The Times They Are a-Changin’
Today we republish another article from an earlier edition of the Brandsma Review. It’s by Charles Lowry (no relation of the former editor) who lives in New York. Chuck began his piece thus: “This is a reprint of an interview by TRIXIE VAPID of Katholics Are U.S. magazine. Ms. Vapid spoke to Canon Robert McCrafty, newly installed pastor of St. Pius X Church in Cinder Block, Illinois. Canon McCrafty responded to many questions concerning his ministry and his views on the future of the Church.”
Vapid: Canon McCrafty, congratulations on your assignment. You have moved very quickly in the past few weeks and, I feel, it is noteworthy that you changed the name of your parish back to St. Pius X.
McCrafty: Thank you, Ms. Vapid. Yes, I did restore the parish name to St.Pius X. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the previous name, the Community of Pius. When I was a boy, I remember reading a lot of the encyclical letters issued by Pope Pius X early in this century. I’m dealing with many happy emotions with his name restored and with the removal of the Community of Pius banners. I feel much more self-fulfilled and attribute my happy face to the change. I feel that the parishioners are entitled to a pastor with a happy face, not a sad one.
Vapid: Some of the parishioners wore sad faces when you removed the felt and burlap banners. How did that make you feel?
McCrafty: I felt their pain. I really did. I didn’t want to remove the banners. But I simply could not tolerate animal abuse. Let’s look at the facts. Wool was brutally removed from sheep, processed into felt and pasted on the burlap. Now I don’t judge the motives of those involved, but I simply could not bear to be reminded of sheep shivering in the wind by gazing on those banners every day. I’m a sensitive guy.
Vapid: But the Sisters you brought to staff the school—the Sisters of Perpetual Reparation—they wear wool habits which surround everything but their faces. How do you explain that?
McCrafty: The Church has always taught that when one is presented with two evils, one is to choose the lesser of the two. The sisters wear habits, in order to express their concern over the slaughter of baby seals. They enwrap themselves with the symbolic equivalent of baby seal pelts. Now I couldn’t tolerate actual pelts. So I chose the lesser evil and allowed them to use wool. It’s a social consciousness thing.
Vapid: Canon McCrafty, why do you persist in wearing a Roman collar and cassock? Wouldn’t you feel closer to the people in lay clothing?
McCrafty: Perhaps. But I feel that I must demonstrate my solidarity with Fr Aristide, the exiled president of Haiti. I will continue to wear clerics until the United States reinstates Fr Aristide and also withdraws from Texas, which was stolen from Mexico in the 19th century.
Vapid: Many of the young people are attracted to your liturgies. But others say that you are nothing but a rubricist. How would you respond?
McCrafty: I guess I’d explain that by saying that I “dare to be square”(laughter). Seriously, I consider myself a real individualist. I know that I’m pretty much on my own when I stick closely to the rubrics. Recent studies in your magazine show that only 5% of Catholic priests in America take the rubrics of the liturgy seriously. But I feel that we are a growing minority.
Vapid: I understand you say Mass in Latin, not English. Why is this?
McCrafty: The most repressive regimes in history have been English-speaking. Look at the conduct of the United States over the last 45 years. We need a more pastoral and politically sensitive language with which to celebrate liturgy. I mean, Romans haven’t oppressed nations in over 1,600 years. I feel we must recognize the sinfulness of English-speaking peoples by refusing to use the language of oppression, persecution and blood. It’s a social justice thing.
Vapid: Yet your chalice and candlesticks are studded with jewels.
McCrafty: I consider myself somewhat of an ecclesiastical Robin Hood. I take from the rich and make it available for the common use of the poor. My ministry is one of redistribution of wealth. It’s an important part of my outreach. The jewels say something important to me. I’m affirmed by them. They say, “Hey, I care.”
Vapid: Altar girls have gained acceptance in many places here in the United States. Yet you did away with them at your parish when you were assigned pastor. Why?
McCrafty: This is an issue which has caused me a lot of pain. As the institutional Church refuses to ordain women, I simply cannot tolerate that girls be reduced to mere handmaidens of a male-dominated clergy. I feel that the time has come to prevent girls from serving the male-dominated hierarchical church.
Vapid: You are one of the few pastors who does not permit communion in the hand. How come?
McCrafty: Liturgists tell us that the future of liturgical changes will be implemented before the Vatican approves them. I’m just leading the way. My feeling is that we dare not ignore the symbolism associated with the liturgical gestures connected with communion in the hand. As long as American hands are red with the blood of exploitation and imperialism in the Third World, I will not give communion in this way. The unjust social structures here in the United States make it abundantly clear that we have blood on our societal hands. We all share symbolically in the oppression. This is my way of saying, “Hey, let’s raise our consciousness to this issue. Let’s give this thing a chance.”
Vapid: Some years ago you refused communion to pro-choice Congressman Malcolm McSinister. Yet many theologians such as Richard McBrien seem to suggest that the Church is too rigid on the issue. Do you feel that you are being used by the long arm of Vatican oppression?
McCrafty: Trixie, have you forgotten Bob Dylan’s message?
Come Senators and Congressman from across the land,
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand;
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
The times they are a changin’.
The media didn’t understand the McSinister thing. They even missed an important issue. Congressman McSinister has a House of Representatives bank account. So he has plenty of money to toss about. Have you seen the diamonds he and his wife wear? Normally that would not be an area of my pastoral concern. But the diamonds came from South Africa—if you know what I mean?
Vapid: I’ve noticed that you never have guitars used in the liturgy. Are your liturgies relevant enough for the middle-aged followers of folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary?
McCrafty: I share your concern. The last pastor did experiment with liturgical music selections from Guns and Roses melodies. I don’t feel he was successful. After considerable dialog in the Liturgy Committee, we’ve come to the painful conclusion that folk music during the liturgy simply gives the impression that we have really entered a new era in the Church. This simply isn’t so. Despite the progress in micro-church here in America, macro-church simply has not caught up with us. We still struggle with macro-church’s rule banning contraception. We still need to come to grips with the whole myriad of woman-church concerns. No, to continue to permit guitars in the liturgy would simply leave us with the feeling that we’re beyond where we really are called to be. We risk a certain lethargy, if you know what I mean. The doleful Gregorian chant should remind us that much work remains for global church.
Vapid: What did your Liturgy Committee think about your changing eucharistic bread from the substantial bread back to the traditional hosts?
McCrafty: I didn’t dialog with the organist about that one. I felt that it was absolutely necessary for us to change back to the hosts. Studies show that if parishes across the country used traditional hosts instead of substantial bread for their liturgies, the United States would have five million tons of wheat surplus for export to poor countries. That’s five million tons! I simply couldn’t justify that kind of insensitivity and lack of social concern.
Vapid: Father, I understand that there is a plan to move the altar up to the back wall of the church. Does this mean that you will offer liturgy with your back to the people?
McCrafty: You know, I’ve always considered myself a liberal. I’ve always done liturgy facing the people. But when I realized that the altar separated me from the people, I felt I just had to take action. And I also feel—more than anyone can know—the concerns of the women in the church. We need to listen to the women who come to church on weekdays. How do you suppose they feel when they see a male celebrating liturgy day after day? Need we thrust this kind of sexism in their faces time and time again? I feel that women need a break. The time has come to be sensitive to their needs and to celebrate liturgy as one of them. This can best be done by celebrating the liturgy by all—men, women, children, and full-time minister—facing the same direction. It would be a mistake to suggest that the full-time minister is “turning his back on the people”. On the contrary, by facing the same direction, we will be able to celebrate our oneness and wholeness.
Vapid: Women’s issues mean a lot to you…
McCrafty: My, yes. I guess I learned a lot about the concerns of women from my mother. She was active in cake sales in the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Young Men’s Club in our parish. She was always a take-charge kind of gal.
Vapid: You are introducing many devotions, including novenas. Are you going back to pre-Vatican II days?
McCrafty: No. We can’t put the clock back. But the church is big. It can handle all sorts of devotions and practices. The real challenge to the pastor is to remain open to all forms of piety and being flexible enough to meet the needs of the people. That’s where I’m at.
Vapid: Aren’t we beyond eucharistic devotion?
McCrafty: I’m glad you brought that up. You know, I like to think of eucharistic devotion as my own special kind of “centering prayer”. The only difference is, I feel like centering on the Eucharist and not on myself. I feel better that way.
Vapid: But processions? That’s surely going too far…
McCrafty: Are we really going too far, Trixie? I mean, life is journey,and we share this journey together. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Vapid: You have plans to restore the communion rail…
McCrafty: Yes. The documents of Vatican II are quite clear. We are called to share and build community. Now what better way to share and care than to receive communion in community shoulder to shoulder at the altar rail. We are the world.
Vapid: What role do you see in the area of lay ministry?
McCrafty: I’m very open to lay ministry. The staff openly encourages and facilitates Christian Mothers, the Holy Name Society, the Legion of Mary, and the Blue Army. I’m comfortable with diversity. I’m personally committed to enabling Mrs. Kelly to open the church at 5:30 a.m on weekdays. I’ve even given her a key to the front door of the church. Lay ministry is the future of the church.
Vapid: But you’ve dismissed the lay ministers of the eucharist and have eliminated RENEW.
McCrafty: I’m not comfortable with the words “dismiss” and “eliminate”. I’m committed to collaborative ministry and consensus-building. But it is necessary, from time to time, to restructure the network to properly empower those in ministry. This is exactly what I’ve done. We cannot ignore the positive side of the matrix. The fact is, we’ve all learned a lot about one another in this exercise of restructuring. I feel everyone should be open to new growth experiences.
Vapid: In view of your openness and flexibility, how do you feel about the Pope’s crackdown on various alleged dissenters in the Church?
McCrafty: The challenge to the growth process is always to meet new needs in the Church. The Pope had to deal with a lot of pain. And really, when it comes to these intimate questions of conscience, the Pope had to do what he had to do. It’s hard. I feel his pain.
Vapid: Your homilies are kind of, well, interesting. I get the feeling you believe that Our Lord actually said the words that the early Christian communities place on his lips. How would you respond to this feeling?
McCrafty: I am but a poor and humble parish priest. Who am I to grasp the ruminations of the great Raymond E. Brown?
Vapid: The Sisters you brought to Pius X removed the New Dutch Catechism from the classrooms and are now using the Baltimore Catechism. Are you concerned?
McCrafty: I hear you. You know, Trixie, this is a union town. I wouldn’t think of driving about in a foreign car. Can you imagine the impact on the American economy if every priest purchased a Toyota or a Mercedes? I’m an American priest. I buy American. That’s why it’s so necessary that we use American catechisms like the Baltimore Catechism—the first American catechism. This is the American Church. We don’t need Dutch catechisms or German catechisms here. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not xenophobic. But I’m proud to be an American.
Vapid: I sense a certain militarism in your attitude…
McCrafty: I perceive a certain hostility in that comment Trixie. I want you to know that I feel very angry right now. The other night, I watched the movie Ordinary People starring Mary Tyler Moore. I guess what I’ve learned is that we all have our hangups, Trixie. Care to talk about some of yours?
Vapid: It’s just that I feel uncomfortable with your biretta. It brings back pre-Vatican II memories…
McCrafty: I hear you saying that you feel uncomfortable with my biretta. Maybe you should understand a little bit about me and my needs, Trixie. When I was a child, I used to fear change. I also feared the changes that came with Vatican II. I had a narrow outlook and wasn’t concerned about the ozone layer, the rights of animals, and the need to bring back Gregorian Chant to the Liturgy. It took me a long time to admit that. But now I’m comfortable with change. And I really feel you can be, too. If you put your mind to it.
What do you say?
The interview ended with a good cry and a warm embrace. Two years after this interview, Canon McCrafty remains pastor of a flourishing St. Pius X Catholic Church. However, he reports that his success wasn’t without its heartbreak. Members of the Kommunity of Kosmic Konsciousness (KKK) felt compelled to join a neighboring parish. But Ms. Trixie Vapid has grown considerably and has since entered a convent of cloistered nuns. She is now Sister Mary Pius X.