Still, there are times when certain things about parish life--both at my parish and others--will cause me to understand why it is that some people think the Mass itself is at fault. What are we to make, for instance, of the insistence that the church building is now a "worship space?" What are we to think of dreary art, unfortunate music, uninspired and pothering homilies that encourage us to love ourselves more and more each day, and the intrusion of the idea of community in places where it really has no business?
In my wanderings around the Internet, I sometimes happen across a parish website or bulletin that typifies this sort of "Spirit of Vatican II" mentality. I'm not necessarily talking about some parish which is practically notorious (at least in the Catholic blogging world) for hideous offenses against Catholic teaching; I'm referring more to the sort of parish which is rather common, and sadly unremarkable in the landscape of the modern Catholic parish.
Take, for instance, this parish. I'm not singling it out as some rare and extreme example of the worst excesses of the post-Conciliar period--not at all. In fact, I only happened across it because I came across a sort of "advice column" page on the website, which we'll get to in a moment. But it's not that there's anything terribly wrong with the parish's website. My own parish's website probably isn't much different--and that's actually the problem. As you click around to the various links, what you'll see are a lot of words, words like:
- faith tradition
- lived out in community
- communal celebration of liturgy
- hospitality is a prerequisite
- leadership team
- social ministry
- communal sung prayer
What words won't you see? Well, a few I didn't see--though perhaps if I'd read each link thoroughly I might have found one or two:
- Jesus Christ (though "Jesus" appears on the page about funerals)
- Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
- Worship (unless it was followed by "space")
- Call to holiness
Like I said before, the sad thing about this is that it is not at all remarkable. There are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of parish websites that are virtually identical. And it's so hard to put your finger on what exactly is wrong--because it's not that "community" or "fellowship" or any of the other words in the first list are evil concepts or bad ideas, after all. It's just that they are ideas that can't stand alone, that without some of those words in the second list they exist as incomplete things.
As I mentioned earlier, though, the reason I stumbled across the website at all was because I found this page: Sister Manners Goes To Mass. It reads like an advice column, and while some of it is the sort of advice to Catholics few people would quibble with, other parts of it...are not. Here are some examples: (NB: the examples do not all occur one after the other in the original, but given the format I chose not to insert the usual ellipses to indicate that this was the case.)
Dear Sr. Manners: What’s with the drums, maracas, synthesizers and all the other instruments at Mass? Are they appropriate?My first thought upon reading this page was that I'd really like Sister Manners to meet Father Zuhlsdorf. That would be something, no?
Gentle Christian: Even Sr. Manners, paragon of liturgical etiquette that she is, admits that she prefers certain styles of music over others. However, she also recognizes that liturgy is not a personal devotion, and appreciates the variety of music as a sign of the variety of people in the community. Read the psalms. They instruct the people to praise the Lord with tambourine, ten-stringed lyre, cymbals and dance, and to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. The point is, dear Christian, that there are many ways to praise God with music. While personal tastes and preferences differ, many styles of music can be included in good liturgy. Good liturgy involves the whole person -- senses, intellect, emotions. Music can affect all of these. A stirring spiritual, a meditative hymn, a contemporary liturgical song and a "golden oldie" can all be appropriate. The religious music of various cultures can invite the mass-goer into a new experience of prayer. Just as the musicians do not impose their personal tastes on the congregation to the exclusion of all other styles of music, so Sr. Manners urges you, dear worshipper, to recognize that music which does not appeal to you might lead another person to a fuller participation.
Dear Sr. Manners: Why are visitors asked to stand at Mass? And is all that clapping appropriate in church?
Gentle Christian: Visitors are celebrated, because of all the places they could go while visiting this area rich in history and amusements -- for this time period -- they have chosen to be at Mass. What a wonderful witness to the community! Secondly, welcoming all should be a primary focus of a church that proclaims itself "Catholic," i.e., universal. Sr. Manners hopes that parishioners, once made aware of the presence of visitors, continue the welcome in a friendly greeting after Mass, an invitation to stay for coffee and some pleasant conversation. Now about the clapping ... A warm, appreciative applause is simply another expression of the community’s sentiment. Clapping to welcome a visitor, congratulate a first communicant, or thank a fellow-parishioner for his or her ministry is neither disrespectful nor inappropriate.
Dear Sr. Manners: I prefer to bring my toddlers to Mass. As long as I bring toys and snacks to entertain them, isn’t this okay? The people around me seem to be amused by my child’s activities, and my little one’s occasional crying or talking should be understandable to parents. What do you think?
Gentle Christian: Oh dear.... Sr. Manners is afraid you have confused the worship center and the nursery. The nursery is the proper place for the entertainment of small children while the adult community focuses itself on offering praise and thanksgiving to God. Although the Scripture says to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord," Sr. Manners is of the opinion that this refers to singing, not to toddler chatter. Young children who spend a happy hour in the nursery will begin to understand that coming to Church on Sundays is a regular part of the family’s routine, and something to which they will look forward. Your fellow Christians will duly admire and entertain your child during the fellowship after Mass, for which -- of course -- your family makes time.
Dear Sr. Manners: I think it is nice that people are greeted when they enter the Church on Sunday morning. But I’m a shy person and kind of rush by to get to my seat. Do you think I am being impolite to the greeters? ... I don’t mean to be....
Gentle Christian: Two considerations come to mind. First, the simple etiquette of responding to a greeting does apply here. The individual who offers the greeting deserves the courtesy of a response. Equally important, however, is that the greeter is there as a representative of the parish community. He or she is welcoming you in their name and is there as a sign of the communal nature of the Sunday Eucharist. You are not at Mass for private prayer or a "me and Jesus" encounter. You are there as a member of the Body of Christ to offer praise and thanksgiving to God as the community celebrates Eucharist, led by the presider. Awareness of the community is essential to good liturgy, and that starts by graciously accepting the greeting given in the community’s name when you enter the worship space. That greeting sets the context for the whole celebration.
Dear Sr. Manners: What should I do if I have a cold and am offered the cup at Communion?
Gentle Christian: Christian sharing does not include those nasty cold germs. Out of respect for the health of one’s fellow members of the Body of Christ, it is permissible for a person with such a problem to pass up the cup. Barring such circumstances, however, the faithful are urged to fully participate in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup -- the better to symbolize the unity of Christ and his people. While she is on the topic of the cup, permit Sr. Manners to address another unpleasantry: Lipstick is meant for the lips -- not the rim of the cup. Wearers are cautioned to be moderate in the use of such adornments, trusting that their natural beauty will shine through.
My second, though, is how sadly--deficient, for lack of a better word--this all is. In quick order:
- No, many instruments are not appropriate at Mass, especially if we are talking about parishes of the Latin Rite in nations that have a fairly strong Western Christian heritage and connection to that culture, and thus have no reason not to use an organ; not all music styles are appropriate for Mass; it has nothing to do with personal preferences, and everything to do with the difference between sacred and profane music and the use of music at Mass.
- Visitors shouldn't be asked to stand, and the only person entitled to clap at Mass is God, for Whom we are gathered. If He doesn't choose to clap, nobody else should, either. Sure, not the worst thing, but not exactly conducive to reverent worship, either.
- The parent has not confused the nursery with the "worship center;" the parent, poor soul, is still under the impression that the "worship center" is a Catholic church, and thus that her little Catholics are perfectly welcome. This doesn't excuse the parent from removing the child if things get out of hand, of course, but where exactly in the nursery does a child ever learn about the Mass? Oh, that's right--she doesn't have to, because when she's too old for the nursery she's just the right age to be sent out of the church to color things in the middle of Mass (otherwise known as "Children's Liturgy") until she's old enough to drive. Or vote. Assuming she's still Catholic by then, which is actually assuming rather a lot.
- The greeting doesn't set the tone for anything, not being a part of the Mass, and the Mass could proceed as scheduled if there were only one person beside Father there. The community doesn't confect the Eucharist, though Sister Manners is charmingly oblique about that.
- I don't know about Sister Manners, but when I go to Mass I don't break bread or share a cup. I receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. I choose to receive Him under the appearance of bread, because I was raised with that custom and because I recognize that He is fully present in the smallest fragment of the consecrated Host, or the tiniest drop of the Precious Blood.