Monday, May 4, 2009

Let the Mass be the Mass

All of the conversations and discussions I've had with people recently about the various US bishops' measures designed to limit the spread of swine flu have led to other thoughts and observations about the liturgy in general.

More than forty years after the Second Vatican Council, there are still a lot of strong feelings about the Novus Ordo Mass and the proper, reverent way to do things from a liturgical perspective. Opinions among Catholic weekly Mass attendees seems to range from "Novus Ordo? Who cares--it's heretical/invalid/suspect anyway!" to "Hey, what's wrong with clapping for people during Mass when it's their birthday/anniversary/First Communion/etc.?" to "You just haven't given liturgical dance a fair chance, and if you did, I know you'd like it."

I ended up thinking about these things when I reflected on a shopping experience I had recently. I had to shop for an article of clothing that I don't really like to shop for--an unmentionable, if you will. Since I have many gentlemen readers and since some of my lady readers have little ones who can just barely read, we'll pretend, for the sake of propriety, that I am talking about slippers.

My leanings, when I purchase slippers, are definitely on the traditional side--no newfangled innovations for me, thank you very much. I want slippers to meet three basic criteria: they should cover my whole foot or very nearly that much; they should be supportive of my feet, and there should be no poky wires that the shoe-makers like to insist are there for support but we all know are really there in an increasingly hopeless attempt to make one's feet appear to defy gravity.

You would think that these three criteria would be easily met by the slipper manufacturers and their multiple offerings, but you would be sadly deceived. Every year there seem to be fewer and fewer slippers made without the poky wires; every year there seem to be more slippers designed not only to reveal, but even to accentuate the feet instead of covering them; and as for support--well, slipper makers must believe that nobody's feet ever actually get tired, since they focus so much on the appearance of the slipper and so little on things like fit or comfort.

And so I shop for slippers as rarely as possible. I pick out one type I like and buy them year after year. But alas! the slipper-merchants apparently believe that innovation for innovation's sake is a virtue; and once again, my "for years" style of slippers has been discontinued by the manufacturer.

And the manufacturer isn't making another slipper even remotely like the ones I used to buy. Which means the sheer frustration of going into store after store and trying on slipper after slipper in the hopes that one will fit just right, like Cinderella's shoe; and then I'll buy that same sort for a few more years until the maker decides it's time to shake things up again with more styles that do exactly what I don't want my slippers to do.

I was reflecting on this, and on the various conversations I'd had with people about the liturgy, and it hit me that the two had some similarities. A lot of Catholics don't want the Mass to be a source of constant innovation, either--that's not what it's for. It is for worship, and when it comes to worship a lot of people want three things: reverence that covers the whole Mass, not just portions of it in a crazy-quilt of liturgical unevenness; spiritual support that draws one into the prayer without constantly drawing attention to the priest-celebrant or the lectors or choir or EMHCs and so forth; and an absence of "poky wires" which are those jarring moments when, owing to the comedy stylings of the homilist you suddenly think you're in a comedy club instead of a church, or owing to the bright teacher-like tones of the DRE you suddenly think you're in school, or owing to some other thing (and there are many) you suddenly think you're in bedlam, because any quiet reverent liturgical character has been irretrievably lost.

Unfortunately, while I suspect that many, many Catholics could agree with the paragraph just above, there are two very vocal factions fighting over the liturgy most of the time: the people who think that slippers themselves are an evil innovation and should be immediately replaced by high-button shoes like these; and the people who think flip-flops are formal footwear (if you'll pardon my return to my rather strained analogy). And those of us who like to let slippers be slippers, let unmentionables be unmentionables, and let the Mass be the Mass tend to get drowned out in all the shouting and agenda-framing.

That's why Fr. Z's motto (well, one of them, anyway), "Say the Black, Do the Red," has been so popular; I think it's what the vast majority of us want. Say the Black, Do the Red; let the Mass be the Mass. But to do that, we have to remember what the Mass is for, in the first place--and that means letting go of the wrongheaded ideas about how the Mass is a place for us to come and share our stories and log our journeys and celebrate each other's lives in moments of joy and sorrow and all those other things that, however worthy in themselves, have no more to do with the Mass than high heels and buttons have to do with slippers.


LarryD said...

So what you're saying is, the Mass ought not to life and separate. Got it. ;-)

LarryD said...

errgghh - should be "lift", not "life".

Red Cardigan said...

Lift, yes. Separate, no. :-)

Sarah said...


Charlotte (Matilda) said...

Bravo! Why do I have the voice of an overly friendly slipper saleswoman in my head saying, "If your slippers fit correctly, they should not be painful or uncomfortable to wear."

And... did you know that you can look for um... slippers online by the manufacturer's number. You might be able to find some that aren't sold out yet. Check Amazon.

Red Cardigan said...

Unfortunately, Charlotte, BTDT. Sold out in my size. Alas. :-(

John Thayer Jensen said...

An Opus Dei priest friend of mine once said to me - there was going to be a 'Youth Mass' in the diocese - that "Mass-plus is always Mass-minus."


kkollwitz said...

I am thankful to belong to a parish where we don't have to sort through which flavor Mass we'd like. All our Masses offer the "three things" you so pithily enumerate.

Anonymous said...

I live in the very fortunate situation that there is a Catholic Church for nearly every taste within 10 miles.

There's the invigorative, embracing college campus Mass, where our rather conservative student population gives no grief to those of us that don't want to raise their arms during the Lord's Prayer.

Mass celebrated at the Church a 15-minute walk away where my neighbors and those of a certain socioeconomic class from out of town, sort of depends on each substitute priest celebrant until a more permanent replacement is found. Sometimes, because of the ambivalence of parishioners that sometimes don't seem to know where they stand in their own regard, there's a little awkwardness whether or not this or that priest will skip the Sign of Peace, or the Angelus will ring.

There's the Cathedral where the soprano choir leader throws the music to the four winds for those of us in the pews, but must sound okay to her in the loft, but the Bishop always gives a great sermon, and something practical to take home.

There's the Mass celebrated in the Church in the less wealthy section of town by Fr. Lickety-Split and most people do whatever they want, including slinking out right after Holy Communion.

There's the friendly Spanish family atmosphere (with lots of joyous expression including hand holding and waving) at the Mass celebrated at the Church of the parochial school.

There is the solemnity of Mass at the hospital chapel the size of a cathedral (served hundreds of nursing nuns in the late 1800's), with Mass celebrated by the hospital chaplain.

And, then, there's a Byzantine Rite celebrated less frequently in the south part of town.

One thing I found eyebrow raising when I moved to this area were people that entered messages in the Personals Section of the newspaper addressed to St. Jude, and references to gaining heavenly reward for donating to particular religious shrines. And, sometimes I attended Mass where middle-aged women in their family group prayed the Rosary all throughout Mass and didn't seem to pay any attention to what was going on around them, not hearing the Gospel, nor actively listening to the sermon. I think it set an improper example to their kids to 'zone out' whenever they felt their own interest was of more importance than participation in Mass.

I remember growing up with the Et Cum Spiritu and priest with his back to us at the altar--and, I remember my mother taking me to Mass in her old ethnic neighborhood with Mass celebrated in a language she never taught us--I was furious that I couldn't understand a word. I remember traveling with my family once through a section of Canada where we attended an Anglican Catholic Mass because it was the only one we could find.

Smugness for the sake of attention paid to doing everything to the letter of the law is not as highly valued as an attribute in comparison to 'action in the spirit of', perhaps.

Sally said...

I love my parish. Mass is beautiful and reverant and that's all that matters.

Charlotte said...

Yes, but the vast majority of readers/commenters on Father Z's blog INSIST that the only way the mass is the mass is if it is a Latin mass. With this I take issue.

m.z. said...

If your concern is comfort and fit you may wish to switch from slippers to shoes (tesroc). Shoes are made for more everyday use. Slippers are a modern innovation in themselves.

freddy said...

I am a daily reader of Fr. Z's site and it is simply not true that a "vast majority" INSIST that the only way the mass is the mass is if it is a Latin mass.

I have seen a few folks who say that; Fr. Z and others shut them down fairly quickly. I have seen it implied; usually it is off-topic and completely ignored.

How you can even begin to guess the mentality of all the readers, since most sites get far more readers than commenters is way beyond me.

However, it is no secret on his blog that he loves the EF mass in its beauty and history. That surely attracts others who feel the same.

Given that many readers of Fr. Z's blog probably feel disposed toward liking the EF mass, this may color your perception of them. (us?) But I just have never seen the evidence of such a dogmatic and, really, heretical, point of view.

Dymphna said...

I'm also a daily reader of WDTPRS and the majority do NOT insist that Mass be Latin or nothing.

Jeannette said...

Ah, Erin, I just received an email warning that there is a strong link between too-tight, ummm, "slippers", and ummm, "foot" cancer. (After 8 kids, there's no way I'm going "barefoot" though.

mz, did you catch that slippers were a euphemism? If not, I have no idea what the "shoes" might be.

And I fear Erin may get a few extra days in Purgatory for the analogy between bras and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (unless God has an Infinite Sense of Humor;)

m.z. said...

Read the word in parenthesis backwards and you will see. I guess I was too cute by half.

Jeannette said...

Thanks! It was a later time zone for me...