Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Liturgical Pet Peeves

In my excursions online, I've sometimes stumbled across blogs written by priests. Many of these are orthodox, dedicated men, who post their homilies, talk about issues affecting the Catholic world, and offer sound theological opinions on many topics.

One thing that has surprised me as I've read these blogs, though, is that though these priests are orthodox themselves several of them have downplayed the various liturgical anomalies which lay Catholics are prone to encounter. I've heard the opinion expressed more than once by more than one Father that we Catholics in America are a bit too inclined to grumble about everything, and that real abuses--serious abuses--of the liturgy are actually quite rare. I tend to smile when I read these sincere and well-meant statements; it's rather like reading the opinion of one honest, careful, diligent bus driver that the other bus drivers aren't often late, and don't really drive recklessly--because his only experience of these other bus drivers is either what they say about themselves, or what he experiences when he rides their buses in his uniform! If that honest bus driver were to ride from one end of town to the other incognito, he might be surprised; and if Father were to sneak anonymously into the Masses that some of his lay Catholic friends complain about, he might see that things happen which can't be dismissed with the excuse that some malcontents will grumble about anything.

That said, it's true that at least three of the biggest "liturgical pet peeves" out there aren't really abuses. Not technically, that is. They're allowed (though maybe that permission was gained in a deplorably underhanded manner, but there it is). They are as follows:

1. The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) Parade. We all know that EMHC's were meant to be occasional helpers, especially in areas where there might be only one priest assigned to a particular church, and where having only Father distribute Holy Communion would seriously impede the progress of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We also all know that this isn't, by and large, how they are used. The advent of Communion under both species at each and every Sunday Mass (and quite a few daily ones too, apparently) and the agitation by the usual suspects bent on blurring the lines between the ordained priesthood and the laity has made EMHC's proliferate like some kind of weapon; they are the norm more often than the exception, and there are a lot of reasons to be displeased with this. Yet, technically, they are allowed. Like many things, their use is at the discretion of the local ordinary as far as I know. Now, I personally think the local ordinary, if he were somewhat unsympathetic to the idea but wished to be diplomatic, could create a few rules governing their use: I'd start by insisting that men who are EMHC's must wear dress slacks, a long-sleeved shirt, and a tie, and that women must either wear the same (minus the tie, of course) or a long skirt with a long-sleeved shirt, or a long-sleeved dress, and that further she must cover her head regardless of which of these options she chooses. In a very short time we'd see the "parade" dwindle down to a manageable number of people, I think. As Shakespeare would say, "Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished."

2. Female altar boys. Again, technically allowed. Wrong on so many levels I can't even begin to delve into them all, though. The worst effect girl altar boys have is that they tend to discourage the actual boys from showing up to serve Mass; I can't blame the boys for that. But so many of our young priests first discovered their vocations while serving at the altar, that it seems cruel to turn this manly and noble tradition of allowing only boys to serve into a bunch of giggling girls playing the liturgical equivalent of "tea party" on the altar. I don't wish to denigrate any girl who has served by saying this, but let's face it, ladies--we do have this effect. Altar boys are like squires, studying the movements and words of the knight they someday hope to be; altar girls are like--well, like girls--making sure Father wiped his hands properly and bossing everyone around because that's what we do.

3. Modern music. As a member of the parish choir I was rather vocal on Sunday about our new assistant pastor's decision to substitute a David Haas (!) "tune" for the song we were supposed to sing at the Preparation of the Gifts. I apologize for my cooperation in the infliction of this caterwauling nonsense on the parish family, and can only say in my defense that as I didn't know the song at all, I had no choice but to sing it badly (which, sadly, would be true even if I did know the song, because there is only one way to sing this garbage, and that is badly). Unfortunately, yet again, this ridiculously silly marshmallow fluff for the ears isn't, technically, forbidden. It's just rampant proof that the vast majority of priests and bishops in America have no sacred musical sense whatsoever, and actually believe that these theologically weak, musically inept, horridly insipid paeans to How Special We All Are bear any resemblance at all to the sort of thing Pope Benedict XVI thinks about when he thinks and talks about sacred music. These screeching, fingernail-on-a-blackboard, seriously misbegotten and tortured "arrangements" are the musical equivalent of this, and until a rebirth of the idea of Sacred Art in general occurs, we're just going to suffer (though not in silence, as the poor confused choir member next to me Sunday can verify).

Though all of these can't be said to be abuses (penances, perhaps, grave inflictions of painful things onto the souls and sensibilities of serious Catholics, but not abuses) there is one abuse so rampant that I find it hard to imagine the blogging Fathers haven't encountered it. This is an actual abuse--it's not permitted, ever, but it happens so often we scarcely encounter a Mass that is completely free from it. I refer here to the pet peeve I find personally most annoying of all: a priest's tendency to "ad-lib" his way through the Mass, to embellish the prayers in the books with extemporaneous remarks of his own, to "interrupt" the sacred ritual whenever he feels like "sharing" with us.

It should be noted, good blogging Fathers, that I'm not referring here to a mere slip of the tongue, a fumble or two because Father has lost his place and is trying to find it again, or the honest and accidental addition of an article or a pronoun, which could happen to anybody. I'm talking about the priest who will embellish each and every prayer of the Mass (sometimes not excluding the Canon) with his own words, from some misguided desire to "keep it real" or some such hippie nonsense.

This is liturgical terrorism, plain and simple. As the people in the pews stare back in bewildered silence wondering if they're supposed to say "Amen," "And also with you" or "We lift them up to the Lord" because they've completely lost track of where Father is, Father prattles on, rewriting the Mass as he does, making it up one silly phrase at a time.

Sadly, our new assistant pastor is of this bent. I'm trying to be patient, to give our pastor time to be our pastor, and straighten Father Extempore out on his own terms. But if nothing positive happens after a reasonable amount of time, I plan to approach the pastor with my deep, sincere concerns about how terribly important active participation is, and how terribly difficult it is to continue this active participation (demanded by Vatican II, don't you know!) when we have no idea which prayer Father is trying to say.

And if that doesn't work, well, one of these fine Sundays when Father adds a whole lot of unnecessary phrases to something like "The Lord be with you," one of the microphones pointed at the choir will pick up the sound of an angry woman muttering, "And also...well, it is a nice day, isn't it? How wonderful of God to give us this nice day so we can listen to Father make up another Mass as he goes along!...with you."


Opal said...

OOOOOOOOh, temper temper now Red. *giggle*
You forgot one more thing....the fuzzy theology in the homilies, you know, where Sodom and Gomorrah (sp) was about hospitality not SODOMY and all other abominations. Or, when Jesus said that the door was narrow, he actually contradicted himself because later on he goes on to say that people will come from East West North and South. And he, Jesus CRAFTED that story.....Lord take me now. I had wondered if I just started moaning and crying out loud if he would stop.. *giggle* but I won't be there too much longer.
I sympathize with you.
It really throws you off track to hear..Happy are those who come to this great community or communion or whatever. I wonder if I responded in Latin if anyone would notice! :0)

Red Cardigan said...

Don't tell, Opal. :) But that's what I do, sometimes:

"Et cum spiritui tuo."

And we had a priest who *always* said "Gloria...tibi...Domine..." after the Gospel introduction, so I've been in the habit of saying that instead of "Glory to you, O Lord," for years.

Red Cardigan said...

Sigh, that should be, "Et cum *spiritu* tuo." Don't know how that "i" got in there.

Opal said...

I would probably say it wrong anyway. I am sure I sound funny with my SOUTHERN accent saying prayers in Latin, LOL.
Be sure to pray and pray and pray before you talk with him. And remember, if nothing happens, or if he asks you to head for the door (which has happened to us, meaning an invitation to leave the PaRISH not that the meeting was over) remember to follow up with the Bishop.

But you are right that some priest just don't get what we are talking about and they won't unless they go undercover to a nearby parish. That is if they aren't doing it themselves.

Opal said...

I would probably say it wrong anyway. I am sure I sound funny with my SOUTHERN accent saying prayers in Latin, LOL.
Be sure to pray and pray and pray before you talk with him. And remember, if nothing happens, or if he asks you to head for the door (which has happened to us, meaning an invitation to leave the PaRISH not that the meeting was over) remember to follow up with the Bishop.

But you are right that some priest just don't get what we are talking about and they won't unless they go undercover to a nearby parish. That is if they aren't doing it themselves.

MommaLlama said...

I agree completely with your three main complaints, it's like you read my mind! Oh, how about when the choir director signals TOUCHDOWN during the psalms?!

4andcounting said...

I definitely agree with your complaint about ad libbing the liturgy. That is frustrating and distracting. Fortunately, it does not happen much at our parish. As for the music, I just don't worry about it all that much I guess. We attend a Mass with modern praise music and some more traditional hymns thrown in and I enjoy it. But, overall, I don't give much thought to the words and stuff of most songs. I do get picky about arrangements of the Mass parts though. I'm just tired of hearing the same things over and over and over all of my life, since they are not that great.

Interesting points. We are beginning to experience some changes in our parish that I'm not thrilled about, but I love the community so much that for now I'm willing to overlook them, as they are not abuses so much as inconsistencies.

Baltobetsy said...

I am blessed to be able to attend daily Mass in a place where all three parish priests say what's printed in black and do what's printed in red and NOTHING MORE or LESS than that.

How jarring it was this week when the Bishop in residence celebrated the daily Mass and threw in more extraneous words than you can imagine. Nothing that changed the meaning - just more words. For example, "FOR IT IS through Him, with Him and in Him THAT all glory and honor are yours..."

It was as if, as a bishop, he felt he needed to be larger than life. He did that by adding words, enlarging his gestures and speaking dramatically. I was embarrassed for him.

Oh, and I, too, say "Gloria tibi domine! I remember chanting it in grade school, and it never went away.

Anonymous said...

i'm fortunate too. i'm in the Birmingham Oratory Parish set up by Newman. My 2 boys serve..not the 8 girls! We have zilch eucharistic ministers..3 Priests distribute Holy Communion at each of the 5 Masses...i could go on..& music includes Latin plainchant & orthodox hymns..with organ accompinament only..

Anonymous said...

Oh my can I relate! Those of you who don't have to deal with such nonsense are indeed fortunate. We had bongo drums last week - I kid you not! It was SO distracting. . .and frankly annoying.

Have you sung the "Willy Wonka" song yet? I hate that one! :-(

Red Cardigan said...

Michelle, what's the "Willy Wonka" song?? Sounds terrible!

Mrs. T said...

Do tell: a Willy Wonka song?

I haven't been on a hymn rant on my blog for a while, so I'm probably due for one. At the moment, however, I want to fall down and kiss the choirmaster's feet, because at least at one Mass we're NOT singing Communion hymns out of We Celebrate, but the Latin chants appropriate to the day. I'm a convert from Anglicanism, and nothing drives me crazier than Catholic Communion hymns (except Panis Angelicus and a handful of traditional English ones that are actually ABOUT THE SACRAMENT and not about how glad God is to see us. Mainly what drives me crazy is that I know that there are good ones (in English) out there, being sung by people who don't necessarily believe in the Real Presence. Like me, for instance, some years back.

I'm having my kids learn a hymn a week (with unadulterated words) and am using good hymn texts as copywork, because hymns are catechism, and I want the good ones written on their hearts, whether they ever sing them in church or not.

So there.