3. The Other Parts of the MassThe biggest problems to me are these: first, that the Gospel reading is not taken from the Lectionary readings for Christmas Mass but is made up of a blended, "cut and paste" set of readings from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew; some of the readings are from the Gospel for Epiphany, and not for Christmas at all! Moreover, since this pageant has apparently been done for years, the words from St. Luke's Gospel are not from the current Lectionary and do not match the approved texts for the Mass. Second, the interruption of the Gospel readings by no less than five Christmas carols is a serious disruption of the Mass, and fosters a spirit of entertainment instead of worship, and my family, being in the choir, would be expected to help lead in the singing of these carols.
[58.] All of Christ’s faithful likewise have the right to a celebration of the Eucharist that has been so carefully prepared in all its parts that the word of God is properly and efficaciously proclaimed and explained in it; that the faculty for selecting the liturgical texts and rites is carried out with care according to the norms; and that their faith is duly safeguarded and nourished by the words that are sung in the celebration of the Liturgy.
[59.] The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.
[61.] In selecting the biblical readings for proclamation in the celebration of Mass, the norms found in the liturgical books are to be followed, so that indeed “a richer table of the word of God will be prepared for the faithful, and the biblical treasures opened up for them”.
[62.] It is also illicit to omit or to substitute the prescribed biblical readings on one’s own initiative, and especially “to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God”.
[63.] “Within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of the Gospel, which is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word”, is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister. Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it.
Thus, while I appreciate everyone's comments, those who indicated that perhaps this was no big deal and should be overlooked for the sake of the community etc. are, I think, not looking at the whole situation. This isn't a case of possible "rule-bending" which my family would simply witness; it is a case of outright liturgical abuse in which my family would be expected to participate in the fullest sense (e.g., singing the songs between the "Gospel" reading/play-acting).
I realize the truth of several things which get said when these issues are brought up: that each of us individually is quite probably the gravest liturgical abuse at any given Mass; that a spirit of charity and assuming people don't know better is healthier spiritually than a critical spirit that jots down the slightest faltering as if it were deliberate abuse; that a priest may "ad-lib" a prayer or phrase here or there under the completely mistaken notion that he is permitted to do so; that focusing on all the possible errors at Mass (and this is true whether you attend an N.O. or a TLM) will rob you of the joy and peace which should attend you when you are worshiping God in this perfect prayer of the Church, and so on. Certainly I have left my "liturgical nit-picking" days far behind me, and am inclined toward charity even in this instance--that the people planning it do not know any better. The problem is that I do know better, and will be held accountable for that knowledge even if no one else is so held.
At the same time, being a member of a parish is not an arbitrary thing, and as some have justly pointed out, it is not really fair for me to put the whole choir in a bad situation by refusing to be present at this Christmas Mass, instead going elsewhere and leaving a much smaller choir to provide the legitimate music needed for the Mass. What I'll ultimately decide to do isn't clear at this point, because I have yet to communicate my concerns through the proper channels. Brief discussion at Mass with some other choir members leads me to believe that the community in general isn't uniformly thrilled with this way of doing things, but that because the parish has been doing it in this way for so long they don't see a possibility of change--even though we have a new pastor who may be more receptive to concerns, as well as a relatively new bishop who may not yet be aware that situations like these exist in the diocese.
So, at this point, I think my course of action is as follows:
1. Write a clear, brief, extremely diplomatic letter to the DRE who organizes the pageant, sharing the relevant quotes from Redemptionis Sacramentum and asking why unapproved texts, blended texts, and the Gospel for a wholly different feast are being planned for Christmas Mass; I think my real concerns can be expressed in a non-hostile, non-threatening way, and by writing to the DRE first I am not "attacking" her personally, but giving her the chance to respond.
2. If necessary, share a copy of this first letter with the pastor, asking politely if there is some provision I am unaware of that makes it permissible for the Gospel at Christmas Mass to be replaced by an assortment of texts including the Gospel for Epiphany, and to be interrupted by the singing of carols.
3. If necessary, share any correspondence I have had with the DRE and the pastor with the bishop or other chancery officials.
At that point, if the blended Gospel/pageant is going forward as planned, decide on what level of participation if any is possible for me and for my family. (One option would be to be present for and sing for the other parts of the Mass but to ask to be excused from the "mid-Gospel caroling" on the grounds of my serious disagreement with this practice.)
Now, I know from some of the responses I received in person, there are people who are simply scratching their heads. Why care? Why bother? Let the kiddies have their fun--it's Christmas, after all, and who would be such a Grinch as to insist on some dull liturgical rules instead of getting with the spirit of things? seems to be the gist of a lot of it.
The fact is that despite what a terrible series of events has caused us to believe for the past forty years or so, the Mass is not our property, to do with as we wish. It's not about "inclusion" or "community" or "making people feel happy" or any similar things, even if those things are a part of it. The Mass is our highest and most solemn act of public worship, the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. The priest offers this sacrifice to the Father on our behalf, while we participate by uniting ourselves to this most holy prayer, whether silently or by speaking and singing the various prayers the people may join in saying or singing. Anything which adds to this worship, such as periods of silence at the appropriate times, reverence for the Sacred Body and Blood as evidenced by careful purification of the vessels after Communion, newer and more accurate English translations of the Latin prayers, etc. is the sort of "innovation" we should appreciate even if these things are "new" where we are.
But welcoming innovations for the sake of novelty or insising on "old customs" which were never appropriate in the first place, especially when these things detract from the solemnity of the Mass, ought not to be appreciated or clung to stubbornly. We need to be evalutating these extraneous customs that have crept in to examine whether they were ever permitted, whether they are desirable, whether they ought to be part of the Holy Mass or belong quite properly in devotional practices outside of it, and the like. And this is true whether the practice is one we actually like or not--I recall hearing about a priest who for a while had added a "Hail Mary" in at a quiet part of the Mass out of his deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, but who eventually realized that Our Lady was not honored by his decision to add a prayer to the Mass which is not a part of it.
Many of us speak about the "reform of the reform," and are glad to be living in a time when this concept is beginning to bear fruit. But it is frustrating to me that so many (though not my readers, necessarily!) seem, even in the face of verifiable liturgical abuse, and serious abuse at that, to counsel silence, even though silence may seem to give consent (Qui tacet consentire vidétur). It is not a small thing to wish for the integrity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be preserved and respected, and the example we give to our children, including the ones who are in the pageant, is not a small thing either. When I remember the dubious liturgical celebrations of my youth, and the free and easy way in which the Mass was often "re-imagined" for the sake of us children, I do not feel gratitude towards those presumably well-meaning devastators, but a deep unhappiness that they consipired to rob me and my contemporaries of our Catholic birthright, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, untainted by modern tampering, limited political/social agendas (e.g., the Mass I attended in high school where the "readings" and "Gospel" were from the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and a personal axe or two to grind with the Church in regards to women's ordination, lay overreaching, and other misguided fantasies of what some of them thought the Church ought to be. And I doubt that those of today's "Christmas pageant children" who haven't left the Church by their adulthood will think fondly of their coerced involvement in heterodox practices, either.