« Ms. O’Connor, the Dustbin of History is That Way | Main | Hitchcock, TLC, and the Ordination of Women »

"My brothers and sisters, The Lohd IS wit' you!"

My blogging rebirth is coming from here in western Washington where I am staying with my in-laws for three weeks. It is a difficult thing to go from the Catholic culture of St. Paul where papal encyclicals are big events to a place where many people are still unaware of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is a place where the former bishop and arch-heresiarch Raymond "Baron von" Hunthausen sat in the episcopal throne and did more mischief than Rembert Weakland ever dreamed of in his time at Milwaukee. The new bishop, Alexander J. Brunett, however, is a good and seemingly holy man and seems to be turning away from the weirdness of years past (the bishop between the two was Thomas J. Murphy, the kind of Irish fundraiser-prelate of years past that excites nothing of either praise or scorn in me).

My in-laws' parish has similarly begun to see small signs of new life. Going to confession last week, my wife and I were struck by the number of younger people (teens, twenties, I confess I'm getting old enough to not tell the difference) there for the sacrament. The pastor, an excitable fellow with a somewhat high voice, is demonstrably orthodox and has a definite enthusiasm for his calling.

And yet. . .Mass is difficult to bear. The problems I have with my parish in Minnesota come to seem delicate eccentricities, like the beauty marks on the lips of starlets, that I'd almost wish were not to be fixed. I keep thinking about Flannery O'Connor's friend whose husband became Catholic after years of attending Mass with his wife. He converted because the Mass "had to be true; it was so poorly done that nobody would have come if it weren't."

The liturgy here bears all the marks of the silly season in theological and liturgical values and, I suppose, should make me pray all the harder. But I subconsciously keep note of these irritating things and thus can foist them on you now.

1) The building is atrocious. Done in the half-circle model so popular among those who talk about the Eucharist as a revelation of the Community to the Community's self, it has no crucifix but instead a giant 70's style relief of the Risen Jesus, apparently trying to do the "C" during a rousing rendition of "YMCA." The all white walls and ceiling are offset by large plants so as to make the place seem like the set of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's old show. The cross that processes in during the liturgy has no corpus because one of the former pastors, credibly accused of child abuse and now probably laicized--certainly inactive--thought that we should "emphasize the Resurrection!"

Ah, yes, silly Catholics will think Jesus still hangs on a cross outside Jerusalem unless Father takes off that gauche corpus.

2) The add-ons to the liturgy are irritating.

a) We begin Mass, or rather interrupt the arm-draped-over-the-pew chatter in sanctuary, with a lector telling us welcome and then giving the starting line-up: "Our principle celebrant is Fr. So-and-so, assisted by Deacon What's-his-face, while our cantor is Bill Whatever, the altar servers are the Olsen Twins, and the gifts are being brought up by the Johnson family." One imagines all these people running in from the back as their names are called and stripping off warm-up pants like the Supersonics do. Maybe when the Archbishop comes they can lower the house lights, turn up the synthesizer a notch and then spotlight the Most Reverend as he comes down the front and the lector intones "Heeeeeeeerrrrrreeeee's Archbishop Allllllexannnnnnnnnder Bru-NETTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!"

b) After the "team" has been introduced, the lector bids us, "In the spirit of family, let us greet each other." After this nonsense is over, we attempt to stop the nonsense with "a moment of sacred silence." At this point I desire silence but I'm afraid if I asked for it, "sacred" would not be the word spitting off my lips.

c) Finally, Mass begins with a banal "opening song." It's sure not an "introit" or even a "processional." Haugen-Haas is presumably considered "high church" in the Breaking Bread hymnal put out by Oregon Catholic Press.

Since a quick scan indicates no heretical phrases, singing the words of the Almighty in first person, or use of the modern guess at how one might pronounce the Tetragrammaton if we wanted to say it, I sing lustily the instantly forgettable show tune.

d)The readings are done ok, and the psalm is actually a responsory rather than a show-tune with a verse loosely based on a gender-neutered paraphrase of a psalm. Yes that's right, I am at peace. . .

. . .until we get to Deacon What's-His-Face, a retired postal worker from New Jersey, who intones the Gospel in a voice that would make Tony Soprano proud, but not before. . .HIS LINES. That's right, the Deacon in the Latin Rite has almost no regular lines in the liturgy, but our man knows that this is his moment, the time to shine.

With a pastoral wave across the congregation, reminding me somewhat of Vanna White magically showing us what we've won (A BRAND NEW CAR!), the Deacon liturgically imparts his message: "My brothers and sisters, the Lohd IS wit' you!"

OK, while it is true that the Lord is "wit' us," this is not the line. It is also true that "it's a sunny day for the Seattle area," but that is not what the Deacon is to say. He is to say, "The Lord be with you." "Be" is the form of the verb we use (a subjunctive, I believe) when we put a blessing on someone. The Deacon is to bless us because we are about to receive the Lord in the liturgical reading of the Gospel. Yes, the Lord is with us, but he is journeying to us through the words of Scripture so that we may journey to him in return.

A small blessing is that Deacon What's-His-Face has not tried to get any more creative. One priest told me about a brother priest who said Mass at a convent and told the sisters, "The Lord is with us." No one knew quite what to do until one elderly sister quizzically responded, "And also with them?"

e) The homily is good. So is the baptism that follows.

f) The offertory hymn is a banality of Fr. Bob Dufford, S.J., one of that team of musical/liturgical felons known as the "St. Louis Jesuits." I hope someday that Church Historians will treat them in the same breath as encratites, Montanists, and Albigensians. OK, Arians, too.

The verses of this selection from ask us to sing the words of God in the first person with no "The Lord said." I shut the book.

g) We make it through the canon fairly well after confusion about when to stand--it's clear that some visitors know that the current protocol is to stand before "May the Lord accept the sacrifice. . ." but the congregation as a whole does not, so the whole thing looks like the tenth round of the Wave at Comiskey park. People are popping up, thinking better, sitting down, looking around. Finally after an eternity we are up.

h) AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHH! Everyone wants to hold hands during the Our Father, a move that prompts me to do my usual eyes-shut-tight-hands clasped-together attempt at prayer without arm-wrestling.

i) In the high point of all liturgy, we give each other greetings of peace and love, everyone rushes around looking for someone to greet with peace; at some point during the hub-bub, the Agnus Dei gets mumbled while a crowd of parishioners slightly larger than the army that attacked Helms' Deep gathers behind the wooden horse-shoe table (available at Restoration Furniture for Four Thousand Dollars, Bobos) used for an altar and then proceeds to hug each other with peace for another few minutes before communion.

g) With the Orc Army in place, our cantor proceeds from his perch, stage right, to get to his wife (an ex-nun if I'm not mistaken) so that they can walk up to the front of the line holding hands. I briefly envision the two receiving crowns as Eucharistic Prom Queen and King, so loving and proud they seem. They make it through communion, bid sad farewells at her pew and then he goes back to his microphone to announce one of those interchangeable communion songs that includes "taste and see" in it.

h)After my communion I go back to kneel and give thanks, when I suddenly realize everybody around me is standing. Ah, yes, this is one of those places where Dale Price of Dyspeptic Mutterings observes that the rule is "You Vill Stand and Sing, Dammit!" At this point I just stay where I am and try to make it through.

i) We are nearly done, but first there are announcements which are, I suppose, appropriately breezy but way too long. The end comes with "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" and, despite my aversion to patriotic songs in Mass, even religious ones like this, I sing since it's the best piece of music thus far.

j) Leaving, I have to remember that the Tabernacle, one of the few nice physical aspects of the Church is hidden in the corner of the smaller chapel, but is visible through a window. So I genuflect toward the back of the Church, inevitably confusing some old ladies attempting to leave; I suppose they thought I was about to propose to one of them.


3) What is most annoying to me is how petty I feel after these masses. When was I worshiping the Lord with a thankful heart during Mass? And why am I so critical?

Looking over at the congregation from my part of the half-circle I see most people are less bored than irritated, but there are some people, generally women, who are able to see through the mess that is the contemporary suburban liturgy. Perhaps it's because I'm a convert from Protestantism that I'm especially annoyed. I sympathize with Christopher Dawson and Evelyn Waugh and all those converts who understood that there are problems with the liturgy in all ages, but that making it into a bad impression of a Protestant mega-church service is not the way to go. I want my children to experience the majesty of the liturgy as they grow up so that they will have an experience of the glory of Christ who is the chief celebrant of the Mass. I want them to experience the suffering humility of Christ in the marrow of everyday life, not in the self-inflicted banalities of liturgists and "cultural Catholics" (meaning little in the way of culture, certainly not Catholic culture, in this context).

And yet I remember a story of Fr. Paul MacNellis, S.J., who gave the homily at a Jesuit ordination some years back. He began by recounting our Father Ignatius Loyola, who said that if he had joined an existing order he would have wanted to join one that was corrupt and decadent, the better to suffer with our Lord. "Today," he remarked, "I believe that Ignatius Loyola would be a Jesuit."

I admire my in-laws for their steadfast holding on to a parish that makes me want to run screaming every time I visit. Their patience is admirable. And my father-in-law has lost much of his musical pitch singing for thirty-some odd years in a choir that reminds me of a group of off-duty cops singing the hymns of Billy Joel right before last call.

But I don't want to my kids raised in such a parish. And I don't want to be so critical when I visit. I know the answer is that I am not spiritual yet, in St. Paul's sense, and that I don't pray hard enough. The saints were able to suffer with a suffering Church and often to change it. I don't know how yet. But I'm going to take our Lord's words, uttered so often by John Paul II, to heart: "Be Not
Afraid!"

This, even as I know that some Deacon somewhere will tell me, somewhat differently, "You are not afraid."

Well, patience, Davy, patience.

Comments (9)

"I suppose they thought I was about to propose to one of them."

LMAO! :) That's a classic!

Thanks for the line. It was necessary after reading the (illicit?) crap you describe! :(

I don't understand why you think the reason for your irritation/anger is that you're not spiritual yet. I think that you're sufficiently (though maybe not yet perfectly) spiritual if you reacted the way you did to liturgical abuses, which by definition are an injustice to Christ and us, his body. There is such a thing as righteous anger when confronted with injustice. The mass you attended was an injustice perpetrated by those who should know better. Your response shouldn't be silence but mercy.

I think your Church history is be somewhat flawed. No saint "suffered (silently) with the Church". They did however share in Christ's sufferings when they sought to counter the evil they saw in society and in the Church. Clerics and laity often persecuted them because their actions would upset the status quo (which was various institutionalized evils at the various time). Their suffering was not their choice but imposed on them by others when they spoke up and worked to counteract the evil.

It is not Christ-like to "suffer silently" when you're obligated to work positively to counter evil. In the recent past it was Fr. Touchy-Feely up to No-good with little boys and currently it is widespread illiteracy of the Faith and Morals which results in a free-for-all in the litury. Admonishing/rebuking the sinner and instructing the ignorant are spiritual works of mercy.

So, in closing I would urge you not to "be silent and suffer" but like Christ and his Saints, for all our sakes, especially your children, work against liturgical abuses. First inform yourself (if you're not already prepared) on our faith, morals and the reasoning behind them and then instructing others "in charge" that may be ignorant of such matters. Finally, by rebuking them if they don't respond. If they still don't change, don't forget to move up the chain of command if you get no response! :)


Note: Pope JPII in his encyclical on the Eucharist requires the laity to report liturgical abuses to the Vatican if they fail to make a difference after speaking to the local Bishop. In your case, perhaps you can start by enlightening your in-laws.

Dear Ashton,

You're right that I should not make it my goal to "suffer silently," but I do wish I could be charitable about these things. What I want to be able to do is figure out how to change things. Does anybody have any suggestions? One wily Jesuit I know solves things like lack of a crucifix by telling people who want to do something for the Church that they can donate one. What to do about the other things is more difficult. I'm not sure reporting gets much done except in extremely egregious cases, the ones I mention not rising to that level. Does one confront the priest or deacon or write a letter? Plunder the Church and kill the clergy? It's all a mystery to me some days. All I know is that prayer and example of charity are the basis.

Dave

LOL! :) Another one: "Plunder the Church...".

As tempting as that may be, I don't think it is the Way. I agree that prayer and charity are the basis. But I've realized that all prayer and no works isn't what we the laity are called to do. If we were, we'd be lay contemplatives of some order. :) We're the ones called to the New Evangilization and I for one am starting with fellow Catholics and non-practising Catholics.

I'm not advocating that all abuses be immediately reported. You're right, that would be uncharitable. Reporting has its place, but it is the near the end of the process, not the beginning.

Of course, I'm also not recommending starting up an "abuse watch" group or any such silliness. What I do suggest is taking practical steps. I think we should assume ignorance on the part of the abusers (due to the poor catechesis for the past few decades). So, my process below:

Attempt to enlighten them. This can happen through a direct "Hi, could you please explain why you/we did X instead of Y, as I think that you/we're supposed to be doing Y". Wait for the explanation and try to understand it. It could be that we're wrong. I've had to change my mind when I realized I was. :(

However, if it is wrong, then counter with "But here on page 346, line 3, paragraph 6 of the GIRM/Catechism/Encyclical/etc. it says Y is to be done because Z". By this point most would take time to understand your point and then after a few minutes/days/weeks of thinking would stop X and do Y. Don't accept any "hand waving" answers. Ask them to concretely point you to the source of their actions as "I'm certain that what is happening is wrong/evil/unjust and if I'm wrong I'd like to better understand the faith because the Holy Father has called us to do so". Some pastors/priests want to change things around but get no help from the community. They're surrounded by the well-meaning but ignorant volunteers. Demanding answers will help signal that to the pastor/priest that you wish to be faithful and also reduce the confidence of the ignorant.

However, the ones who don't want to change (and there are a few) or have some *deep* misunderstanding of the faith will most likely give you a "Spirit of Vatican II" speech or point to themselves or another ignorant person as their source of authority. In this case, discussing why the other is also wrong should be undertaken.

All these may take weeks or months and lots of patience, understanding and teaching on your part.

Finally, it may come down to "Well, the Bishop/Pope/Council has taught Faith A/Moral B/Discipline C and we're obligated to bring our understanding in line with the Church, assent with mind and will and obey them because of their God given authority to guide the Church".

Finally, if even this doesn't get them to stop doing X, then in truth and in charity, you are obligated to communicate the situation to their superior (after informing them) so that it can be resolved. If you do so, you're not "pulling rank" but doing your duty to remove the injustice.

Here's some concrete suggestions:
a) Seek out other like minded parishioners and discuss the problem. No one is forbidden from associating with people of their choice in either civil or Church law.

b) Start "Catechism", "Understanding Scripture", "Understanding the Liturgy", "How to Pray", "How to Pray at Mass" classes (with the pastor's permission).

b) Offer to start a parish library and *be the librarian* (again, with the pastor's permission). Buy orthodox books. There are *many* faithful Catholic publishers. I don't think that any pastor in his right mind is going to turn down free help to catechise his flock, unless he has serious reasons. Take a look at the sidebar on http://peopleofthebook.us/ for a list.

c) Volunteer for a parish ministry.

Hope this helps

mjniemann:

The phenomenon you’ve encountered is, I am sad to say, the prevalent one in the West. It is based on a disposition that the Vatican is not to be taken too literally and that the Church is in need of modernization. Essentially, it is a denial of divine revelation in favor of a human interpretation. Seattle itself is a Pluto of the soul, too far from the warmth of Rome to sustain much life. Hunthausen was not an anomaly, but the inescapable culmination of this error: a Catholic archbishop who is unrecognizable as a Catholic (except for the funky hat).

It is important to remember that the term “liturgical abuse” is a serious one. Hiding the tabernacle, denying the crucifix, innovating on the words of the prayers…these are not mere eccentricities. These are acts of supreme ignorance or outright disobedience. Either way, they fall on the conscience of the archbishop. And we are justified in doubting whether a bishop that cannot read the Eucharistic prayer from a printed book can be expected to vigorously pass on other dictates of the Church, such as the sanctity of life.

It is easy to say that a bishop’s poor obedience shows up in the pathetic and outright offensive liturgies under his watch. But I would argue that poor liturgies in fact weaken the faith of both bishops and lay people. Certainly, it is a crime that many people who have not been taught the difference spend their formative years in ugly masses. But many people do know the difference. So why do people like your in-laws continue to “patronize” such parishes? I suggest they vote with their feet and find a parish that is obedient. It is not a matter of patience. It is a matter of principle. Catholics ought to demand a straight Mass, particularly in an urban diocese where there are options. Let the de facto Protestants have their televangelist auditoriums and eviscerated “worship services.” There are too many parishes as it is, and faithful Catholics ought to be a force in the demographic changes as they come. Let’s make sure it is the ugly modern buildings that are closed and sold. Let us make sure that the parishes with the most worthy liturgies are the ones that are packed with full collection plates. And when we shake the dust from our sandals and move on, let’s let it be known to the lame pastor his boss at the archdiocese why we left and where we are going.

David,

Here's an excellent article on the matter: http://www.catholicculture.org/highlights/highlights.cfm?ID=10

Hope that helps.

Ashton

Excellent suggestions, John and Ashton. I appreciate them both. I do think it important to both work for proper understanding of the liturgy and the faith in the parish and to support those parishes and ministers who foster such.

John's comments remind me of another aspect of this, the question of "parish shopping." It is a concern of mine that people stay, for the most part, within their parish boundaries, yet I think it appropriate in parishes with manifest repeated disobedience to make it clear that such behavior will have an effect on the collection and on involvement with the parish. I thank God my home parish has relatively few problems, but I wonder how those in these parishes make the decision as to when enough is enough.

Niermann:

I personally encourage "parish shopping" for everyone. I don't think that itinerant Catholic families ought to be trekking hours a day on Sunday and wandering aimlessly through various parishes never settling down. However, I know of no doctrinal or even philosophical reason why faithful Catholics should just put up with liturgical abuses (just as I see no reason parishioners ought to automatically send their kids to the parish school…but that’s another tirade.) We owe it to the Lord to make the celebration of the Mass as dignified, as solemn and as effectual as we can make it.

50 years ago, even urban people were less mobile and it made a lot more sense to just shop at the grocery store near you, use the park near you, patronize the dentist near you and settle in the parish you found yourself in. But I think that mentality is one source of the degradation of the liturgy. If you feel compelled, by some odd sense of loyalty or by the siren song of convenience, to stay at a parish even as its liturgy declines you simply encourage the decline. Our pastors and bishops are our shepherds, and we owe them respect and obedience. But a Catholic’s loyalty is ultimately to Rome. If the local branch office can’t read the Mass from an open book, they do not deserve to be offering the Mass at all.

There are at least seven parishes within a 20 minute drive of my house. If my pastor begins to list leftward, I am out of there. It would be unconscionable to expose my children to liturgical abuses if I can help it.

My in-laws just left their parish of 20+ years. Their excellent and long-tenured pastor finally retired. Last week, they got their first taste of their new pastor, some 60 year old retread. His Mass featured a multi-cultural and gender-sensitive “Great God” in place of the misogynistic and archaic “Father.” Apparently he did the Our Father straight, but the Eucharistic Prayer, the Great Amen, and even the Creed were altered. He can’t do that. Rome provides a freakin’ book. All he has to do is read it. So my in-laws bailed and are joining our parish. It’s a mode that I would recommend to anyone.

Megan:

I know what you mean about feeling petty when you start counting up the abuses. It's so hard to mesh charity with truthful critisism.

It's so sad too, because people don't realize what they're missing. I find that whenever people try to change the Church's teachings, they're really denying themselves something more amazing than they could ever think up.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

About

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 3, 2005 3:02 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Ms. O’Connor, the Dustbin of History is That Way.

The next post in this blog is Hitchcock, TLC, and the Ordination of Women.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.34