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.