. As Rebuilt makes clear, the “weekend experience” begins as soon as someone arrives on campus, and Nativity clearly seeks to make that arrival as pleasant as possible.

The liturgical space of Nativity is a not-very inspiring 70s building, with no windows except for a wall of dark stained glass on the wall behind the congregation. Apart from a large crucifix behind the altar and Stations of the Cross along the walls, there was no iconography or images that I could see in the church. There are plans for a new church that can be seen on the parish’s capital campaign website. Unlike some recent church construction projects, the folks at Nativity are determined that their new church will be in a clearly modern style.

The lighting throughout the liturgy was quite dim in the area where the congregation sat, with dramatic lighting on either the altar platform or the worship band that was to the right of the altar, depending on which was the focus at that moment. The altar was covered with a frontal that fell on all four sides and the presider sat at right angles to the altar, more like the traditional sedilla than the modern presider’s chair. There were two large screens on either side of the altar that served various functions throughout the liturgy. Before Mass began, they were used for the announcements, which were more like ads than announcements: prerecorded videos in which information was delivered succinctly and professionally (unlike most parish announcements). These, combined with the website, take the place of a printed bulletin.

In Rebuilt, White and Corcoran place a great emphasis on music and congregational singing.They are quite explicit that the style of music itself is secondary to it being music that the unchurched can connect with. In the case of Nativity, the music was led by a band consisting of three guitars, drums, bass, keyboards, and a female vocalist (who mainly added harmonies to the lead male vocalist). They were very professional, playing upbeat Christian rock (it reminded me of a somewhat less gritty U2—Chris Tomlin’s “Let God Arise,” which I heard on a couple of occasions, will give you a sense of the style of much of the music). While I wouldn’t describe the volume of the musicians as rock-concert-loud, it was higher than I am used to in a church.

The Liturgy

The band led the opening song, and I would rate the congregation’s level of audible participation about average for east coast Catholic parishes (i.e. not so great). After the opening song, during which the celebrant entered along with two servers (at all the Masses I attended, high school-aged boys) in cassock and cotta, the Mass began as usual with the sign of the cross and the greeting. Because the leaders at Nativity are explicit about how much they have learned from “seeker-friendly” evangelical mega churches, one might expect that the celebrant would adopt a folksy or casual style. But Fr. White, who presided at all the Masses I either attended or watched, has a very dignified and reserved liturgical presence—not at all the smarmy liturgical talk show host who afflicted some Catholic liturgies in the 70s and 80s (and occasionally even today). While the Nativity parishioners whom I know think very highly of Fr. White, there is nothing about his style of presiding that calls attention to himself.

He is also quite brisk; the pacing of the liturgy was almost breathless. There were very few pauses in the liturgy and if the homily had lasted the six minutes common in some parishes then the whole thing would probably been over in 45 minutes. In Tools for Rebuilding—the follow up to Rebuilt—White and Corcoran talking about the need for pacing in the liturgy. In that book Fr. White recounts an anecdote about visiting a parish where everything stopped while the lector and then the cantor made the long journey to the ambo, indicating that such pauses in the liturgy are unnecessary and even self-indulgent. He contrasts these with purposeful pauses, but I did not see a lot of evidence of these in the liturgies I attended.

After the penitential rite—form C, spoken, at all the Masses I attended—we sang the Gloria from the Mass of St. Anne by Ed Bolduc, which was done in a way that fit the general groove of the music (groovier than recordings I have heard of this piece). Congregational singing on this was a notch or two higher in volume, perhaps because repetition had made it so familiar. For the opening prayer, Fr. White turned to face the crucifix on the wall behind the altar (he did this also for the Creed and prayer after communion). I don’t know if this was a conscious attempt to incorporate the ad orientem posture into the liturgy, or was simply dictated by the position of the altar server holding the book.

Before the Liturgy of the Word began, a brief video announcement invited parents with small children to go with them to an area outside the main body of the church where they could watch the liturgy on video screens, noting that they would be more comfortable there. I wondered if I would have felt pressured to absent myself if I had small children. The Director of Communications for the parish was the lector at all the Masses I attended or watched. She was a very good reader: clear and expressive without being overly dramatic. I do not know if she serves the same function at the other weekend Masses. The responsorial psalm on all occasions was simply the refrain, a single psalm verse, and the refrain repeated, not lasting more than a minute and a half. The alleluia featured an electric guitar fill that made my 17-year-old snicker, but the congregation seemed to join in with a bit more gusto than on the other songs. The alleluia was repeated after the Gospel.

Rebuilt places an emphasis on preaching and the need for messages that are well-crafted and relevant to people’s lives. At Nativity, the messages are grouped into theme-based series that are planned by the staff. This is common in evangelical churches that do not follow a lectionary, and one might think that this would lead to neglect of the Scripture readings in the Lectionary for the sake of the series’ theme. But it seemed to me that the staff at Nativity has planned their series carefully to grow from the Lectionary readings themselves.

At the three Masses I attended the pastor, Michael White, gave the message, while at the two that I watched streamed one of the lay staff gave the message at the end of Mass, with Fr. White giving a very brief scripture reflection at the time of the homily. As described in Rebuilt, the message was very practically oriented, offering ordinary people concrete advice and encouragement on how the Gospel could make a difference in their lives. Those giving the message made use of a screen that displayed specific passages that they wished to speak about. Fr. White’s preaching style, like his liturgical style, is low key: he made some use of self-deprecating humor, but there were no histrionics. I found the preaching to be very good. The lay staff members who gave the message at the end of Mass were also good speakers, though perhaps not quite as good as Fr. White.

The only real pause—about 30 seconds—came between the message and the brisk recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, the words of which were projected on the screens. The prayer of the faithful was again led by the parish’s Communications Director and consisted of five or so briefly stated petitions. After the concluding prayer, the band cranked up and the collection was taken and the altar prepared. If there was a procession of representatives of the faithful with the gifts of bread and wine, I missed it.

After the prayer over the gifts we were into the Eucharistic Prayer (no. II at all the Masses I attended). At all of the Masses the preface concluded with the unaccompanied singing of Sanctus XVIII in Latin, led by the bandleader. The effect was a startling shift of tone (though the pace was still brisk, which I happen to like for chant—it doesn’t have to feel like a dirge). Also, for the first time I could really hear the assembly singing. It wasn’t thunderous, but it was respectably robust. We sat after the Sanctus, presumably because Nativity has no kneelers (though I think in such cases standing is preferred). The memorial acclamation was sung unaccompanied in English to the Missal chant and the Amen was a threefold chant that seemed to be based on the Sanctus melody. The Lord’s Prayer was also sung unaccompanied to the well-known Snow setting (the celebrant chanted neither the introduction nor the embolism—in fact, he didn’t sing any of his parts) and I noticed that even those who were tight-lipped throughout all the other music joined in on this. The sign of peace was relatively brief, though people seemed warm and friendly. We were quickly into Agnus Dei XVIII and again the assembly was quite audible.

After the invitation to communion the band switched back into Christian rock mode. I saw no particular connection between the texts of the songs and the liturgical action (i.e. references to Christ’s body and blood, or tasting and seeing the goodness of the Lord). Eucharistic ministers appeared immediately, though I’m not sure from where. I am guessing that they must have received communion before they began distributing it, but it was done in some way that was not obvious to me. Communion was given only under the form of bread and, as will by this point come as no surprise, was accomplished quickly. There was no significant pause after communion before the post communion prayer, which the assembly sat for. There were brief announcements made by one or more staff members; this was the only part that felt a little bit like talk show shtick, with the celebrant and announcers trading light banter. But, as with all things at Nativity, it was disciplined in its execution and kept brief. After the blessing and dismissal (“Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”—quite fitting given Nativity’s focus on seeking “the lost”), the band performed a final song. On at least a couple of occasions the celebrant stayed at the front of the Church throughout the song rather than heading for an exit for the traditional paraliturgy of handshake-thanks-for-coming-have-a-good-day.


The liturgies I attended at Nativity prompted many thoughts about what this particular parish is trying to accomplish, how the liturgy fits into that mission, and the nature of liturgy in general. Let me say that in general what the people of Nativity have accomplished is impressive and there is much to learn from them. Whatever misgivings I voice in what follows should be seen in light of my acknowledgement of the manifest work of the Spirit at Nativity.


What stands out most vividly in my experience at Nativity is the overwhelming presence of THE SCREENS (something about their size seems to call for the caps lock). They served the practical purpose of providing text (but no music) for the songs, the Creed, and some of the responses. But they also displayed a video feed of the liturgy itself. Because the congregation is essentially in darkness, one’s eyes are irresistibly drawn to whatever is being shown on THE SCREENS (not unlike being at the suburban multiplex). Even when I was only a few pews back from the sanctuary (I sat in different parts of the church on my different visits), and the lights over the altar were on full, I would find myself looking at the virtual celebrant on THE SCREENS rather than at the celebrant himself, at the virtual lector rather than the lector herself. This led to a feeling of disengagement from the liturgical action, which I suspect is the exact opposite of what THE SCREENS were meant to effect.

Even more problematic for me was the projection of the band (along with the lyrics) on THE SCREENS during the songs. Partly because the camera work is fairly sophisticated, I felt as if I were watching a music video (complete with the near-clichés of the drummer’s foot on the pedal of the bass drum and the lead guitarist’s hands as he rips into a hot riff). Particularly given Fr. White’s reserved presidential style, this gave the musicians a prominence that made it difficult to see them as servants at the liturgy rather than as performers at a concert.

As a testimony to the significance of THE SCREENS in the experience of liturgy at Nativity, I find that in thinking back on the three liturgies I attended and the two that I watched streamed online, I have trouble keeping them straight in my mind, largely because my eyes were focused on THE SCREENS even when I was physically present, making the two experiences eerily alike. Indeed, the darkened church and the illuminated screens ended up making me feel profoundly isolated from my fellow worshippers, as if I were watching the liturgy on my laptop at home. For all of Nativity’s laudable concern to seek out the lost and to welcome the stranger, I found the experience of the liturgy itself a bit lonely.

That being said, Fr. White made good use of the screen next to him during the homily to point to particular verses of the text he was discussing, giving his preaching a more expository style than is usually found in Catholic preaching. To my mind, this is a good thing and inasmuch as it is facilitated by the technology that is a good thing as well.

Music, Participation, and the Disciplina Arcana

Though Rebuilt stresses the importance of getting the congregation singing, and the virtues of Contemporary Christian Music in achieving that aim, I did not find the level of congregational singing notably different from other parishes in the northeast, which means that on most of the music most of the people were not singing. Or maybe they were singing and I just could not here them due to the volume of the band. I did not myself find that the style of music made me want to participate. This might be because I’m a snob who simply doesn’t like Christian rock (I endorse heartily the immortal dictum of Hank Hill: “You’re not making Christianity better; you’re just making rock n’ roll worse”), but I also think that this form of music more performance-oriented than participation-oriented, with the syncopations typical of pop music making participation difficult and the volume of the musicians making participation irrelevant (to Fr. Ruff’s complaint I might add “and so is the band!”). Some songs did feature the kind of fist-pumping choruses that I associate with arena rock, but somehow I couldn’t quite bring myself to belt out “Let God arise!” This may just be my issue, though I didn’t notice many other people belting either.

The use of chant for the Eucharistic Acclamations, the Our Father, and the Agnus Dei was an interesting choice. Because these were sung a capella the assembly was far more audible than on the Contemporary Christian Music. I also happen to prefer this musically to most of the rest of what was on offer. But it also seemed somehow to isolate the liturgy of the Eucharist from the rest of the liturgy. Perhaps this is a good thing, highlighting the importance of the sacrament, but I could not help but feel as if something was out of joint. It pointed up for me the difficulties Catholics face in trying to adapt the “seeker-friendly” approach to worship of some evangelical churches. The primary form of worship for Catholics—the Eucharist—is not by its nature “seeker-friendly.” It is an arcane ritual for insiders (thus the Early Church’s disciplina arcana), from which the uninitiated were traditionally excluded. The use of chant (and Latin!) for the Eucharistic liturgy at Nativity seems to recognize this. But because it was embedded in what was essentially a seeker-friendly evangelical service, the effect was somewhat jarring. If Contemporary Christian Music says “you are welcome here,” does chant say, “this is not for you”?

The Ideals of the Liturgical Movement and Reform

Almost all the garden variety Catholics I have spoken to about the liturgy at Nativity have characterized it as “very modern” or “progressive,” but this clearly doesn’t not mean the same thing that a professional liturgy geek would mean by those terms. I was struck by the absence of certain features of post-conciliar Catholic liturgy that many PrayTell readers would take to be the gold standard of the reformed liturgy. For example:

  • Instead of a responsorial psalm we had something more akin to the pre-conciliar graduale in both form (antiphon, psalm verse, antiphon) and function (a musical interlude between readings rather than a proclamation of the Word of God).
  • The same member of the parish staff was the lector at every Mass, rather than different members of the assembly taking this role. Perhaps this indicates that the active role of the laity in liturgical ministry is seen as less important than having the Word proclaimed effectively (though in my experience these two values do not have to be in competition with each other).
  • There was no presentation of the gifts of bread and wine by members of the assembly, though this is commended by the GIRM (no. 140) and was one of the earliest ways in which pioneers of the liturgical movement sought to involve the assembly in the liturgy.
  • Communion was offered only under the form of bread. Opening up the possibility of offering communion under both species was one of the most radical reforms of Vatican II (matched perhaps only by the allowance of the vernacular), reversing what had been a norm for 800 years and moving Catholic practice closer not only to the primitive Church but also to Orthodox and Protestant Christians. I do not know why Nativity does not offer the cup to the assembly. Perhaps it is the expedient of keeping things moving (though I have never noticed communion under both species taking longer, provided there are sufficient ministers). Perhaps it is simply not important to their parishioners or even confuses the seekers who come to them.

A reduction of psalmody to a single verse, the restriction of the reading of scripture to a religious “professional,” no presentation of the gifts by the laity, communion under one species: one might argue that the liturgy at Nativity is in some ways more akin to the pre-conciliar liturgy than to the post-conciliar.

At the same time, the liturgy at Nativity might prompt questions concerning some practices that have been thought to go without saying on the post-conciliar liturgical scene. Have we so focused on the liturgical ministry of a few lay people such as lectors and cantors and Eucharistic ministers that we have forgotten that the liturgy ought to feed the laity so that they can carry out their own distinctive ministry in the world? Have we sought to revive practices, like the responsorial psalm or communion under both species, that are irrelevant to and undesired by most Catholics, not to mention “the lost” that are the primary target of ministry at Nativity? To answer such a challenge, one would have to argue that such practices have an intrinsic value, whether or not they are relevant to or desired by the people in the pews, a value that would make it worth the trouble to convince those in the pews of their relevance and desirability.

Timonium Tim and Inculturation

The liturgy at Nativity might be viewed as an exercise in liturgical inculturation. The culture of postmodern suburban American—the culture of “Timonium Tim”—determines the style if not the substance of Mass at Nativity. Of course, the difficulty with all liturgical inculturation is 1) how does one determine what the salient features of the target culture actually are and 2) to what degree should liturgy adapt to culture and to what degree should it resist or transform culture?

White and Corcoran make clear in Rebuilt that someone like me—an over-educated aesthete who has spent the past 30-some years hanging around Catholic churches and has a set of pretty strong opinions about liturgy (nota bene: my self-description, not theirs)—is not their target audience. They are seeking “Timonium Tim”—“the lost,” who do not come to Church with a predetermined set of expectations, or maybe only the expectation that it will be stuffy and dull and irrelevant. But “Timonium Tim” is, as White and Corcoran undoubtedly know, a fiction. Postmodern suburbanites are not a monolithic mass. Indeed, one of the key features of postmodern culture is its seeming diversity and fragmentation. Though there is perhaps a deep unity to our common identity as consumers, the cultural artifacts that we consume are incredibly diverse. If one decides on what music to use in the liturgy by asking (as White and Corcoran do), “what does Timonium Tim listen to on his iPod?” there really is no one answer (except, maybe, “Almost surely not Contemporary Christian Music”). People listen to all sorts of things on their iPods. They watch all sorts of television shows (I found myself trying to imagine what a liturgy done in the style of True Detective would be like). They have a dizzying array of family structures and ideas about child rearing. Some are even snobby liturgical aesthetes.

Clearly liturgy cannot simply reflect culture, but must also create culture. Is the liturgy at Nativity doing this? White and Corcoran speak (to my ear) somewhat dismissively of “churchpeople” who live in “churchland.” These are those who feel comfortable with terms like “homily” rather than “message”, “RCIA” rather than “Vantage Point,” “Sunday obligation” rather than “weekend experience.” They like things like the Easter Vigil and the Stations of the Cross; words like “novena” and “sodality” trip off their tongues; they enjoy architecture and music that reminds them that they are part of a two-thousand year-old tradition. Perhaps, as Rebuilt at times implies, these are simply people for who Catholicism has become a tribal identity, who care nothing about the lost that Christ would have us seek. But perhaps at least some of these “churchpeople” are those who have been inculturated into the rich tradition of Catholicism and want to pass that along to others. Undoubtedly they are still, in some complex way, postmodern suburbanites. But they are also something else, something that creates friction with their postmodern suburban identity.

I believe that the leadership at Nativity welcomes that friction; indeed, they wish to foster it. They want to resist the consumer culture that not only surrounds but also pervades the Church. They want to, as they put it, “make Church matter,” while rejecting a hermetically sealed “churchland.” I wonder, however, if their dismissal of “churchpeople” and “churchland” is too cavalier. Perhaps, rather than rejecting a pathology in Christ’s body—those who think they somehow “own” the Church and who want to keep trespassers off their property—they are instead rejecting a set of valuable resources for forming Christian identity over and against the culture of consumerism.

All of this is, of course, simply a manifestation of an enduring tension within the process of liturgical inculturation. How do you make Church matter to Timonium Tim without pandering to him, so as to turn him into a consumer? To what extent is it desirable, or even possible, to make Christian liturgical celebration look like, sound like, feel like, a culture’s other forms of celebration? Or does the liturgy inevitable mark out its own space—churchland—populated by its own strange citizens—churchpeople?


93 responses to “Rebuilt Liturgy”

  1. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Thanks, Fritz, for an excellent and thought-provoking review.

  2. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    What a wonderful, thought-provoking essay! Thank you, Fritz.

    Picky question: is it disciplina arcana, “the secret teaching”; or disciplina arcani, “the discipline of the secret”; or disciplina arcanum, “the teaching of the secrets?”

    Londinium Len wants to know…

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Jonathan Day – comment #2:
      quod scripsi scripsi.

      Actually, disciplina arcani is probably closer to what I meant to say, but I’ll leave it as is, as a caution to others concerning thoughtlessly throwing around Latin phrases.

  3. Fr. Shroff Avatar

    Oh wow. Fantastic post. Very informative and well balanced. I’ve been to Nativity, once. I think during my transitional Deacon year at the Mount. I also tried reaching out to Fr. White via Twitter, to meet up for coffee and a chat, but he seemed never to get my emails, and I gave up. The description of the liturgy fits my own experience as far as I recall — the transition to chant is *REALLY* striking, almost jarring. I almost wanted to laugh. The insight about THE SCREENS is spot on. Take out the Eucharist, and it really could be Northpoint, or Athens Church [which I visited last year. I’m assigned in Athens, GA]. But it all seems so … ** packaged ** Perhaps Timonium Tim, or Athens Ann likes packaged experiences. Everything else in post-modern suburban life is presented as a packaged experience after all. The question that Bauerschmidt raises about the *worshipper* being transformed into the *culture* of the Church, i.e. into the Gospel, is a real one. There is much to commend about White and Rebuilt — preaching being not the least of these, and the creative and efficient use of lay gifts and talents another one. We really do need to experiment, since so much of what we tend to do simply isn’t working. I just don’t think the liturgy is the stuff for seekers. [HPR had an article on just this topic last month, or earlier this month.]

  4. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    I wouldn’t know where to begin a comment on this. “Yuck” summed up my first read-through.

    Fr White and Mr Corcoran are pretty clear in their books where details are concerned: this worked for us, but something different might well work for you. I’m still a skeptic on their insistence on this musical genre as an attraction point for Timonium Tim. Today’s suburban unchurched family guy likely listened to metal and grunge and not folk rock Christian anthems. Remember Tim lived down the block from Beavis and Butthead, when it came to mainstream pop music.

    It might be that this liturgy is an echo of what they did prior to Rebuilt, just substituting two verses of P&W songs for hymns. (Were those organ pipes in the image above? Do they save that instrument for funerals and weddings, do you suppose?)

    I would be interested in dissecting particular aspects of their approach to liturgy, especially their approach to preaching: plan for a year. We have the readings well in advance, right? When I’ve suggested here and there over the past three decade that clergy give some thought to crafting a message for a season or a stretch of ordinary time, the idea is always dismissed in favor of being moved by the Spirit, or similar reason.

  5. Charles Culbreth Avatar
    Charles Culbreth

    Very helpful and trustworthy review, Fritz, much thanks. I had just recommended the reading of REBUILT to our pastoral council, and I’ll be pleased to follow that up with linking them to this review.

  6. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    “White and Corcoran make clear in Rebuilt that someone like me—an over-educated aesthete who has spent the past 30-some years hanging around Catholic churches and has a set of pretty strong opinions about liturgy (nota bene: my self-description, not theirs)—is not their target audience. ”

    One of the little bromides that I picked up in some marketing course or other is, STP: First you Segment the universe of consumers; then you Target the segments to whom your product or service is tailored; then you Promote your product or services to those targeted segments.

    “Timonium Tim” sounds like something else marketers do: they personify the segments they are targeting, to help themselves picture him. Apparently, Tim spends most of his time staring at screens and has earbuds shoved in his ear sockets.

    If we are religious entrepreneurs, church builders unconstrained by anything except our own imagination and ambition, then STP sounds like a great strategy, and I have no doubt that successful ministries and mega-churches have been built this way. Find enough Tims (and Tina’s, presumably), and you can plant and grow something that is economically self-sustaining and does some great labor in the vineyards.

    I have qualms, though, about segmenting and targeting. Didn’t someone once say that Catholic means, “Here comes everybody”? The segmenting/targeting exercise not only identifies who we’re going to target, but by implication, who we’re going to exclude. I don’t think a Catholic parish has the luxury of ruthlessly targeting, if that also means excluding anyone, except by virtue of geographic distance; everyone within or near the boundaries should be welcome.

    Having said that: I don’t doubt that all of our parishes are excluding persons, one way or another, and it would be a worthwhile exercise to examine the parish conscience to see who is being inadvertantly skipped over. But I don’t think we should exclude on purpose.

  7. Jerome Peterson Avatar
    Jerome Peterson

    Thank you for the thorough description. I think this parish is dripping with acculturation, north american culture, that is: every initiative (including the church’s call to welcome the unchurched) met with limitless money, technology, and corporate hierarchy.

    Since we as north american consumers are all experts in consumerism (we know our culture), forming a consensus for accommodating the unchurched north american is a no-brainer: easy parking, ushers to guide us to comfortable pews, low lighting, BIG SCREEN TV, standard media pop music (regardless of the texts sung), catholic symbolism made easy: token stained glass, drastically abbreviated psalm, the simplest latin chant (from the purposefully downsized Missa pro Defuntis), homily with PowerPoint, expertly trained EMs. It’s all so obviously expedient, catholic liturgy as a water slide park.

    Pastors want a comfortable life too: no surprises, no resistance. If they appeal to the average north american’s sense of hierarchy, need for acknowledgement/validation, and expediancy above all, they can set the wheels in motion and watch the money roll in. They will be regarded as successful leaders in a “culture” that values construction projects over tending to the poor and marginalized.

    Since chant vs. media pop/rock is a matter of consumerist/political choice, north americans spill tons of ink and electrons in selling one brand over the other. Some “reform of the reform” parishes are just as eager to put on a great show (with well-dressed pomp and ear-splitting organ) and broadcast it on the web.

    The glory years of the 90’s seem so distant now, when participation meant raising everyone’s (volunteers’ and congregation’s) standards of liturgical and musical knowledge. Could we say the paradigm nowadays is to “fast-food” the liturgy, render it easily consumable and financially analyzable, where lay ministry is akin to a well-run industrial kitchen, with every detail specified, down to the camera on the drummer’s left foot?

    1. Jim Pauwels Avatar
      Jim Pauwels

      @Jerome Peterson – comment #8:

      “It’s all so obviously expedient, catholic liturgy as a water slide park.”

      When one of my children was in middle school, she went with a group of her friends to the local evangelical mega-church to hear a Christian praise band in concert. She came back, glowing with praise about the church facility: it was so up-to-date, it had an escalator and a Starbucks (or similar). In short, it was just like the mall.

  8. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    My comments on Rebuilt may come across as critical, but there are elements that we can borrow, and there are definitely things that spur further thought. Most importantly, I admire the parish’s focus on mission, something that I think is very much in line with Francis’ papacy. And they’ve dared to try new ideas for their preaching, their music, their hospitality, and on the use of technology in worship. Based on what Scott Pluff and Fritz have described here, I certainly wouldn’t adopt Nativity’s entire model uncritically. But I applaud them for seeing a serious problem and trying to do something about it – and it seems to be succeeding. I don’t think we can just do nothing. We have to be willing to think different thoughts and try new things.

  9. Randy Oswald Avatar
    Randy Oswald

    I read the book. Enjoyed it. Was intrigued by it. I applaud what White/Corcoran are trying to do. Liturgically, Nativity wouldn’t be my cup of tea. But I’m not bothered by their approach.

    I’m one of those Catholics who is really tired of the ongoing “liturgy wars”. I object to the fact that I’m given two categories to choose from re my liturgical druthers: “progressive” or “traditional”. I don’t fit into either category, really. Nor do I want to. I’m equally bored by the nitpicking on both sides.

    So I’ve been waiting for the emergence of a third category–something along the lines of “evangelical Catholicism”. Or maybe something like Fr White’s “Dynamic Orthodoxy”. Certainly something like the Catholic vision that Pope Francis is promoting, where “everybody takes a hit”. That’s a category that I could embrace. Yep.

    White and Corcoran have had the guts to launch out in a decidedly “evangelical” direction. They’re not confused about what evangelization actually is, and they certainly take evangelization seriously (not just the usual lip-service for these two). They deserve some kudos for that, I think. Granted, what they are doing in Timonium won’t work everywhere, but that’s not the point. The point is that it does seem to work for the folks at Nativity, right now, right there. That’s good enough for me.

    What will happen at Nativity in the long run? Will it fall apart? Will it devolve? Will it become a cliche? Who knows? According to White/Corcoran, Nativity was a dying parish not so long ago. For now, it’s been revived. Okay. Carpe Diem.

    But be not afraid. Rebuilt and Nativity will cause nary a hiccup in the ongoing battle between progressives and traditionalists. But for folks like me who are conscientious objectors in the liturgy wars, Rebuilt offers a welcome…um, distraction? Respite? And who knows? Maybe Rebuilt can (at the very least) offer the rest of us a glimmer of hope that the emergence of a third category might still happen. Someday…

  10. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    Thank you, Fritz, for this insightful reflection on your experience. I hope to see the place firsthand when I attend their Matter conference next month. I can’t say that I would copy their every move in my parish, but I think they ask the right questions and are unafraid to experiment with solutions.

    You make an interesting point about their use of screens. There is an evangelical mega-church here in St. Louis that has one main campus, several satellite campuses, plus a large following via their televised broadcast. Each campus has its own sanctuary, cafe, bookstore, children’s ministries, band, worship leaders and all the rest. But the message (preaching) of the pastor is broadcast live from the main campus to the other campuses. Effectively, one pastor is simultaneously preaching to several congregations plus a live television audience. This has allowed them to expand their membership throughout the metropolitan area. They have even opened a new campus in Florida, perhaps with ambitions of going nation-wide.

    The liturgist in me bristles at the thought of a broadcast homily, whether live or prerecorded, taking the place of a real person ministering to a particular community. But having experienced plenty of poor preaching from priests who barely speak the language of their congregation and don’t know the culture, priests whose homilies consist of a few tired jokes and an inspirational quote read from Reader’s Digest, on and on, I wonder if this isn’t a better solution.

    Might the future of Catholic liturgy have a place for broadcast preaching viewed on screens, perhaps from someone as engaging as Fr. Michael White or Fr. Robert Barron?

  11. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    For the sake of comparison, can anyone suggest another Catholic parish that has elicited such rapid growth in attendance: 1500+ new visitors, 562 new registered parishioners in 12 months time? To compare apples to apples, it would need to be a territorial parish (not an oratory or chapel drawing from a wide area based upon some special interest or devotion) and in an area with a stable population (not in some rapidly-growing community.) Aren’t there some thriving mega-parishes in the south and west? I think it is good to examine the practices of successful parishes to learn from their experience.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Scott Pluff – comment #13:
      I think one would want to sort out how many of the new parishioners are 1) unchurched folk 2) people from other Christian traditions, 3) inactive Catholics, or 4) Catholics active to some degree in other parishes who decide they like Nativity better. I know a number of #4’s, including some former parishioners from my parish (drawn largely by Nativity’s programs for youth), though I have no idea of how the growth at Nativity actually breaks down.

  12. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
    Anthony Ruff, OSB

    By the way, folks, don’t miss Scott Pluff’s very fine book review of Rebuilt which Pray Tell recently ran:

    I hope Pray Tell can run more posts about this important topic – this is a book and movement exercising real influence on U.S. Catholicism.


    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #14:
      ” . . . this is a book and movement exercising real influence on U.S. Catholicism.”

      But, really, how much real influence is it exercising on U.S. Catholicism? I see it periodically as a topic to be chewed, and I am sure it happens in seminars and whathaveyou, but at this stage I question how much real influence it is having.

      I have a new slogan. Smite The Screen. (and, yes, I am fully aware of the recursive nature of the link. That’s part of the point in linking it. Showing that the commercial mentality is inherently recursive):

  13. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    Scott: the comparison isn’t perfect, as it took them longer than 12 months, but Old St. Pat’s in Chicago is a well-known story of near-death, rebirth, robust growth and many new and wonderful things.

    This documentary ran recently on our local PBS station. Sorry, I don’t have an article to refer to.

    Liturgically, they weren’t as radical as Nativity, but they’ve set a premium on high standards: doing the ‘normal’ things extremely well.

  14. Sherry Weddell Avatar
    Sherry Weddell

    Scott – seriously there are number of fast growing parishes out there that we have worked in. St. Matthews in Charlotte sees 750 new families register every month! St. Kateri in Santa Clarita grew by 3,000 in 5 years. All Saints Manassas has 20,000 members and 7 Masses every weekend that a standing room only. There are a couple of EF only parishes that have famously been resurrected and grown tremendously. Our Lady of Good Counsel, Ann Arbor is busting at the seams (8k) and evangelizing like a house afire. One evangelizing LA parish that I have worked in saw 1,500 more people show up at Christmas 2013 than the Christmas before. The dynamics behind the growth of these very different parish are complex and different. And none of them have a Rebuilt style liturgy. There can be a lot of reasons why declining parishes revive and average ones boom.

  15. Andrea Duda Avatar
    Andrea Duda

    I’m not a liturgical purist, but this doesn’t sound like a parish that would appeal to me. On the other hand, I’m not their target demographic so I guess that’s OK.

    I think it’s great that they have a goal in mind and gear everything toward that goal. They’re more likely to achieve something than a parish that simply trudges on doing the same old thing.

    I was thinking at Mass yesterday that attending is becoming more depressing than anything else. I hate the new translation so that’s been a problem for almost three years now. The church is about 1/4 full when Mass starts and goes up to maybe 3/8 full by the gospel. There is constant movement of people walking around and getting settled through the prayers and readings. No one sings and it doesn’t seem to matter much if it’s something contemporary, something old, or the Mass parts that are sung every week. The cantor is talented but you wouldn’t be able to hear the singing over the cantor and organ anyway. People are mostly seated in ones and twos with a very few families; each individual or group is widely separated from the next. Mostly everything just felt blah. We got our “obligation” out of the way, but I didn’t see much that would attract a visitor or seeker to want to come back next week.

  16. Elizabeth Pike Avatar
    Elizabeth Pike

    Thank you for writing this article! I have been exceptionally interested in the book Rebuilt (although I find somethings more valuable in the book than others, naturally). My church has recently purchased this book for several committees and told them to read it to “start a conversation but not to copy.” It is interesting to read a review from someone with liturgical background, and, I would say, exceptionally helpful!

  17. Sean Keeler Avatar
    Sean Keeler

    Having spent the work week sitting through (and presenting) a never-ending series of online/PowerPoint presentations, the absolute last thing I want to do is spend my liturgical duty with yet another one! I’ve attended only one such service in my life and will never do it again. (I found myself engaging in the ubiquitous typo hunt rather than paying attention to the Mass.)

    That said, however, I acknowledge dating from the Pleistocene era, so have one request of Mr. Bauerschmidt: could you please ask your son for his overall opinion of the experience? His is the up and coming generation of Church leaders, and I’d love to hear his take on it. Thanks.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Sean Keeler – comment #21:
      Well, my son is a bit unusual, inasmuch as he a musician who goes to an arts high school and has a particular fondness for Beethoven’s odd-numbered symphonies. But he also listens to hip hop and reggae so he’s not totally out of the loop. He found it interesting, but did not think it was any more relevant to his out-of-church experience than what he experiences at our parish, which is a 19th century neo-gothic jewel where we sing music ranging from the medieval to the modern (but no electric guitars–the resonant acoustics would make that a nightmare).

  18. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    The insight that I will carry away from this review is

    As a testimony to the significance of THE SCREENS in the experience of liturgy at Nativity, I find that in thinking back on the three liturgies I attended and the two that I watched streamed online, I have trouble keeping them straight in my mind, largely because my eyes were focused on THE SCREENS even when I was physically present, making the two experiences eerily alike. Indeed, the darkened church and the illuminated screens ended up making me feel profoundly isolated from my fellow worshippers, as if I were watching the liturgy on my laptop at home. For all of Nativity’s laudable concern to seek out the lost and to welcome the stranger, I found the experience of the liturgy itself a bit lonely.

    plus the comment that even when he could see the presider and other ministers for real, Fritz still ended up watching them on THE SCREENS instead.

    I had never previously thought of screens as instrumental in dividing the community and turning it from a worshipping body into a collection of individuals who all happen to be watching the same thing at the same time and who, although drawn in, may in fact experience being solitary or lonely. But this, plus the grossly-out-of-proportion size of screens in most churches that have them — massive symbols that dwarf the primary liturgical symbols completely — are surely two compelling reasons to restrict the use of screens to extra-liturgical functions such as videos of the bishop for pastoral letters or appeals, or perhaps occasionally a background function such as projecting images during the Easter Vigil readings.

  19. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    Was energized by the book but after reading this account of how they worship at Nativity I’m perplexed. No periods of silence, one reader, truncated response, bombastic music punctuated by chant, no procession of gifts, no take and drink, and rapid fire prayers. I’m shocked that the comments were not more critical.

  20. Gregory Hamilton Avatar

    I was very surprised that they have a pipe organ! is it played, and does anyone know anything about it?
    Thank you for a good article, I thought you were rather kind about it all.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Gregory Hamilton – comment #24:
      In my experience, one rarely (though not never) regrets being kind.

  21. Sherry Weddell Avatar
    Sherry Weddell

    I believe that the picture is an artist’s rendering of the new sanctuary they want to build. There is no organ in the present sanctuary which is much smaller and can’t hold more than 5 – 600.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Sherry Weddell – comment #27:
      Actually, the picture is the current church building (only much more brightly lit than I’ve ever actually seen it– that might be what is throwing you off). The organ is indeed there, and perhaps it is used for an occasional wedding, but they don’t use it on weekend liturgies. From what I can tell, Fr. White actually likes classical music quite a bit and at one point while he was pastor Nativity actually had a men and boys choir. But this was dropped as part of the transformation of the parish into something more seeker-friendly.

  22. Maria Kaplan Avatar
    Maria Kaplan

    Actually, there is an organ in the church off to the side as shown in the photo and not very noticeable when the band is set up. It is never used. (I asked.) I believe they do not have weddings or funerals there. But I’m not 100% sure about no funerals.

  23. Sherry Weddell Avatar
    Sherry Weddell

    They have funerals but you have to bring in your own priest because Fr. White doesn’t do funerals – a long standing policy according to parish members and those who attended the Matter conference. Interesting, it was so dark when I was there (part of a group of leaders in town for a conference) that I really didn’t see the organ at all.

    1. Scott Pluff Avatar
      Scott Pluff

      @Sherry Weddell – comment #30:
      I’m not sure this is accurate. There is a chapter in the second book, Tools for Rebuilding, where Fr. White cautions about not letting funerals trump every other priority of staff and schedule. When the funeral director comes calling, he or she often has the date and time decided for the funeral and expect the church and pastor to drop everything, cancel their appointments, and go into full-on funeral mode for the next two or three days. Fr. White makes the point that he is not available 24-7 for funerals, that if you want him to celebrate one you need to work with him on availability. And if your family or the deceased has no connection to the pastor, may not even be members of the parish, don’t be shocked if the funeral is celebrated by another priest, deacon, etc. This all seems reasonable.

      1. Philip Spaeth Avatar
        Philip Spaeth

        @Scott Pluff – comment #32:
        OK… that makes sense, so I amend my hastily written comment. I guess I’m coming from the POV of a music minister who often has to drop everything for a funeral because the stipend is sorely needed and/or I am at a point where I know most of our parish families too well to say “no”!

  24. Will Smith Avatar
    Will Smith

    Great post. Terrific insights.Thank you.
    My take on the music as a former music teacher turned Director of Liturgy and Music for a large suburban parish:
    The lack of congregation singing on the Christian Rock songs stems from the range they are performed in. Often, they are performed at Nativity in the original key. How many Chris Tomlins or professional singers are running around the average Catholic parish? Not many. While belting out your favorite K-Love hit alone in the car is one thing – doing the same at Mass may be a different story, especially for a Timonium Tim. This adds to the performance of the band – a kind of “sing if you can” or “be quiet if you can’t” for the congregation. This also explains the “extra boost” in singing chant. The chant is short, easy to pick up and in an accessible key for average singers. The use of contemporary music is a step in the right direction – much of the music written for today is simple in structure and repeated for easy learning. Short phrases are easier to learn than an entire unknown traditional hymn that has few (if any) repeated elements. A simple lowering of the rock songs by a step or even a half step may take away from the band, but it will help the congregation participate.
    I have attended Mass at Nativity twice and went to their “Matter” conference last year. While there is much to glean from this parish and their approach, it is important to remember that (as the authors state in the introduction to their book) – this is what they did that worked at Nativity. Some things may apply to your parish, but not everything.

  25. Gail Finke Avatar

    Very interesting and thoughtful piece. I have not read “Rebuilt” yet (it is on my long to-read list) but I’ve been wary about what comes across to me as the parish’s being slick and dismissive of any other approach (which I know may not be true at all, that’s just the impression I get). Everything in the American Church is so up in the air these days, I’m glad I am not a pastor. I think we’re living in a time that is rebuilding “the way we do Mass” and in 100 years Mass will look a little like this — and a little like the way Mass is done at a lot of other churches. We are looking for a way to be American, Catholic, faithful, open, welcoming, hierarchical, historical, “place-making,” and more… This approach is not, I think, what I would like but it’s very interesting.

  26. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    Fritz, did you happen to visit the cafe or various programs between Masses? That idea interests me greatly, to have food/faith sharing/formation between Masses so people come and spend the morning rather than a quick in and out.

    I once visited an Episcopal church (sadly I forget which church or city) that had high-church Anglican liturgy followed by fellowship in the adjacent building with a full breakfast menu, espresso bar, bookstore area, leather couches, and even a jazz pianist. Traditional liturgy can be paired with very progressive hospitality. This was a wonderful contrast to my usual experience of people showing up for Mass somewhere around the second reading and leaving after Communion. In that mode, attending/celebrating Mass is handled in the same mode as picking up the dry cleaning–check it off the list.

  27. Philip Spaeth Avatar
    Philip Spaeth

    What a wonderfully detailed and thought-provoking post! I read the book a year or two ago, and the most important take-away for me (in terms of liturgy, that is), was that liturgical ministers need to perform their ministries *well*, which means being well-prepared. Whether presider, homilist, musician, lector, usher, EM, server, etc., everyone needs to prepare adequately. When ministers are poorly prepared, or take their ministry for granted, it can add greater confusion to those who may be among us who have little to no experience with Catholic liturgy. What strikes me in this review, though, is that the liturgy at Nativity seems too packaged and professional. I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s insistence upon getting postmodern Christians out of their consumerist habits and into the business of discipleship, but it almost seems that they have traded placating one consumer group (churchpeople) for placating another consumer group (Timonium Tim). The latter is simply a more lucrative demographic at the moment. What they put forward in theory in the book is very important, and we should all take it to heart, but I am not convinced that the reality at Nativity is best practice, at least in terms of liturgy. I greatly admire Fr. White’s commitment to good homiletics, though.

    Love the Hank Hill quote, too! Well-done music and a full understanding of this ministry as service are what gets a congregation singing, not one particular style. The music folks at Nativity seem to me to be performers, not ministers as such. Whether leading from an organ, piano, in front of a choir, or within a band, a music minister has to be able to LISTEN to the people as THEY sing. Then again, THE SCREENS would convince me that this is a one-way stream of communication, just like TV.

    Re: Sherry Waddell at #30: Doesn’t do funerals?! Not a great pastoral decision in my book, but I suppose he has his reasons. I am having trouble hypothesizing any good ones, though.

    1. David Jaronowski Avatar
      David Jaronowski

      Quite frankly, although it sounds as though they have some great ideas, and elements of their model are worth imitating, it sounds as though there is a lot wrong with it. And of what’s wrong with it, it sounds like so called liturgical “conservatives” and “progressives” can unite in agreement that their liturgy is not ideal. What’s more, they’ve traded Catholic identity, and that is, in my opinion, most unfortunate.

      As much as I’m a proponent of professional musicians in the liturgy, I’m not a proponent of the professionalization of the liturgy to this degree. Having a staff member as lector because she holds a communications degree? Using nothing but professional singers and musicians? Eliminating laity from most other aspects of the mass? Is mass at Nativity really the “work of the people?”

    2. Scott Pluff Avatar
      Scott Pluff

      @Philip Spaeth – comment #34:
      I agree that Nativity’s choice of music is not for everyone and would not fit my parish. Coming into to my present assignment three years ago I inherited a performance-oriented tradition of classically-based organ and choir music. I was told that the previous year at Midnight Mass there were just two carols and a couple of acclamations where the congregation was invited to sing, while the choir/orchestra/soloists performed the greatest hits of sacred music throughout the evening. I have worked steadily to build up our congregational singing with a wider variety of musical styles and the introduction of occasional guitars and percussion while maintaining a foundation of organ/choir/hymn singing. This move has been received very well and singing has steadily improved.

      I find it interesting to compare the performance aspects of amplified praise-band music with that of classical organ/choir music where liturgy has the feel of a concert. Both put the congregation into a passive mode, albeit in different styles.

      1. Philip Spaeth Avatar
        Philip Spaeth

        @Scott Pluff – comment #38:
        I completely agree. It is not the style so much as the way in which it is presented. I, too, use a variety of musical styles in our liturgy, and anything can become a performance piece if one is not sensitive to the assembly. I was fortunate to inherit a very engaged singing assembly 13 years ago, and, while the congregation and musical repertoire have changed somewhat over time (as they inevitably do), this aspect has sustained itself, as has the wonderful hospitality of the people. I do not take full credit for the singing at all, as it is ultimately the work of the Spirit and all of us together (and there s also always work to be done), but, if I were a sub-standard accompanist with a surly disposition directing a squeaky choir with poor intonation, this would certainly not help! So, there is something to be said for Nativity’s insistence on professionalism (in other words, being well-prepared for ministry), but this should be balanced with additional focus on engaging the assembly’s participation.

        I have also found success with the variety of styles you mention, so I would say there is something to this!

        I would add this, too: I write a fair amount of music for my parish, including the mass setting we use most of the year. Parishioner feedback on this is overwhelmingly positive (and not just the feedback that comes directly to me). I do not believe this is necessarily a reflection of the music’s quality (though one can hope!), but more a reflection of the fact that we see one another as family. This aspect is important in parish liturgical life. Perhaps Nativity’s cafe and other fellowship opportunities make up for what is lacking in a familial experience of their liturgy, but this should then feed the liturgical experience and continue to flow from it. This cannot happen if the liturgy is too professionally “managed”.

  28. Andrew Langlands Avatar

    I enjoyed your article. To use a few terms from “Rebuilt” feels right to me. For church-world, this type of liturgy might be difficult. Remember, they want to attract the un-churched or hardly churched into their community. they want to spread the good word, and build COMMUNITY among those who are searching for one. I attended Matter.13, stayed the weekend and went to Mass. As someone who works in church world I was struck by the differences in how they do Mass as opposed to how we do Mass. I enjoyed the differences, especially enjoyed readings proclaimed by someone who was well prepared, well spoken and professional. The Music – the Musicians – all excellent. The pace of Mass and message were awesome. Mass is about Worship! I went to 5 pm mass on Saturday. people were singing the songs, clapping, moving to the music… they were engaged and participating. I don’t know if my current community of 70 – 100 yr old people would like it, and maybe they will take their $1 and put it in a different basket, but I see the difference between worship in an empty church (most of them these days) and one filled with participants (Nativity) who want to be blessed by community. I would enjoy the chance to work in a setting that wants to try it!

  29. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    From Fritz’s review: “The Director of Communications for the parish was the lector at all the Masses I attended or watched. She was a very good reader: clear and expressive without being overly dramatic. I do not know if she serves the same function at the other weekend Masses. ”

    This strikes me as one of Nativity’s more thought-provoking decisions: to have what seems to be, for all practical purposes, a professional lector.

    I get the appeal: a professional is going to be consistently excellent; and in today’s world, in which we consume professional excellence in the spoken word all the time via television, films, radio, podcasts, Youtube, etc., etc., Timonium Tim comes to church with an expectation of excellence. In fact, “expectation of excellence” almost isn’t the right formula; it’s that we’re so used to this mediated, professional excellence from our media consumption that when we experience public proclamation that isn’t professionally excellent, we think the production house that foisted it upon us must really be a bunch of incompetent boobs. And presumably, Timonium Tim hasn’t the time or patience to spend time (or money!) on a bunch of incompetent boobs.

    Like virtually all parishes, ours has a group of volunteer readers, and while most of them are competent or better, the quality isn’t as consistent as a stable of professional actors would deliver.

    Most pastors and directors of liturgy, being kind and compassionate persons, apparently feel that it is better to settle for mediocre proclamation from time to time, than to fire a volunteer lector who really shouldn’t be up there. Obviously, the team at Nativity disagrees, as it seems, from Fritz’s review, that they made the decision to fire their volunteers. (As there are commenters who seem to be knowledgeable about Nativity, perhaps they can correct me if I’m wrong about this.)

    If I am right, then perhaps this is an example of their laser focus on mission. Did they leave hurt and disappointed volunteers in their wake?

    1. David Jaronowski Avatar
      David Jaronowski

      @Jim Pauwels – comment #39:
      It’s a real concern to me how many people and classes of people they’ve potentially alienated.

      I love some of the dismissive posturing in the book: jabs that imply that “normal people” don’t walk around listening to choral and organ music on their I-pods, and other sentiments such as getting rid of lectors and risking hurting the feelings of “church people” to find “the lost.”

      Well, what exactly, is this saying? They don’t come right out and use the label “liturgy nerds” or “music nerds,” but that is definitely what they are implying when they talk about who does and doesn’t walk around listening to organ and choral music. So are they really saying that this is a church for the “cool kids?” That there really are some people who should just be excluded for the greater good?

      What about that whole business of leaving the 99 sheep to seek the 1?

    2. Ren Aguila Avatar
      Ren Aguila

      @Jim Pauwels – comment #40:
      The order of Readers in the Orthodox churches is, as far as I know, a permanent one, and perhaps another thought-provoking question comes up here: why did the Latin Church throw out the minor orders to begin with if, perhaps, they could have been used as the basis for a more “professional” pattern of non-ordained (i.e., not in the orders of bishop, priest, deacon) ministry? (The EF practice might be different, and like you, I wonder what did happen to the volunteers.)

      1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Ren Aguila – comment #67:

        Read Ministeria Quaedam (1972) [EWTN trans.]. Previously, any man in any one of the minor orders was formally bound to celibacy, even the porter. I suspect that the decision to abolish the minor orders and reassign the offices of lector and acolyte/subdeacon to instituted ministries open to married men (vir) was a way to not only distinguish the major orders from all other functions but also to permit married men to have a formal role in the liturgy. In reality, these instituted offices are usually held by seminarians who are practically bound to celibacy even before the diaconate. It’s a roundabout, really.

        There’s every good reason to institute women as lectors and acolytes. I think it would be rude for a scheduled lector, and especially a lay woman, to be displaced by a seminarian simply because he is in attendance. I believe this possibility was mentioned at a curial meeting, but shelved for some reason.

      2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #68:
        I thought that the promise of celibacy only came in with the subdiaconate. I know in the middle ages there were married men, like the poet William Langland, who were in minor orders.

      3. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #69:

        Thank you very much Deacon Fritz. Celibacy (and the obligation of the Office) started at ordination to the subdiaconate.

      4. Ren Aguila Avatar
        Ren Aguila

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #68:
        Yes, I do recall reading this one. It’s really interesting that the instituted ministries (no longer minor orders) have, in practice, not really flourished but became part of the “cursus honorum” that was the case with the minor orders.

        To Jim’s comment–it is all a bit of a muddle indeed.

      5. Jim Pauwels Avatar
        Jim Pauwels

        @Ren Aguila – comment #67:

        Re: minor orders: in the Latin Church, they were replaced, at least on paper, with the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte. But as Jordan noted, for the most part, those permanent, stable ministries haven’t really been implemented, except as milestones for those who are on the path to ordained ministry.

        Ironically, the reader in Fritz’s review, whom he reports to be competent and professional, isn’t eligible to be instituted as a lector because … she’s a woman. And those who are instituted, almost all of whom are on the road either to priesthood or permanent diaconate (and every single one of whom is male) needn’t demonstrate any particular aptitude or skill in proclaiming God’s word. There are un-instituted volunteer lectors in our parish who do as good a job (or better!) of proclaiming the readings than any of our ordained guys who proclaim the Gospel passages. The whole thing is a bit of a muddle.

  30. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

    Thank you for this post Fritz. So thoughtful and detailed; I really took my time reading it.

    From day one, when I received a promotional copy of Rebuilt, I was a bit skeptical. Perhaps it was years of corporate work where the “next big thing” style of management and consultant could drive anyone to distraction. While I think that there are some good takeaways from both Rebuilt and Tools, overall, I am largely unmoved. And of course, I am a far cry from Timonium Tim!

    So many of the things that you described would be challenging for me. THE SCREENS for one thing. I’m someone, and I hate to admit this, that struggles when in a restaurant or other public space with attention deficit disorder around screens. I know that my eyes would be drawn there, and I know that at mass I would dislike that. There are many other things, like the lectoring and use of video that would be turnoffs for me.

    Not so long ago I heard from a friend, who has migrated from the Catholic church to another denomination. As it happens, his family were members at Nativity, pre-Rebuilt. As a young family deeply engaged in their faith, they were interested in pressing ahead with what was happening as Fr White began the change. The problem was that the trusted group of advisors to Fr White became not gatekeepers but the gate – which was locked. If my friend’s account is accurate, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, you could only talk to them, and not the priest. Like a renovation project or reconstruction, ahem, rebuilt, the old had to give way to the new. He never found a place at the table, despite the desire. As I said, he is now another denomination, happily so.

    Overall it seems like finding Timonium Tim brought forth the lost of those who populated the pews before. Hmmm… their go my feelings about corporations, out with the old and in with the new.

    Sorry to be so long winded!

  31. Joseph J. Koechler Avatar
    Joseph J. Koechler

    Thank you for the great commentary. I am a member of our parish pastoral council in Daytona Beach. We have used Rebuilt in our strategic plan over the past two years. As to liturgy, we have used several of Rebuilt’s ideas. We have a very active welcoming ministry. We use two “screens” (actually walls) to project words to music and texts. We do this for two reasons: to save on the costs of printed hymnals and to give us flexibility as to liturgy contents. I would say that the music at our 11 am Sunday liturgy has more community participation than reported at Nativity. We have 4 Eucharist celebrations each weekend – each in a different “style.” Saturday at 4pm is with choir. 8am on Sunday is plain and simple with a leader of song and traditional hymns. 9:30 is a children/family celebration with children’s choir. 11am uses a praise band. Since the introduction of this praise band liturgy we have picked up attendance, especially from our black family population. Our pastor is an expert homilist – homilies usually last at least 15 minutes and are all based on the Gospel reading with a strong connection to daily life and our parish mission statement on justice. (Each Sunday’s homily is available on the web.) We are a small parish with only 400 active families in a poor area. We have only the pastor (no deacon) and we have a school.
    We have well trained lectors and eucharistic ministers. Communion under both species is offered at every liturgy. Lastly, based on Rebuilt, we have retrofit adjoining space for a cafe – immediately accessible from the narthex. It is extremely popular and helps build community spirit.

  32. Philip Spaeth Avatar
    Philip Spaeth

    I would also like to add to this discussion that I have a HUGE problem with liturgies at which the cup is not offered. This is not only because of sign value, greater richness of sacramental theology, etc. As I have mentioned before at PrayTell, my wife has a wheat allergy (not gluten, but wheat itself), and therefore can only receive from the cup (low-gluten hosts are still made of wheat!). In other words, for her, it’s “no cup, no Communion”.

    I have found that, most times, especially Sundays, if the cup is not offered, it is for expediency’s sake, or at least the perception thereof. I hope that Nativity will rethink their practice in the future. “Take this, all of you, and drink from it… unless Father wants to keep things moving.” Yikes!

    1. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

      @Philip Spaeth – comment #45:
      Thanks for saying this Philip. In our diocese (we are in the same deanery, I work at Immaculate Conception and worship at St Edward’s) it is very common, but I would say that in my travels, I find it uncommon to have a cup.

      1. Philip Spaeth Avatar
        Philip Spaeth

        @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #50:
        Indeed, Fran. I would agree that, in general, our diocese does a good job of consistently offering both species. It does seem to be less common in other places (perhaps this is the case in Maryland), although parish musicians are not afforded much opportunity for “liturgical tourism”. So, my experience in other places is somewhat limited, but, from what I hear, this is very often the case.

  33. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    What has been said about funerals is a very telling detail. If the pastor won’t be available for funerals, or does not accord them priority, he is saying volumes about his theology, his psychology, and his anthropology.

    The denial of death in our society is a rampant social problem. Outsourcing funerals means handing off one of the most important duties of a pastor, and one of the most pastoral liturgical exercises in the Catholic ritual vocabulary. Why is this not important enough to merit the attention of the pastor? Too busy with power point to spend time with people who are grieving a loss? For shame.

    1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      @Rita Ferrone – comment #45:
      I also question whether funeral directors expect a pastor to go into “full on funeral mode for 2-3 days.” See comment 33. I’ve worked in churches. That sort of “full on” mode happens when it’s a big funeral, in tragic circumstances or with the expectation that it will be attended by an extraordinary number of people and so requires special preparation, but it’s hardly typical.

      What does it mean to “work with me on availability”? Cold storage? The whole culture of denial puts off grieving a loss when it occurs because it cannot cope with the harsh reality of death. The impulse of putting it off to a “more convenient time” when it’s a “memorial” of sweet things about the deceased rather than an encounter with the painful aspects of bereavement, is an evasion. The “work with me on availability” seems to play right into this.

    2. Jim Pauwels Avatar
      Jim Pauwels

      @Rita Ferrone – comment #46:

      “What has been said about funerals is a very telling detail.”

      Hi, Rita, I agree with everything you’ve written here. But permit me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Without denying that funerals are important – are they more important than the Sunday celebration of mass? Are they more important than reaching out to the unchurched? If the pastor is saying, in effect, “Funerals are one of those things that are for the church people; my focus is on the Timonium Tims; therefore, bring in a visiting priest for the funeral, because I need that time to work on my six-part series of homilies on balancing work and faith” – well, that might actually be defensible. At least, more defensible than, “Sorry, no can do the funeral – my regular tee time is at 10 am on Tuesdays.”

      I guess I pretty much disagree with the whole philosophy that “church people” aren’t stakeholders with a legitimate claim on the parish’s resources. I do know, though, that funerals, even if they’re not the overwhelming imposition that was claimed in a previous comment, do consume time and energy, and are disruptive almost by definition because of their unpredictability.

      More than once I’ve been extremely frustrated because I’ve been unable to find a priest available to go to a hospital on a moment’s notice to anoint a patient who probably wasn’t going to live through the night. Yet I understand that there are fewer priests than before, and they do need to manage their time and sometimes that means making tough decisions.

      Just offering this as food for thought.

      1. Fr. David Mowry Avatar
        Fr. David Mowry

        @Jim Pauwels – comment #51:

        In my experience as a priest, I think funerals are actually *more* important for seeking the lost than Sunday Mass. When are the unchurched most likely to be churched? When do fallen away Catholics come back to Mass for the first time in a long time? When a father or mother, themselves a faithful Catholic, passes away, and the funeral is held in the local parish. I find funerals to be powerful moments to preach about the importance of faith in Christ, baptism, and the communion of the Church.

      2. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        @Jim Pauwels – comment #51:
        Hi Jim,

        Timonium Tim is going to die one day. He may not want to face it, but he is. And so is Fr. White, and so are you and I. Death is one of those dire and uncomfortable facts against which all ultimate questions are formulated, and how we respond is a test of what we believe at the most basic level. Our rites give us a vocabulary of words and gestures to express this, and they do so incomparably.

        I’d say death is hugely important, which is not to say that Sunday Mass isn’t, but the one necessitates the other. How we respond to death is an incomparable witness to what we believe. Without a robust commitment to dealing with death, Sunday Mass becomes just a vehicle for “messages” and evangelization just a vehicle for “growing your congregation.”

        Thanks for the challenge, but I don’t believe we can get to the meaning of Mass or of evangelization while leaving death aside to be dealt with at a time convenient. The heart of the Eucharist is the paschal mystery. If we have faced that squarely and not softened it to some form of anodyne uplift, it ought to have some serious consequences for how we approach death and respond to our mortality.

      3. Philip Spaeth Avatar
        Philip Spaeth

        @Rita Ferrone – comment #53:
        Amen, Rita. Fr. Mowry’s point about evangelization is also very true, and I am surprised that, for all of Nativity’s focus on the “lost”, funerals there would get such a secondary treatment. Perhaps it makes for awkward discussion as to what to put up on the screens? I do not mean to be snarky, but it really seems that their liturgical style would not lend itself well to the funeral Mass.

      4. Scott Pluff Avatar
        Scott Pluff

        @Philip Spaeth – comment #56:
        Nativity offers a special Mass each month to pray for those who have died and to support the families of the deceased. I believe they also have an outreach ministry to the bereaved, led by lay volunteers. Just because they have reformed their funeral practices to be more lay-led and less pastor-centric doesn’t mean they have shirked their pastoral responsibility.

      5. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

        @Scott Pluff – comment #57:
        I do not agree with this… as a person who is in general supportive of and desiring lay-led-less-pastor-centric things, I do not see the funeral as one of those things.

        We have between 50 and 60 funerals a year, and just one priest. It can be difficult, but I find that funerals are so powerful in touching the lives of those who have been away from church. Even if they never return, they never seem to forget how God’s mercy, generosity, and support carry them.

      6. Jim Pauwels Avatar
        Jim Pauwels

        @Rita Ferrone – comment #53:
        Hi, Rita, once again, I agree wholeheartedly.

  34. Mark Kieffer Avatar
    Mark Kieffer

    Regarding funerals:

    I don’t wish to hijack this thread, but I find the information about funerals as given in “Tools” to be both accurate AND troubling at the same time. As a full-time director of music & liturgy in a medium-sized suburban parish, I provide guidance and music for more than 40 funerals a year. Our pastoral philosophy regarding funerals is to be as accommodating as possible and to view it as a “liminal moment” in family life. How many people have left the church over a poorly handled funeral, wedding or baptism experience? My anecdotal evidence suggests that this number is not small!

    Another question that begs asking: According to canon law, Christian Burial is a “right” of those who are baptized. I would hope that Nativity provides this for any registered parishioner for whom it is requested as well as for those who reside within their canonical boundaries?

    Perhaps a new thread could be created at some point to discuss what I have experienced as an ever-increasing “consumer mentality” regarding funerals held in churches.

  35. Mark Kieffer Avatar
    Mark Kieffer

    @Rita Ferrone in #46 & #47

    You also make some good points about funerals that you posted while I was writing my post. It is almost as if funerals are one of those annoying things from “Churchworld” that would get in the way of evangelization to the lost at Nativity.

    I am surely not the only one who sees a disconnect between this “practice” as I perceive it and Fr. White’s claim to “Dynamic Orthodoxy.”

  36. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    At times in my parish we have one priest who serves two parishes plus a variety of diocesan duties. Try as he might, he cannot be in two or three places at one time. As his pastoral associate, I am trained and prepared to make all of the planning and funeral arrangements. From the first scheduling call from the funeral home to the meetings and details with the family to finding liturgical ministers and musicians to confirming the committal at the cemetery and the following funeral luncheon, I am the point person. If available, our pastor celebrates the vigil service at the wake, the funeral Mass, and the committal. But if he is otherwise engaged or out of town, the deceased may well have a guest priest or deacon for these functions. This is the new normal in our area.

  37. Gregory Hamilton Avatar

    Alright I’m going to weigh in. I don’t get this “This is just what worked for us – this may not work for you”. Then why package it in books, podcasts, websites, videos, YouTube’s, conferences..? it seems that they DO indeed believe that this will work best for all of Am church, and are selling it as such. That’s what the thing is about.
    It does seem like an industry.

  38. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    Fr. David Mowry : @Jim Pauwels – comment #51: In my experience as a priest, I think funerals are actually *more* important for seeking the lost than Sunday Mass. When are the unchurched most likely to be churched? When do fallen away Catholics come back to Mass for the first time in a long time? When a father or mother, themselves a faithful Catholic, passes away, and the funeral is held in the local parish. I find funerals to be powerful moments to preach about the importance of faith in Christ, baptism, and the communion of the Church.

    Fr. Mowry, many thanks, and you’re surely right. But if I may push this just a bit farther: while what you say is undoubtedly true for the typical parish, it seems to me that the entire Rebuilt model is predicated on atypical mission outreach. Nativity is finding opportunities to call back the unchurched that most parishes miss, or don’t even consider. And their numbers suggest that they’re on to something.

    I’m not comfortable thinking of a funeral primarily as an evangelizing opportunity, as that is not its purpose (and I don’t suppose you are saying that is its purpose), but as you and Rita note, if we observe the rites with integrity and attention, then lost sheep may return to the fold as a sort of unintended fruit. We might even see in that happenstance an example of life and rebirth emerging from death.

    But here is the thing: if we agree that funerals (and baptisms and weddings) may be an ‘unintentional’ moment of evangelizing, are there also intentional moments? Is evangelizing part of our parish mission, and if so, how and when? I give Nativity credit for thinking in these terms. And for them, by the measure of new parishioners and attendees, it seems to be working.

  39. Joe Balistreri Avatar
    Joe Balistreri

    Thanks, Fritz, for the excellent review.

  40. Philip Spaeth Avatar
    Philip Spaeth

    Re: Scott at #57:
    Thank you, Scott. It was starting to look to me as if they were passing off a rather important pastoral duty. This statement does make me feel a little better, although I’m still not entirely convinced. Seems like one would have to have real parishioner experience at Nativity to really know how well their bereavement ministry is working. I would also be the first to acknowledge that, with priests being spread so thin these days, these situations are often less a matter of the ordained passing off a responsibility and more a matter of lay people stepping up, as you seem to do for your parish. They do claim to work very hard to involve all their lay people in ministry of some kind, so perhaps this works just as well for them with regard to bereavement. I’m still a bit uneasy that the pastor might put, say, a staff meeting ahead of a funeral in order of importance, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding the reports in these comments, or perhaps the reports are inaccurate. I do also understand that funeral homes often dictate everything, and, being at a parish near a National Cemetary, I also know that cemetaries can sometimes be even more rigid about scheduling!

  41. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

    What’s daily Mass like at Nativity?

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #63:
      I’m not sure. They do have one at 5:30 PM.

  42. Tony Phillips Avatar
    Tony Phillips

    Clearly there’s a demand for a place like this–a market, if you like–while (as several commenters pointed out here) it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s exactly the point–different people respond different to different types of liturgy. We need to recognise that the hierarchical church’s post-V2 strategy of “one-size-fits-all” has failed. The typical NO parish addresses one mindset (well represented on this blog), but others are alienated and have been for years. Hence the empty pews.

    The link to the Old St Pat’s (Chicago) video was instructive too–some people drive miles, past other churches, to find the parish that works for them. EF parishioners have been forced to do that for years.

    Not that parishes should have to do this in isolation. Dioceses and deaneries should work with parishes to ensure that a variety of worship styles are available to the people, and not serve them all the same bland vanilla liturgy in the interests of ‘unity’. I wonder how many bishops are up to that task. Never mind the professional musicians, sounds like we need to start making an MBA a prerequisite for becoming a bishop!

    I’m all for letting a thousand flowers bloom.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @Tony Phillips – comment #66:
      Ironically, White and Corcoran are against the idea of having different styles of Mass within a parish, since they think this fosters a consumer mentality. Rather than “let a thousand flowers bloom,” their approach (at least within a single parish) is more like Henry Ford’s: “you can have whatever color Model-T you want, as long as it’s black.”

      I’d also note that your proposal is an innovation, from the perspective of the history and tradition of the Church. While there was diversity in premodern liturgy, it was dictated by the diversity of local traditions, not by the diversity of individuals’ taste and preference. So maybe the idea of offering an array of different liturgical “styles” for people to choose from is the most fundamental inculturation we have done to postmodern consumer culture.

      1. Jim Pauwels Avatar
        Jim Pauwels

        @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #70:

        “Ironically, White and Corcoran are against the idea of having different styles of Mass within a parish, since they think this fosters a consumer mentality. Rather than “let a thousand flowers bloom,” their approach (at least within a single parish) is more like Henry Ford’s: “you can have whatever color Model-T you want, as long as it’s black.””

        Hi, Fritz, I’m not sure that the Rebuilt guys and Tony Phillips are talking about exactly the same thing; I took Tony’s suggestion to mean that different parishes would foster different styles across a deanery, whereas White and Corcoran seem to want uniformity within a single parish.

        Regarding that uniformity across all the masses for the weekend: I wonder, though, whether there isn’t a sort of a consumer/marketing notion that underlies that, too. Ford didn’t indulge his market with different colors and feature sets, but he did offer predictable quality and consistency, and his market seemed to value those things. I assume this is why Nativity has the professional musicians at all masses, and the pastor preaches every mass? (The latter policy really bugs me, as you can probably imagine :-)).

      2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        @Jim Pauwels – comment #72:
        The lay staff do sometimes offer the Message after the dismissal but before the final song. Would they let a lowly deacon give the Message after the Gospel? I don’t know. Deacons don’t seem to be on their radar screen.

      3. John Swencki Avatar
        John Swencki

        @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #70:
        One key doesn’t open all doors. Uniformity does not necessarily promote unity; in fact, it can tend to stifle the diversity of gifts with which the Spirt might be offering a community. A parish as a mosaic rather than a melting pot is preferable to me.

  43. John Corbyn Avatar
    John Corbyn

    I heard about a growing American R. C. parish and wondered what lessons it might have for my own English C of E parish. So I read ‘Rebuilt’ and watched a webcast service. I was gutted that all the lessons seemed to have been learnt from ‘the Evangelical church down the road’. Of course it could be that both Nativity and ‘the Evangelical church down the road’ are both just ‘doing church’ in a way which is suitable for suburban 21st century Americans. It did all seem rather ‘Evangelical with a Catholic veneer’. Is this the only way to build a growing church?

  44. Sean Keeler Avatar
    Sean Keeler

    Fritz Bauerschmidt : @Sean Keeler – comment #21: Well, my son is a bit unusual…

    Thanks much for the feedback. I detect a rightfully proud papa of a clever son… and perhaps future liturgist!

  45. Gordon Truitt Avatar
    Gordon Truitt

    I read through all the comments, and my concern with “Rebuilt” was untouched (I think). The parish has surrendered the goals of postconciliar worship to go after “the lost,” they say. But their description of Timonium Tim et al. suggests that these people have nothing to offer the parish, really. I read in their text and in their approach to worship a fairly self-contained pre-conciliar, non-ecumenical haughtiness that turned me off from the project more eve than the description and videos of worship. I am currently involved in preparing the 2015 NPM Annual Convention, with part of its theme being “Let the servant Church arise.” Such service, in my mind, turns the Church itself into a kind of seeker, offering what we have with a humility that is willing to learn from others as well. I find little of such humility in Nativity’s form of Catholicism. Maybe a barista form of service, but not much beyond that.

  46. scott lieb Avatar
    scott lieb

    Coming from a small, northeast parish I encounter the kind of spiritual stagnation that we all know and do not love…you know, non-participation (whether in singing the songs or saying the prayers), checking-in/checking-out, etc. I LOVE that there is a parish that documented a vision-driven process for how they were going to change that. LOVE it…because what I see mostly is “let’s just keep things the same no matter what” while parishes slowly die. My question: does anyone know of any books that highlight the process for making dynamic changes in a small parish setting (as opposed to the huge suburban setting)?

  47. Brian Cooney Avatar
    Brian Cooney

    I think your entry was very well done. I’m no liturgical scholar, but I am a parishioner at Church of Nativity. I live in Catonsville, MD, which is between 25 to 30 minutes from Timonium.

    I’ve been reading several blog comments about Church of Nativity and most of them refer to the Masses that are offered. I think a point needs to be made that there is much more to Nativity than what’s going on at the Masses..

    I have been a Catholic from birth and had what I thought was a very strong faith. But 15 years ago I lost my faith and came to fit the profile of “Timonium Tim”. I grudgingly went to Mass every Sunday because I didn’t want my wife to go by herself. I have to say I honestly hated every minute I was there.

    3 years ago, my son invited my wife and me to attend Mass at Nativity. Admittedly, I was somewhat “put off” by the video shots of the band and the pre-Mass “commercials”. But we went back because we were impressed by the homilies.

    What hooked us was the MESSAGE of the homily that was being preached and the welcoming spirit there. Both my wife and I feel like each message speaks directly to us. The message is to get out of the pews, take part in ministry and missions, love God, love others, and make disciples. That is what moved us to become parishioners at Nativity. We are now Small Group leaders where we meet each week to discuss the message preached the previous Sunday. We sit in the front row each Sunday and don’t pay a lot of attention to what is on the video screen unless we are singing. They’re not a distraction to us from that vantage point.

    Church of Nativity succeeded in their mission to bring this “Tim” back to the Catholic Church. I love the Lord with my whole being. I find it hard to stop talking about our parish and what it has done for my wife and me. Our whole lives have changed since we became parishioners there. I am extremely proud of my parish and I thank God every day for sending me there and giving me back the gift of faith in him.

  48. John Lawton Jeffcoat III Avatar

    I’m not Catholic, so I will not critique the author’s review of this Catholic Church’s worship service, as that would be inappropriate and irrelevant for me, as a Protestant Christian, to do so.

    Rather, I simply wish to comment on how shocked I was to read the author’s criticism of the aesthetic beauty of the interior design of this sanctuary. It is one of the most beautiful church interiors I have ever seen.

    When I read the author’s comment:
    “The liturgical space of Nativity is a not-very inspiring 70s building, with no windows except for a wall of dark stained glass”
    … I was taken back at how anyone could look at such a beautiful space, and refer to it as being “not-very inspiring”.

    The photo of the sanctuary provided immediately jumps out at grabs your attention with its elegant roofline featuring large supportive beams and wood clad panels which come together at a central point, as though pointing to the heavens. The stained glass wall is simply spectacular.

    I will give you that its style may be somewhat “dated” reflecting the time period (1970’s to 1980’s) in which it was apparently built… but then, the great cathedrals of Europe are likewise “dated” in the beauty of their stained glass and stone wall interiors, and this is not seen as a negative.

    As the use of solid stone is absurdly cost prohibitive today (and indeed the great stone cathedrals often took over 100 years to build)… I am left wondering exactly what the author was ideally hoping for in terms of the interior aesthetics of this late 20th century sanctuary, given that its striking beauty was amazingly found to be “not very inspiring”.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @John Lawton Jeffcoat III:
      You are most certainly entitled to your reaction, but I would venture that many (not all) Catholics would find the aesthetics of that church underwhelming.

      To clarify with an illustration: this is a picture from a typical perspective within the space:×682.jpg

      I see that and as a stranger but a Catholic it reads: don’t get your hopes up too much, but try to avoid prejudging too much. (The fact that I am already having to sustain internal metaconversation is already a distraction from prayer.)

      The wood is nice. The windows. such as they are , are OK, but for a Catholic space, stingy in terms of placement.

      Unfortunately, linking more images tends to put comments into limbo here, so I have to forego trying to link contrasting examples from the past century of modern Catholic architecture.

    2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      @John Lawton Jeffcoat III:
      Thanks to Liam for posting the other picture of Nativity. After reading Mr. Jeffcoat’s comment I was thinking that the picture I posted definitely showed the building at its best. In addition, I really meant “not very inspiring,” in the sense that I saw nothing bad about the architecture but also saw nothing particularly great. I do think there are other very plain modern buildings that are inspiring, such as the churches of Emil Steffann and even Rudolph Schwarz’s church of Corpus Christi. By comparison, Nativity strikes me as “meh” (which is certainly better than “bleh”).

      Of course, I’m comparing it to my own parish, which I suspect many would find just plain distracting (plus has no room for video screens).

  49. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    Now, one contrasting example from the U.S. Northeast that is within a generation of that church and in a completely modern idiom (Deacon Fritz’s own Baltimore has a magnificent contemporaneous cathedral, too, but it’s arguably a bit more historicist in design) – mind you, I admit comparing a cathedral to a parish directly would be unfair, but the point of this illustration is merely to show a distinctly Catholic take on modern worship around 1960 as the winds of reform and embraces of modernity were gathering in the Catholic world (though Catholic architects had been using modern architecture for Catholic churches for a few generations before this):

    The Cathedral of Saint Joseph, Hartford, CT. My aunt was buried from this place, and it even works well for a small family funeral, even though one would think it would overwhelm such a thing.

  50. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    Another modern-with-wood landmark (on a non-cathedral scale) of the postwar era was the chapel for what was then the Portsmouth Priory (now Abbey) school, a Benedictine school in Portsmouth Rhode Island (just north of Newport), designed by Pietro Belluschi:

    Fritz, while Gothic is not one of my preferred styles, I wouldn’t find your church distracting in the least. (I wouldn’t mind some Victorian color…)

  51. Beth Kiesel Avatar
    Beth Kiesel

    As a “new” parishioner (just joined last Sunday), I feel the call to comment here, as late to the party as I am. I first attended this parish almost exactly 2 years ago, in March of 2014, just by “chance” (aka I was taken aback by the welcoming attitude of everyone, from the parking ministers (I wondered what enormous event was taking place that Sunday, that they had me park up on the grass! Of course, it was just an “ordinary” Sunday.) Greeters smiled and welcomed, and once inside, a friendly host walked us all around, trying to find space for 2 (it was very difficult, the church was packed.) The music was amazing- so professional (yet as I learned later, the music ministers are just like other ministers, volunteers). The format, with screens and lively music, took me back to my days as an Evangelical Protestant and I felt right at home. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed in the past 25 years. After Mass, my 17-yo daughter said she felt like she’d been on retreat- I have to say, that’s a good thing, right? And this, at a Mass where they were announcing the building of a brand new church, and needed money. I thought, I really would love to join this parish, but they want my money, and I don’t even go here! I went home and enthusiastically shared with my husband, who looked up the website. Eventually, he and the rest of my children began attending. It took us about a year to switch from our much-more-orthodox parish to Nativity, but we are all thrilled that we did. Nothing against our old parish, but honestly, my faith has taken off. In September, I joined a small group and immediately began to grow. You see, while Nativity purports being all about the “unchurched”, in small groups (and indeed in the Sunday message series themselves), church-people are continuously challenged to “take the next step,” whether that be in prayer, service, evangelization, community, or giving. In small groups, the weekly message is further studied and discussed by “us.” And then, we are challenged…

  52. Beth Kiesel Avatar
    Beth Kiesel

    (continued) We are challenged to *do* something in our own lives. This constant challenge and invitation to serve, evangelize, pray, tithe, etc. is exactly what I needed to hear as a Catholic. Before coming to Nativity, I was just a regular Sunday parishioner. Outside of a few announcements after Mass requesting Religious Ed teachers, nobody ever asked me to do anything. I felt it was our job to get to Mass, and then enter into a one-dimensional union with God, receive Communion, and then go home until next week. At nativity, I feel needed. When I first came, I thought “maybe this church isn’t for me. It’s for the unchurched. I’m a church-person.” Fast forward… I joined a small group in September, and by January I was asked to take over leadership of the group, which I did. At a “small group launch” (where small group leaders welcome new prospective members), I was asked by the Adult Ministry Coordinator to begin serving in ministry: specifically greeting at the doors. That’s gotta be the easiest volunteer job around, so I began doing that. It is really fun- smiling at everyone who walks through those doors, I always receive a smile back. No more “me and Jesus” mentality on Sundays! In February, I received a call from the Small Groups coordinator, and was asked to join a brand new Communications Team. We’ll be creating a blog for small groups! How cool is that?! Maybe other parishes don’t realize that the people in the pews need to get up and do something for the parish in order to grow. Sorry so long, but I wanted to emphasize that here at Nativity, it’s not just about “Timonium Tim” as many of you believe. Yes, it’s very much about “Tim.” But it’s about reaching the rest of us, too. Us “church-people,” we need to start putting our faith into action, in our own lives, in our parishes, and in our world. This parish wants that of us. And it helps us along the way. I can’t wait to find out what more is in store for me, and I pray that I will Step Up to the challenge. Our Catholic Church needs…

  53. Beth Kiesel Avatar
    Beth Kiesel

    Also, to answer about Daily Mass, it is traditional, more like other parishes. No music, held in the small chapel, Father White and the assistant clergy (Father Greg) seem to alternate. Father White gives no homily, Father Greg does. I love that it is held at 5:30pm rather than early morning. It’s much more accessible that way. Daily Mass is normally preceded by 5pm Rosary, but during Lent it is preceded by Stations of the Cross (again, traditional format.) Stations on Good Friday and during the 40-Hours of Prayer which starts on Ash Wednesday to kick off Lent, are more “Nativity” style, with worship music and held in the main church.

  54. Matthew W. I. Dunn Avatar
    Matthew W. I. Dunn

    ALL of these talented believers — not ONE of them Catholic — have put or been putting into practice and have brought or have been bringing into fulfillment Vatican II’s directives in Gaudium et Spes, ch. II . . . again: without being Catholic . . . and, you propose to look down on their ministry?!

    They have been doing what we, Catholics, were called to do — and, HAVEN’T DONE — over fifty years ago at Vatican II. And, you . . . dare . . .

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      Honestly, I’m confused as to whom you are addressing your comment. And what non-Catholics are you talking about? The folks at Nativity are all Catholics.

      1. Matthew W. I. Dunn Avatar
        Matthew W. I. Dunn

        I was responding to the comment in the blog above:

        “This might be because I’m a snob who simply doesn’t like Christian rock (I endorse heartily the immortal dictum of Hank Hill: “You’re not making Christianity better; you’re just making rock n’ roll worse”

        I sent a bunch of posts with links to Christian rock videos on Youtube from different genres: Metal, Hip-hop, Pop, etc.

        Evangelical/”Born-again”/whatever Christians have been doing for the past decades what Vatican II called on Catholics to do fifty years ago, namely: Evangelize the culture.

        What have you (or, Hank Hill) done?

      2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        Since Hank Hill is a cartoon character, I suspect he hasn’t done much. As for me… well I certainly haven’t done enough for God’s kingdom, that’s for sure.

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