I apologize to anyone who read my "teaser" from last week promising to tell you the story of Father and the Pageant; it really wasn't intended to be a trick, and I had every intention of sitting down and writing the story of what happened either later that afternoon, or Saturday morning at the latest.
But the Cold of Endless Crud had other ideas; I started running a fever Friday evening, and it's been popping back up at night since then. I think I'm finally on the mend, and also that I should probably rename this virus as "The Flu-Like Illness of Endless Crud," because that would be more accurate.
Since I've been sick, and at home, all weekend, I can see even more clearly God's loving Providence in the chance encounter I had with our DRE on Thursday. Ordinarily I would not see our DRE on Thursday, or any other day except Sunday. But I happened to see her at church when my family went for choir practice (silly me, I thought the Cold of EC was almost over, and that my raspy, decidedly non-musical voice was proof of that!), and I had the opportunity of a few minutes' conversation with her.
I had just begun, as delicately as possible, to ask about this planned "pageant Gospel" reading, when she shook her head decisively. "No," she said. "Father said no."
"Father said..." I started to ask.
"We can't do it this way. The children can still bring up the pieces of the Nativity set [I hadn't realized that was what the 'pageant' was for--E.M.], but Father said we can't change the readings at Mass, not on a Sunday or a Holy Day. We can use the Christmas Gospel from St. Matthew or St. Luke [e.g., for the Vigil, as Mass is Dec. 24 at night, or for Midnight, because this Mass takes the place of Midnight Mass at our small mission which does not have its own Midnight Mass--E.M.] but we can't use the one we had on the paper, so we won't be doing that."
We talked further. It turns out she was aware of the rule regarding readings--but was given this paper of combined readings by the previous pastor who insisted and ordered that Christmas Mass had to be done this way, leaving her in the unenviable position of having to be obedient to the pastor in an area where the pastor really didn't have the authority to command that such a thing be done. I don't know exactly what is happening with the "music" idea; perhaps the choir will sing after the (much shorter) Gospel while the children build the Nativity scene--at this point, though, since Father has insisted that the one definite outright liturgical abuse would not be happening, I can understand if he wants to ease out the other things over time, instead of forbidding all of it at once.
Since I wasn't able to attend Mass this morning, as I was still running a fever, I can be truly thankful for this chance encounter earlier in the week; otherwise, it would be next week at the earliest before I would have learned of the change in plans, and trying to figure out what to do would have weighed a lot on my mind on that First Sunday of Advent.
I have a lot to reflect on, here. The first is that so often these "little heterodoxies" that creep into a parish's liturgical celebrations are not necessarily coming from the laity. Many times, instead, lay workers like the DRE are constantly having to put a "good face" on things they're really rather uncomfortable with--but many of them think, that since "Father" told them this is the way he wants things to be done, that there's really nothing wrong with it, or that "Father" must have permission, somehow, to bend the rules. On the other hand, when a new "Father" inherits an old bad situation, he may have to pick his battles, and lay down the law where there is law, but take a slower approach in rooting out things that, while perhaps inadvisable in a liturgical context, are not actually an abuse. Unfortuanately, I think a lot of the new "Fathers" coming in to these old situations may be less forceful than my new pastor was here, and actually permit what they know to be wrong with a view toward rooting it out later; I think my pastor's approach is exactly the right one, to set the example from the get-go that actual liturgical abuse will not be tolerated, not even for reasons of "pastoral sensitivity" or other noble-sounding excuses.
Another thing I've been thinking about is that my pastor, this new Father of ours, needs full-fledged support just now. He is doing the right thing, and if he permits the children of the parish to carry up pieces of the Nativity Scene during or just after the Gospel, this is not something to stamp and shout about. His priorities were clearly in the right place; he said "No" to the one thing that had to be stopped, right now, today. I think those of us who care about the integrity of the Mass will do better to let him know how happy we are with this change, and to let him know we'll be glad to support similar changes in the future, than we will if we express an ungrateful attitude that says, "Well, we like that you're not allowing the abuse, but so long as you permit the slightest irregularity that doesn't rise to the level of abuse we're going to consider ourselves the loyal (or not so loyal) opposition." I think good priests sometimes get pretty disheartened by this attitude from those who should be their friends; they're going to get plenty of grief from the other side, who are going to want to know why what was good enough for Father Yesterday isn't good enough for Young Father Today, without getting piled on by the rest of us as well.
The third thing is that it's pretty wonderful when Father says "no" to the kinds of things that should get that answer! How many of us grew up with priests who said "no" to all the old traditional things: rosaries, processions, Holy Hours, Latin even once a year in one song, and so on? This new priest of ours, who is young, and from another country, has two parishes to take care of: our tiny mission and a busy bilingual parish (English/Spanish, but Father is not from a Spanish-speaking country). He has only been with us a few months, but his first priority was to make a slight adjustment in the Mass schedule so that he himself could be with us every Sunday, instead of rotating visiting priests as was the practice of the former pastor. He said to me recently, "This parish is such a wonderful community--how could I not want to be here every week?" He has added a Wednesday evening Mass just before the religious education classes start to encourage children and their parents to come to Mass an additional time a week; he is planning to start Friday adoration, perhaps beginning on First Fridays and eventually being held weekly; he is making himself available for "office hours" at our parish on a regular basis, and is working on other issues to benefit the parish as well.
The hardest thing about trying to be involved in a parish these days is having any kind of trust. From the "feel-good" spirituality to the liturgical hijacking to the parish wreckovations to the preferential option toward heretics, most parishes we've known, for those of us in my generation, have not been places we could trust; add to that the horrors of the Scandal and it's no wonder so many orthodox Catholics have become spiritual nomads, wandering from parish to parish, a little tired and a little bitter and a lot gun-shy, to the extent that we're liable to cut and run at the first sign of something that would be frowned over by the folks at Catholic Answers. It's a balm to our souls when we encounter a situation like this, and are feeling our usual sort of heartsickness and weariness, only to find out that, after all, Father said "No."