Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sister Manners and the Attack of the Worship Space

As readers may remember, I attend a Novus Ordo Mass every Sunday. I'm not one of those who thinks the Mass is itself deficient or wrong in some way, though I'm eager for the reform of the reform. I do believe that most of what went wrong after Vatican II is not so much the fault of the Mass as of those who saw the changes as an opportunity to promote their own agendas, which were often far-removed from the mind of the Church.

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
  • stewardship
  • leadership team
  • social ministry
  • communal sung prayer
  • fellowship
and so on. The most recent bulletin also mentions the parish book club's current selection: The Shack. Sigh.

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
  • Reverence
  • Worship (unless it was followed by "space")
  • Call to holiness
  • Prayer
and a few others of that sort.

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?

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 first thought upon reading this page was that I'd really like Sister Manners to meet Father Zuhlsdorf. That would be something, no?

My second, though, is how sadly--deficient, for lack of a better word--this all is. In quick order:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
It's hard not to be frustrated by this sort of thing. It's hard not to cast one's eyes upon the Risen Christ crucifix to the side of the table in the worship space and ask, "How long, O Lord?"


Aaron said...

If "most of what went wrong after Vatican II is not so much the fault of the Mass," then that implies to me that some of what went wrong is somewhat the fault of the Mass. Or to put it another way, the new form of the Mass was a useful tool in the hands of those

Aaron said...

Sorry, accidentally submitted my last comment early. Starting over:

If "most of what went wrong after Vatican II is not so much the fault of the Mass," then that implies to me that some of what went wrong is somewhat the fault of the Mass. Or to put it another way, the new form of the Mass may not have been designed to do harm, but it is a useful tool in the hands of those with harmful agendas.

Having attended the Novus Ordo until the age of 39, attitudes like Sr. Manners's seem like a natural extension of it to me. The new Mass, whether it was intended that way or not, says "do your own thing." And we have.

The thing is, we do have an alternative. It's not like the old form of the Mass has been lost to antiquity; it was the only form 50 years ago. We still have people who know it by heart, and if we hadn't suppressed Latin in the seminaries, most priests could begin saying it with a few weeks' training. We're not actually stuck with the Novus Ordo in the long term.

I don't understand the reluctance to ever "go backward." Is that just a reflection of our "progressive" culture, that once we change something, it's wrong to ever change back? We don't have to declare the Novus Ordo evil; just admit that it's not as good, that it doesn't teach the faith well, and call it a noble experiment that didn't work out.

Red Cardigan said...

Aaron, to "go backward" completely would be to say that the changes to the Mass were not needed at all. I tend to agree with those who thought that some of the changes were needed--the scope and sweep of all the changes, not necessarily, but I'm not an expert on the liturgy.

Even Pope Benedict XVI, before his election, wrote something about the older form of the Mass having been covered over with too many accretions over the ages (I don't have the exact quote handy, but I recall reading it a few years ago). He compared it to a fresco that has been damaged both by grime and by whitewash, which needed to be restored to its original beauty.

Could the Mass have been changed less drastically? Yes--but I think some of the more drastic changes occurred as a side-effect of things that weren't mandated by the Council, or perhaps even foreseen--the switch to the vernacular that was became hostility to Latin, the change in the priest's position at the altar, etc. And it is worth remembering that some of the worst things that have taken place since the Council have been the direct result of willful disobedience to the rules currently in place, not to the changes themselves.

Magister Christianus said...

Such stories make a potential "Tiber swimmer" become aquaphobic. I know, I know, if I come to understand that the Catholic Church is who she says she is, then the I would have to accept that she says I must be a part of her, regardless of silliness in worship. Still, in his book _Catholic Matters_, Richard John Neuhaus said in more than one passage that that the worst of the silly season in liturgy was behind us. Stories like this make me wonder.

Jacque said...

I am a "Tiber swimmer", and because my conversion was very late in my life, I have no nostalgic attachment to the Extra Ordinary form of the Mass.
I have attended VERY few Novus Ordos that were done well. I am not judging the intention of the Priest's who were reponsible. An old saying of my late grandmother was " the road to hell is paved with good intentions".

For the last month I have attended the Extra Ordinary form exclusively, and I can tell you it is the better form. Low Mass with all it's stark quietness is better than any N.O Mass I have ever attended.

In saying all this I do believe that the N.O. Mass is as valid. I wouldn't hesitate to attend again if I felt it nessary; but for me it's the difference between a vanilla waffer and a glorious piece of choclolate cheese cake. They are both sweet, both equally apropriate for dessert, but the latter is much richer and more full of everything a dessert should have.

Jacque said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

I don't doubt that some changes were needed, just as there had been gradual organic changes to the form in the past. As I understand it, some changes were made for a 1965 missal, including the increased use of the vernacular, but that was wiped out by the revolution that was the Novus Ordo.

So I'm not saying we should "go backward" to exactly 1962 and then freeze the Mass there for perpetuity. But there's a reluctance among many to go backward at all. Look at the fuss that's being caused by the new translations, for instance. They act like if we say "and with your spirit" today, tomorrow we'll all be mumbling the Rosary during Mass like it's 1955. It seems like they'll accept any change, as long as it's not to something traditional. A dog in the sanctuary: cute! Twelve EMHCs to serve 80 people: participation! Guitars and pop songs during Mass: relevant! Women veiling or people saying the rosary every day: dangerous.

As a practical matter, when you're traveling down a road and take a wrong turn, you get back on the right path by going back to where you made your mistake and then correcting from there. So it makes more sense to me to go back to a time when the Mass seemed solid, if not perfect, and improve it from there, rather than try to correct our course from the mess we're in now. Go backward to something you can count on, and then start forward again.

And I agree that the worst abuses of the new form go much further than the Council documents (which insisted that Latin continue to be used) or even the liturgical committees that created the new form (with an eye to making it palatable to Protestants) intended. But I don't think you can separate the new Mass from the other radical changes that were going on at the time. The new form of the Mass, the discarding of habits and clerical collars, the easing up on fasting and abstinence restrictions -- these are all part of the same movement to a less demanding, more decide-for-yourself religion.

No, it wasn't intended to go as far as it has. But it was intended to go part of the way, and that opened up the floodgates for the rest.

Magister, I think Fr. Neuhaus was right: the worst of the silly season is behind us. Pope Benedict is appointing better bishops, and the most radical priests and religious are in their sixties. Younger Catholics aren't attached to the revolution, so they don't have the aversion to things traditional. Traditional seminaries are packed and groups like the FSSP can't fill all the requests they're getting for the TLM. We've come a long way in just the 2-1/2 years since Summorum Pontificum. There's still a lot of silly stuff going on out there, but a lot of it is just inertia; people who grew up in the silly season don't know what to do about it.

I sense a whiff of desperation about it from the silly-makers sometimes too, as if they realize they've lost the fight already. Sometimes people of that generation get so angry at anything traditional that it's like they see everything that happened after 1965 as their generation's legacy to the world, and now they see it may barely outlive them.

John Thayer Jensen said...

My situation is like "Jacques'" - he started:

I am a "Tiber swimmer"...

Me, also. I was 53 when I was received into the Church, am now 67 - and thank God for it. I attend mostly the "Novus Ordo" in our local parish. It is a real burden to me. Since being a Catholic I have attended one Extraordinary Form and it was wonderful. If I reasonably could, I would normally attend EF, but for a number of reasons - perhaps primary among them that I believe the parish principle should override all but really grave faults in the way Mass is done - my wife and I mostly go to the NO.

However, we are both in Opus Dei (she is a member, I am a cooperator), and their Masses, though NO, are wonderful.

I think if I could restore just two things from the EF to the NO, they would be:

1) Eastward facing

2) Second Gospel

But I can only pray.


Jacque said...

"I think if I could restore just two things from the EF to the NO, they would be:

1) Eastward facing

2) Second Gospel

But I can only pray."

Mr. Jensen I agree with you on you two points, I would also add that in
the NO would do away with:

1) the Prayer of the Faithful
2) the Reponsorial Psalm
3) the Sign of Peace

BTW, I am a Mrs. not a Mr. the Jacque is short for Jacqueline. A common mistake.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Jacque(line) - I abase myself, Madame! I assumed it was just a typo :-)

Agreed. I don't actually think the sign of peace necessarily a bad thing, but it has become such a circus that it would be best eliminated.

For a while, when we had Swine 'Flu restrictions, they stopped it. It was great :-)

If I can judge from Sigrid Undset's marvellous novels (Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken - which, if you have not read them, you must drop everything NOW and read!), the Middle Ages separated men's and women's sides of the church - and gave the Kiss of Peace - men to men, women to women. How THAT would stir people up today :-)

When we lived for eight years out in the islands, the little Protestant church we attended (the island is mostly Catholic, but at that time I would no more have gone into a Catholic Church than into a Satanic Black Mass) had men's and women's sides - but no Kiss of Peace. Makes me suspect that the sexual segregation may have been Catholic practice even in the 20th Century.


Red Cardigan said...

Great comments, all! I'm a bit busy today, but just quickly wanted to say that I appreciate everyone's participation.

I've been to E.F. Masses (high Mass both times) twice and NO Latin Masses two or three times. As I've said before, I do prefer the NO Latin, because to me it's easier to follow the liturgical action when it is linear; in the E.F., I always get confused when Father is doing one thing, the choir another, and the servers (and congregation?) a third. I've been assured by E.F. attendees that this is easy to overcome by frequent attendance and the diligent use of one's missal, but for the novice attendee there tends to be a lot of page-flipping, confusion, and eventual silent prayer along the lines of "Lord, I'm not sure where we are right now, but I hope that's okay!"

Jacque, isn't there a psalm in the E.F. Mass? I thought the Gradual was composed at least in part of a Psalm, and that the Responsorial Psalm of the NO was linked to that. Or is that only done in a High Mass with a full choir?

I'm definitely with you on the Sign of Peace; as for the Prayer of the Faithful, I think it should be kept considerably shorter and perhaps moved to a different place. There are times when this prayer takes a good deal longer than the recitation of the Creed!

Aaron said...

Red Cardigan,

I know what you mean about the 'layers' of the High Mass being confusing at first. I started out by attending the Low Mass, and after a few weeks had that figured out, and then went to a High Mass and was lost again for a few weeks.

I don't think the Mass was designed to be understood in one sitting (or even a few), because that never used to be necessary. Everyone used to grow up with it or learn it while going through the catechism and conversion process. Those of us born since 1960 are unique in that we can already be Catholic, and thus expect to walk into Mass and follow along and receive Communion, and yet be completely unfamiliar with the form.

That's why I tell my friends and family, when urging them to come (we're incredibly fortunate to have Sunday High Mass and daily Low Mass provided by the FSSP here): don't try to keep up in the missal; don't even worry about going to Communion if you're unsure about the whole on-the-tongue thing. Just sit toward the back so you can see when to kneel and stand and so on, and watch and think and pray about what's going on at the altar. There's a lot to learn there.

I should also say, to clarify something from my long rant earlier: I hold no animus whatsoever to those who attend the Novus Ordo and are happy with it. My objection is to the form and the people who abuse it; not to the people who are trying to make the best of it (who include many of my family and friends).

John Thayer Jensen said...

Regarding the prayer of the faithful, one of the, in my opinion, really bad practices in our parish is having the PotF written each week by a parishioner. Some are all right; one presumes all are well-intended; most are vapid, verging on stupid; some are quite wrong.

There are liturgical ones that the priest at our Opus Dei NO Masses reads.


Jacque said...

Erin, yes the Gradual is taken from a Psalm and sometimes the Introit also.

Aaron said...

The Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion are all frequently from the Psalms, but occasionally will be other Scripture verses. (And there's at least one that's a quote from St. Augustine, interestingly enough, but I can't remember what day that is.)

The Gradual isn't much like the Responsorial Psalm, though, since none of it gets repeated in that verse/response way. The Introit is really a bit more like it, since the first part of it is repeated once. Of course, none of them are ever replaced by a random song of someone's choosing, which is the problem with the Responsorial Psalm.

JMB said...

Late to the party here, but I attend a Carmelite Chapel during the week and there is no prayer of the faithful or sign of peace. There is also no singing as well. Maybe I'm just a buzz kill here, but I prefer that to what I have to endure on Sunday. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn't all about me.

Aaron said...

If you ever meet me in person and want to make me wince, just walk up and say, "Now, let us turn to our sisters and brothers in friendship and share the sign of peace."

Mary Catherine said...

@John Thayer Jensen: not on topic but I loved the Undset books.
You MUST read all her works, they are equally beautiful.
Mary Catherine