Righteous Anger Wasn't Working For Me

by | Jan 28, 2014 | Kendra's Thoughts, Liturgical Living, Sacraments | 22 comments

Living our faith is a learning process. It is our privilege and our responsibility to know and understand as much as possible about our Church.
But with great knowledge can come great frustration.

I know, I’ve been there. As I lived my slow and steady reversion to my Catholic faith, I wanted to learn all the things. So, I read First Things and listened to Catholic Answers. I read many excellent books (this one is my favorite) and listened to smart friends. It was great. It still is. I love learning the wisdom and traditions of this church.

But sometimes, it also made me mad. Because now, I knew that the priest should be purifying the vessels Right. Then. But sometimes he didn’t. I knew that the faithful are owed a Sunday homily by a priest. But sometimes we didn’t get one. I knew that some types of music are liturgically appropriate and some are not. And I was pretty sure this wasn’t. I knew what the role of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should be. And sometimes it was clearly being exceeded.

So. What’s the right thing to do? I had a few options.

A. I could sit there in the pew and catalog all the various liturgical abuses I saw.

I could keep a running tally in my head of everyone who was doing it wrong. I could focus on that instead of focusing on the Mass. Or on keeping my kids quiet/on the Mass.

B. I could try to fix the problems I saw by bringing them to the attention of the Pastor or the parish council.

I could get involved in the parish behind the scenes and try to change things from the inside. I could try to catechize my fellow Catholics directly.

C. I could go somewhere else.

If I don’t like how they are doing things at one parish, if I don’t like the leadership of a particular priest, I can take my time, talent, and treasure elsewhere. In every place I’ve ever lived, there have always been plenty of Catholic parishes from which to choose.

Stop me if you’ve heard this from me before, but I chose D. All of the above. I’m a both/and kinda gal.

Here’s why:

A. This seems the least noble of the three options, for sure. But, really, there’s no way to un-ring that bell.

I know what we’re supposed to be doing. And I notice when we’re doing it wrong. I’m a pretty distractable person. I’m constantly ripping myself out of one thought or another to re-focus on the Mass. If it wasn’t all the hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer that was distracting me, it would be something else.

But what I’ve changed is what noticing a liturgical abuse does to me. It used to make me mad. Indignant. Righteously angry.

I know, I know, it worked for Jesus. But it wasn’t doing ME any good. So now, when I notice a liturgical abuse, I pray. I pray for that priest and for the generation of priests who were failed by our seminaries and our culture. I pray for the church ladies who lovingly sewed that ridiculous giant felt banner. I pray for the music directors, that they would be raised up on eagle’s wings, and be made to shine like the sun, if that’s what they want. And I pray for me, that God would give me the graces of the Mass, despite my failings of concentration.

B. We have stopped priests after Mass to mention something. We have written letters to pastors and even to the Bishop.

It seems like the thing to do, this one. But, really, we’ve never had much success with it. I’m not against it, by any means, and I’d do it again if it seemed necessary. But I’ve never seen it result in any changes at all. It’s just awfully impersonal.

The husband has served on the parish council. We have spoken at Confirmation and Baptism classes. And that . . . didn’t seem to do much good either. And was really time-consuming. Again, not against it, but again, we didn’t really notice results, even agitating from the inside.

What has worked better is genuine friendship. Befriending priests and seminarians, to support the ones who are doing it right, and be there to offer advice to those who might actually take it, has felt successful where even very well-crafted letters usually fail.

C. Sometimes, the best thing to do for all involved is to just move along.

It’s allowed. In Chicago this summer, after Frankie and I had our run-in with an unkind priest, I spoke with him at some length, and wrote to the Bishop, but ultimately we decided to attend Mass elsewhere. It was the right decision for us.

Back home in LA we are members of our local parish. We attend daily Mass there, and it’s where our children’s sacraments are recorded. But nearly two years ago, we decided to begin attending Sunday Masses at the Old Mission. It wasn’t a decision we took lightly, but our oldest son really wanted to be an altar boy, and, unfortunately, we just weren’t comfortable with him serving at a Mass the way it was being celebrated at our parish church.

We are very, very happy fulfilling our Sunday obligation at the Mission. But we’re still a part of our neighborhood parish as well. So if they ever need to ask us for advice, we’ll be available.

But here’s the thing: the Mass.

The Mass is what’s important. I cannot allow myself to get angry, to have my peace disturbed by the accouterments. As long as it’s being said by a priest and there’s wheat bread and grape wine, it’s a valid Mass. Even if that priest is in MORTAL SIN. So we certainly don’t have to worry about the validity of the sacrament based on whether he washed his hands properly. Or if I liked the music. Or if babies were noisy.

If I let myself get all worked up about that stuff, that’s on me. Not on the priest or the music director or the church lady or the “Eucharistic minister” or the baby. That’s me. Me letting my emotions and preferences stand between me and the Mass, between me and grace, between me and God.

I can, and do, take any or all of the steps above to try to have the best experience of the Mass possible for myself and my family. But, now, I take those steps calmly, prayerfully, and charitably.

update: I found a post by Jimmy Akin that makes a similar point in a very scholarly way, with illustrative Bible stories and everything. Check it out, Don’t Let Problems in the Church Steal Your Peace.


  1. Laura Pearl

    Great post. My husband and I can totally relate to everything you said, and you said it beautifully. I, too, sometimes let things like the silly songs the choir picks (and the fact that they are up in front of the congregation, like it's a concert or something, and people feel the need to clap for them at the end of Mass, like it's a concert or something!) distract me from what's important. I let myself get all worked up when I see things that are being done wrong. I think you're right, though: prayer is probably more effective than anger.

  2. kate @ be merry, kate

    Oh this is so spot on. I'm a new reader (though I've stumbled around a few times!) and I just love this. I can't say that I'm anywhere near this point. I spent a few years so militantly angry and now I'm just apathetic. I get annoyed when I see these things but my response is just to take on the same apathy that everyone else seems to have. I'll get angry later, sure, but during Mass I just look like a regular old person who has no desire to hear the crap music and is waiting for the end of Mass. Not the best way to respond, as you can imagine!

  3. Ashley Sue

    I think there has to be the righteous anger to spark that flame to improve what we can. I also think it's important to remember that not every saint was a warrior; we have to be the best in the role God has placed us.

  4. Sarah O

    Wow – thank you Kendra for this. I struggle a lot with things being done right, and due to the over exhaustive research my husband and I have done the past two years that led to us joining the Church, I know way too much about the "right" way to do things. Meaning I often allow the legalism of it all to get in the way.
    This line "If I let myself get all worked up about that stuff, that's on me." especially hit me. What an important thing to remember before I go getting riled up and separating myself from the purpose of the Mass and the beautiful gift of being in the presence of the Eucharist.

  5. Kayla @ Number One Petersons

    Thanks for writing this Kendra. I have to admit that my daughter is 6 months old and unbaptized because I just haven't been willing to take that final step to become a member of the church that we attend. My husband works during ALL OTHER Mass times and we can only get to the 6 pm Mass offered at ONE church. Which so happens to be the most liturgically grating church I've ever been to (drums and TWO guitars last Sunday). BUT I am constantly reminding myself that if Jesus is willing to go there every day, every Sunday, then I can go there too. Now if we could only make it to one of the apparently mandatory pre-registration get togethers, maybe just maybe my child could be baptized.

    • Kendra

      "If Jesus is willing to go there . . ."

      I LOVE that. Yes, go get that baby baptized! They'll probably make you do it in a big group ceremony and you won't like it but your daughter will be baptized, and that's what matters. :0)

  6. Erin

    The link above for your favorite book doesn't seem to be working for me — what's the title, please?

    • Kendra

      It's The Faith Explained by Fr. Leo Tress. I think it's the best adult Catechism around.

  7. E

    This is so great. We attend the EF on Sundays and go at times to the local OF parish which is a great community. We find that the EF is so prayerful and the homilies are so good that we keep going back. The OF is fine, too but we find that the availability of the sacraments (confession before and after every mass) is so convenient that we go a lot more often. I'm glad that you have found something that works well for your family.

  8. Christine

    We've basically taken option C, and only go to the Traditional Mass, where we don't have to endure any of the liturgical abuses, the grating music, etc. It's true that "Mass is Mass", and the new Mass is still valid. But I'm convinced that there is more grace to be earned through the prayers of the old Mass (as well as fewer occasions of sin – such as of anger – etc. for myself and my husband!). But you're right – we definitely need to be offering more prayers for our bishop and priests.

  9. Tamar

    Felt banners and guitar masses are a manner of aesthetics. I save my righteous anger for things that matter.

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, but beauty matters. A lot. Part of seeking God is seeking the good, true, and the beautiful. Since God is Beauty, just like He is Goodness and Truth, aesthetics are incredibly important. They serve to bring us closer to Him. Now, of course, poor decorations and mediocre music aren't sins, but we should strive for the most heavenly forms of beauty possible. If felt banners and guitars are the absolute best we can offer to God, Heaven, and those at Mass, then we should use those things. Rarely is that actually the case in our wealthy country, although I realize some parishes are truly strapped for money and for talent and/or time among the parishioners.

      I attended Mass in a third-world country once where they only had an electric keyboard. They did their best, and it was beautiful. They also had lots of local art incorporated into their small chapel, and that was beautiful.

      We live in a country where we are usually able to offer so much more in the way of beauty, and we fail miserably. It's sad, and our souls often yearn for much more. It is a small sacrifice to attend Mass when beauty is lacking in the visible surroundings and in the music. Prolonged Masses like that starve the soul on some level. So I think it is important to contribute our time, talents, finances, prayers, and friendly suggestions as much as possible.

    • Anonymous

      Still misplaced irritation about petty issues. Better to direct that energy towards something constructive.

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, that's the point — to direct energy toward being constructive. There is a difference between saying something doesn't "matter" (as the above said) vs. saying "be constructive".

  10. Nanacamille

    That is a very good suggestion to just pray and I have been trying to do it durning mass instead of getting irritated. Last Sun the lady and her daughter sitting behind me talked in whispers which of course everyone for 3 rows could hear all through mass. Instead of tfurning around and giving them a dirty look I just tried praying for them. It does help.

  11. Micaela Darr

    I hear you on most of this Kendra, especially liturgical abuses. I just can't seem to get upset about music most of the time, though. I grew up in a musical family with my mom leading guitar choir nearly every Sunday. If you knew my mom and her strength of character, her dedication to her faith, her love of all things holy and beautiful, and her absolute unfailing devotion to the Magisterium, well… You'd be hard-pressed to find a more faithful Catholic. So if she sings some of the songs I see my also-very-catholic friends complaining about on Facebook, I'm inclined to let those kinds of things be attributed to aesthetics.

    Oy. It's late, so I hope this makes sense. Basically, I'm trying to say that when it comes to liturgical correctness and matters of the faith, I'm as strict as they come, when it comes to the lighter issues, like music, I'm more likely to assume that people have good intentions and are faithfully offering their time and talent in a way that blesses us all, whether we "like" it or not.

    • Micaela Darr

      Holy Run-on Sentence, Batman! There is a period missing from that last paragraph.

  12. Anonymous

    Wait, On Eagles Wings is wrong now? The things one learns in the Catholic blogosphere. All I have to say is, you better not have a problem with Be Not Afraid or things are about to get REAL in the combox, if you know what I'm sayin.

  13. Anonymous

    This post really strikes a cord with me. It's been a constant struggle, especially when you're familiar enough with the priest or parish to know when certain things are coming. I feel myself physically tense up and brace myself. I've found that closing my eyes and bowing my head help me to focus (I try to imagine the thousands of angels surrounding the altar, standing at the foot of Calvary, etc.) when I can't otherwise.

    I also whole-heartedly recommend an adult catechism called "My Catholic Faith." It's AMAZING. It uses the Baltimore Catechism #3 as a foundation, but then Bishop Morrow has gone through and given beautiful additional explanation, clarification, scriptural references, or examples. It has a gorgeous wood-cut style picture on each lesson (which is only about 1 1/2 pages, just what you see when you open the book.) The table of contents and index are wonderful. It's actually so clearly written that a 6th grader could use it, but doesn't feel condescending to an adult. We use it as a family catechism, right next to our family Bible. 🙂 It's printed by Sarto House.

  14. Kate

    Finally we have internet so I can comment and say thank you for such a helpful post. I found the one about Dorothy Day and the coffee cup which you linked up also very helpful. This is something we really have been struggling with. Unfortunately, in South Africa, there is very little Catholic Community and so we often feel very alone, and especially now that we have moved across the country, left our old parish where we had a wonderful, traditional priest, an organ and a lot of reverence. We are trying to settle in to our new parish (I have had my hand held during the Lord's Prayer and been whispered to through the entire consecration by a welcoming lady, my son has been given a Rosary to play with through Mass by a kind lady, who was very surprised when I made him kiss it and give it back after he threw it over the pew, so have been looking for ways to address these kind, but inappropriate gestures.) Please keep our country and it's Catholics in your prayers. I love your blog and find this blogging community incredibly encouraging.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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