Once upon a time, in a diocese far, far away, there lived a species of creature known as the Liturgical Nitpicker Catholic (LNC). The LNC was a sour faced, disgruntled person; he (though sometimes he was a she) lived for the joy of catching mistakes at Mass, and had a keen eye and powerful observation skills which aided his quest of perpetual fussiness about all things liturgical. Were the buckles on Father's shoes a shade too big? Did one of the requisite number of candles on the altar go out before the end of Mass, suffering from an untrimmed wick or a careless altar boy's lighting efforts? Did Father fail to bow deeply enough at each of the proper moments, or was there a shade of unseemly irreverent haste in Father's proclamation of the Last Gospel? Did Father fail to rein in a runaway choir, or was his Latin pronunciation painful to the ear?
The LNC would purse his lips at each transgression and make a mental note of it. Though he would die rather than admit it, he lived for the joy of collecting these errors of omission or commission and taking them to the pastor, or writing long and heavily detailed letters to the bishop on occasion if the pastor was the one at fault.
Does this seem like a fairy tale, like a mythical made-up creature with no basis in reality? I'm told that it isn't, that this person did indeed, and still does, exist. In fact, if he didn't exist we'd have a lot easier time of it when serious reasons for legitimate liturgical concerns arose; it's because of the LNC that another species of Catholic, the Legitimate Concern Raiser (LCR) can't get anywhere much of the time.
Because unlike the LNC, the LCR doesn't like to complain about things that go on at Mass. He (and again, he can be a she) doesn't go out of his way to notice minor mistakes, and is charitable about Father's use of "Eucharistic celebration" instead of "Mass" on occasion, or other similar things. He's always quite willing to believe that an error occurs either by mistake, or possibly by some small ignorance on the part of the celebrant or those assisting; he never likes to presume guilt, and will only approach the pastor or some other authority when no other option exists. He wrestles with his conscience on even big liturgical transgressions, wondering if others have already let the pastor know and wondering whether any good will be done by talking about the matter. Perhaps it won't be repeated, he thinks hopefully.
But then it is repeated, and the LCR is in a bind. Should he go to the pastor, or not? Worse, if it is the pastor who is responsible for what is rapidly becoming outright liturgical abuse, ought he write to the bishop, or not?
Catholic mothers understand the dilemma, because nearly all of us have been in the place of the pastor or the bishop. The situation unfolds like this:
Mother is seated at a desk, paying household bills or planning lessons. The children are playing in another room, when Mary Margaret Therese Grace (called "Dolly" for short) comes skipping in.
"Mother," she announces with a toss of her six-year-old head, "Origen isn't sharing his blocks. He won't let Innocent have any of them."
"Does Innocent want them, dear?"
"No, not yet, but he might, and Origen says he's making a really big tower. He's being selfish."
"Does anyone else want the blocks right now?"
"Dolly, go play."
A few minutes later Dolly returns again. "Mother, Anne Elizabeth said 'brat.' I heard her, and..."
"Was she calling someone a brat, dear?"
"Well, no, but..."
"Then why did she say it?"
"She said she didn't like 'Bratz' dolls, but we're not supposed to say 'brat,' so I thought..."
"I don't like 'Bratz' dolls either. It's okay to say that. Now go play."
Dolly stomps off, frowning.
Moments later, Alexandra Sarah Anastasia, called "Sisi," enters the room. "Mom," she begins, "Innocent and Ambrose are fighting, and..."
Mother lays down her pen and takes a deep breath. "Sisi," she says, "I'm trying to get some work done. You children can get along with each other for five minutes while I finish! Now go play--or you're all going to get Quiet Time!"
Five minutes later, Mother will be giving her children one of their least favorite lectures: Why You Should Always Tell Mother When Someone's Nose Is Bleeding, and Why Daddy's Electric Toothbrush Won't Remove Blood From Grandmother's Heirloom Rug. Sisi will be grumpy--she tried to tell, but Mother wouldn't listen.
When we have a serious reason to contact a pastor or bishop about a truly egregious sort of liturgical abuse, we have to remember that they're much more used to encountering the LNC or "Dolly" sort of complainer. We have to be prepared to explain why this particular abuse is much more serious than the average failure to "Say the Black, Do the Red." We have to be calm, non-accusatory, and show how much in our words and demeanor we regret even having to mention it. Nevertheless, we should persevere, when the occasion really warrants it; the good pastors and good bishops do want to know about nosebleed-level abuses, and if the less good ones won't take action, we will have done all we can, and can turn to prayer for liturgical reverence with clear consciences.