Sunday, November 23, 2008

Father Said No

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."


Anonymous said...

Thanks be to God!
I am so happy for you!

When we encountered this at a different parish, it was coming from the priest not the DRE too. And her hands were tied and there was no discussing the matter further. He was set.

We have not received such favorable response. We have done all we can, and it is in their hands now.

We are happy for you.

freddy said...

And a good and timely reminder always to pray for our priests.

Nicola said...

Wonderful news, and I agree, positive support of Father will go a long way.

eulogos said...

I hope you know how lucky you are.

I told you about the everyone who died last year in the All Saints day litany thing. Which is serious. But nowadays I have radar that goes off probably way to soon and sends me flying. A week ago Sunday I went to the church which used to have the Latin mass (EF) at 8:30 am. I was told it was moved to a different church, drove there, only to find that it had started at 8-looked wistfully at the row of altar boys all genuflecting together and at people going up o receive communion kneeling, on the tongue. Went back to the first church to go to the NO at through it up until the kids were dismissed to go out to their special liturgy of the word (I once was the person who ran this at a different parish and I don't complain about it per se) and not only did the priest call them up to bless them, but he had everyone in the parish lift up one hand in a gesture of blessing. That was enough for me-blurring the distinction between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful...and not so much that, but it signalled what the total orientation of this place is likely to be. I was in back and slipped out, deciding that I would have to skip being with my husband at his 10:30 Anglican service, to go to the Byzantine rite at 10:30, which is what I did, and was glad I did, also, since the biritual priest who is the pastor of a parish down the street, gave a really good sermon about Purgatory and read to us from Spes Salvi.

There is also a parish which has a very well attended daily mass at 6:30 AM, that I used to attend sometimes while my husband went to a Wed am Eucharist at an Anglican church around the block. (Other times, if I had been to daily mass Mon and Tues, I would worship with the Anglicans and not receive.) Anyway, at this parish a middle aged pant suited nun did everything the priest didn't do, and a lot of stuff the priest ought to have been doing. Seeing her in street clothes up there at the altar setting up everything and cleaning up afterwards (the things priests usualy do, taking the sqaure thing off the chalice and laying out the little cloth...and afterwards cleaning the vessels) just drove me nuts after getting use to the Byzantine rite where only vested males even go behind the iconostasis. I would have to avert my eyes and look at a crucifix or a stained glass window.

Now, except for the 'canonizing all the deceased' thing, these aren't major issues and I am almost ashamed of being bothered by them, and I know at one time I would not have been bothered by them, but now that I am used to either the Byzantine rite or the EF, I just can't stand it. Even the Anglicans don't do anything which bothers me the way these things do.

I am glad to hear things turned out so well at your parish. It bodes well for the Church, and some of us in some dioceses just have to wait a bit longer. I am lucky in that there are so many options here within easy driving distance. (And the Anglican use an hour and 15 minutes away in Scranton as well.)
Susan Peterson