Monday, November 9, 2009

Liturgical food fights

Let's not waste our energies on the little matter of the decades-old scandal of pro-abortion Catholics, though, shall we? Not when there are matters of much greater importance to discuss:
Catholics have lots of bad habits that are just in plain-old bad taste. One that bothers me is their tendency to walk out during the organ postlude. Here we have a organist performing a serious piece of music following Mass, an offering of talent to God and the community, but instead of listening and reflecting, regarding it as a special time of the week, many people just grab their stuff and fly out.

This practice really must change. It reflects poorly on our communities. It is also an insult to the organist. It says: I don't care what you are playing. You music and your efforts mean nothing to do me as compared with my own selfish desires to get the heck out of this place. It is even worse when people have loud conversations during the organ postlude, sometimes shouting over the organ so that they can hear each other. When a quiet spot in the music appears, you can suddenly hear a roar of conversation.
Now, let me preface this by saying a couple of important things:

One, I do believe liturgy is important. You won't see me dismissing grave liturgical abuses out of hand by claiming that so long as we love each other and work for peace and justice, it doesn't matter if Father invites the First Communion kids up around the altar during the Consecration. It does matter, and what matters most is that we remember that the Mass is not our plaything.

Two, I recognize that Catholics can have a tendency to leave Mass in an objectively disrespectful way. The practice of remaining silent inside the church proper, and keeping loud or boisterous conversations for the vestibule or the parish hall, is one that I'd like to see return. It should be recognized, however, that the unfortunate tendency to build churches "in the round" with no proper vestibule has contributed to the chat-in-church-after-Mass phenomenon; this is exacerbated when the church's Tabernacle is in a recessed small room or closet, to which those wishing to pray after Mass are supposed to go.

But those things said, I can't help but echo what some commenters at the original site of this piece were saying, which is, in effect: Really? The organ postlude?

If your church even has an organ, you're already privileged above many Catholics these days. Even so, though, nobody can really deny that the Mass ends when Father says, "Ite missa est," or, in the Ordinary Form, "The Mass is ended; go in peace." When the people have responded to this, the liturgical action is over. Both recessional hymn and organ postlude take place, as others at the New Liturgical Movement pointed out, outside the Mass, which has just concluded.

Sadly, other commenters at the NLM site remind me why I seldom find these hairsplitting debates edifying. I do not wish to name names, but it disturbs me no end to see a priest comment admiringly about a pastor who once locked doors to keep late arrivals/early departures from happening (locking parishioners inside), and who himself admits to stopping the liturgical action of the Mass to question people who were leaving early as to their reasons--which, he says, stopped people from leaving early. I know that for me, personally, it would have stopped me from ever returning to that parish, even if I were not the one being questioned. There are, after all, legitimate reasons to leave Mass early, involving illness or pregnancy or the care of an infant or toddler; imagine being grilled by Father while leaving for one of these reasons, when all you are trying to do is avoid disrupting the Holy Mass!

This is why I tend to be charitable about people who leave early from Mass. Sure, there might be people who do it Sunday after Sunday, who aren't visibly ill and don't have infants or toddlers in tow. But how do I know they aren't, especially in these hard economic times, working a Sunday afternoon shift at a store or restaurant? How do I know they aren't rushing home to be with a family member who is chronically, perhaps seriously, ill? It's not my place to judge or speculate.

Now, it is, certainly, a priest's place to remind people not to be sloppy about their Sunday obligation, to do their best to arrive on time and to stay for the whole Mass unless they have a serious reason to leave. The priest might, further, remind the congregation that serious reasons to leave early do not include wanting to be first out of the parking lot, or wanting to get home in time for a football game to start; further, serious reasons to leave early should be rare occasions (perhaps less rare during the infancy and toddlerhood of one's children), not every Sunday occurrences. If a person finds himself obliged to leave Mass early Sunday after Sunday he should, perhaps, consider attending a different Mass that will not conflict with his other obligations.

Having said that, though, I think that the place for a priest to discuss these sorts of things should be in a homily, and perhaps also in a bulletin insert or series of announcements. A plaque reminding people to hear the whole Mass, affixed near the exit doors, is also a good idea. And as far as the etiquette aspect of the question goes, I think that once the recessional hymn has begun, no one should leave before Father does (again, barring a sudden emergency, which is what happens when one's small child drops the hymn book, picks it up, bangs her head on the underside of the hymn-book rack, and starts to wail at least an octave above high C). When Father has left the church, I believe, anyone else ought to be able to leave, though of course it's nice if they decide to remain and sing the rest of the recessional hymn along with the choir. Since our little parish doesn't have an organ, though, I'll leave the etiquette aspect of the organ postlude question to those who have experience in this matter.

It comes back, though, as it so often does, to what our intentions are. Do we view Sunday Mass as a dreadful chore, something to be endured with gritted teeth, and "escaped" from as soon as Communion is over? Do we usually remain for the whole Mass? Do we usually arrive on time or early? If we must leave early, is it something relating to our vocation (e.g., parents attending to the needs of extremely small children who have already been really really good for an hour and a half and who weren't prepared to have to sit for another ten or fifteen minutes while the parish council finance committee chairman reads a report bristling with numbers which Father decided should be read this particular Sunday even though there was also a baptism after the homily and the homily itself was nineteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds long because there was a letter from the bishop which had to be read before Father could begin his Gospel reflections)? Or is it something relating to our physical needs (e.g. the person who piously fasted before Mass because it is his custom but forgot to check with his doctor about the new medicine which he took this morning and which is supposed to be taken with food and which is now making him feel extremely dizzy and lightheaded and he thought he was going to make it until Father told everyone to sit down after the final blessing because Father forgot about the second collection for the parish's sister parish in El Salvador which is especially embarrassing because the guest homilist spent a good half-hour talking about it all..)? Or is it, really, just a sloppy bad habit we've let ourselves drift into for no good reason at all?

There's a great deal of difference, I think, between encouraging ourselves and each other to ponder such questions honestly and in faithfulness, and assuming that anyone who leaves early is sinfully trying to beat the parking lot rush over to the breakfast buffet restaurant. Taking the second tone in any conversation about this topic is pretty much guaranteed to produce a liturgical food fight, full of noise and short on charity.


Alice said...

Thanks for reminding this professional organist and lurker on your blog why she never reads NLM. :P I have no issues with people leaving while I'm playing, although I really wish that they'd wait until they are out of the church to begin their conversations out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, I was under the impression that the definition of a postlude was the piece of music that covers the sound of the congregation leaving the building. Unless Mr. Tucker can find some documentation to back up his assertion that leaving during the postlude is in bad taste, I will continue to believe that sitting through the postlude is an oddity confined to the Episcopal Church. The Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary agrees with me.

John Thayer Jensen said...

I rarely have to leave Sunday Mass early (receiving Communion and tiptoeing out - what Scott Hahn refers to as "doing the Judas shuffle") - if I do there is some legitimate reason.

But I often have to leave weekday Mass after receiving the Lord. Depends on the priest, but some of them go on and on and I have decided it is better to tell the Lord I have to dash than to steal 10-15 minutes from my employer that he has paid me for.

I think the point in the illustration Red has made here is precisely that the postlude is an offering from a human being, not from God. We may receive it or not as we like. Our own parish has not, God help us, any organist most of the time and it is painful to participate even in the last hymn (which I do, however) because (a) the hymns are mostly very bad, and (b) the organist - when we have one - is worse. But we are there for God.

freddy said...

It's "Ite" -with an "e" :)
No biggie!
But please delete this comment if you get a chance to change it!

Natasha said...

The parishioners of the parish that I attend, clap for the choir at the end of the closing hymn. I feel that it relegates the mass to the level of a music concert. Instead of leaving the church quietly so that others my remain to pray, the clapping seems to cause people to break their reverence and people start chatting and talking loudly as they slowly make their way out of the church. Your opinions are so well thought out that I would love your take on this.

Red Cardigan said...

Freddy, thanks! Changed it. But I don't mind leaving your comment; I've made a few really silly errors lately, and need to remember to proofread (ask Mr. Jensen about my "interment/internment" error!) :)

John Thayer Jensen said...

'interment' was a typo! A typo!

I personally really dislike clapping at Mass, for any reason (Father is 80 years old, whatever). God knows we need all the helps we can to focus on God rather than on one another. Clapping seems to me the other direction entirely.


freddy said...

I once read in an etiquette manual that clapping is to be led by the host of the gathering. My husband always tells me that he'll clap in church when he hears God clapping!

Re: leaving early: I agree that this is a far more pastoral than liturgical issue. Priests need to give clear, charitable instruction on what is due the reverence of the Mass, the Presence of Our Lord, and each other. I always assumed the stories I've heard about doors being locked were urban myth -- it must violate fire codes, at least!

opey124 said...

When I hear "The Mass has ended" that really means, the Mass has ENDED. Closing song is optional.

Manners would probably dictate us not to race the priest and servers to the door but sometimes when ya gotta go..ya gotta go.

Why would we have to have reasons?

We were blocked from coming back into Mass one time by a greeter when our older son was older. He had to go to the bathroom ASAP. We were not allowed back in till communion started. We went during the homily and tried to come back in during the homily too.

patchwork said...

Nice thoughts shared here...first we have to be humans to become religious next.