Like many Catholics in America today I have my share of complaints about the state of liturgical life and worship.
Sometimes those complaints spill over into this blog, but then the situation on the ground changes, and I find myself needing to apologize for hasty conclusions and a dash of impatience.
For instance, I've been grumbling a bit about our associate pastor, who ad-libs and skips the Creed. The ad-libbing continues somewhat, but it seems to be diminishing, while the Creed-skipping has all the signs of being the forgetful habit of a priest who says the daily Mass so often that he forgets to say the Creed on Sundays. How do I know? Well, for one thing, he did say the Creed yesterday; for another, he almost skipped the Gloria (but we have a sharp and attentive choir director who launched into it anyway). When the music started up Father looked first startled, and then a little embarrassed, so I suspect this may have happened to him before. But I do know that he loves daily Mass, celebrates it with enthusiasm, and talks about adding an evening Mass or two to the weekly schedule to allow more people the opportunity to attend--so the charitable conclusion that he's used to the structure of the daily Mass and thus forgets the additional elements on Sunday morning is looking more and more like the correct one, especially since Father hasn't been a priest all that long (he was a married man for forty-five years and entered the seminary after the death of his wife).
So, I apologize for hasty and premature complaints about our associate pastor. He's still settling in at our parish and it was wrong of me to jump to quick and unfounded conclusions; wrong, but perhaps understandable, given what we Catholics in America have been putting up with for the last four decades or so.
The truth of the matter is that it's easy to assume that a priest who forgets parts of the Mass or seems careless is acting deliberately, out of the same sort of liberal agenda that motivates the Richard Voskos of the world--an agenda that seeks to re-create the Church in some totally new image, deliberately severing our prayers, practices, art, music, and architecture from the rich heritage of the past. Unfortunately this has been a part of our experience in the recent decades. To use language the other side likes to employ, it's part of a journey we share, a path we've all trod together--or, in other, more concrete words, many of us have encountered minor heretics in positions of authority in our parishes and dioceses, and have come to expect that certain types of liturgical behavior are linked to deliberate heterodoxy in theological opinion.
But that's no longer true; plenty of people who have remedied their own deficient education in Catholic catechesis are still catching up on Catholic liturgical matters. Plenty of sound, orthodox Catholics love On Eagle's Wings; and if they don't exactly love the church in the round they attend, it's hard to hate the place where you were married or where your children were baptized, or to hold in your heart of hearts the desire for it to be razed to the ground and replaced with an actual Catholic church. People who pray the rosary daily are glad to volunteer to be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion; people who draw clear lines between the priesthood of the faithful and the ordained priesthood might not see, or agree, that female altar servers can blur that line. The young female cantor who warbles a psalm as if it were a Broadway show tune may be quietly visiting orthodox convents to discern her vocation, and the priest who skips the Creed and adds unnecessary verbiage to the prayers at Mass can give a powerful and meaningful homily about the absolute necessity to cultivate a habit of daily prayer, complete with concrete examples like saying one's morning offering when one's eyes open, asking the Lord to set our feet in the right path when we set them on the floor, and praying the rosary in the car during our commute instead of indulging in less necessary and less charitable speech directed at the traffic around us.
It's not really possible, any more, to tell whether a person is a serious Catholic or not by the clues we've used for the last several decades. The most divisive element of all, most unfortunately, has been the Mass, but there are indications that that situation is going to change--slowly, gradually, perhaps, but it will change. The long time of upheaval is nearing its end, and it may be possible, one day in the near future, to speak of "Catholics" without needing all those qualifiers.
For that to happen, though, we all need to participate--and for me, that means not assuming the worst every time something happens at Mass that is not to my liking. A serious and deliberate abuse would be one thing, but unless I were to attend the parish in our diocese most known for its heterodoxy it is unlikely that I would witness such a thing. It may be hard to get into the habit of remaining calm and charitable when an occasional irregularity occurs, but if I am learning anything at all, it is that it is much better to act, when necessary, with caution and patience, than it is to risk spiritual injury to myself by the opposite habit of uncharitably jumping to conclusions.