Thursday, February 19, 2015

Liturgy wars: The Church of Schlock Strikes Back

Imagine, just for a moment, if you will, that you and your family decided to visit a lovely part of the country for Christmas.

It was a wonderful vacation, you said.  Everyone had a good time, you said.  But then you had to go to Mass, and the only Mass nearby was an approved Extraordinary Form Mass.  Okay, you thought, not really our family’s comfort zone, but we’re grateful that Mass is available here in this vacation spot.

And then--Mass isn’t really a good experience at all, and you write a blog post about it.  About how everybody glared at you for coming in without a veil or other head covering.  About how you got funny looks because your toddler was in little-boy jeans instead of a three-piece toddler suit or khakis and a sweater like everybody else’s toddler.  About how this same toddler covered his ears when the organ played a Bach prelude, declaring loudly, “I don’t like this scary music!” which made everybody within earshot frown angrily at him and at you.  About how people turned around to “shush” your daughter when she tried to sing along with the Gloria (though she doesn’t know Latin)--one lady hissed icily to you “This isn’t the Dialog Mass!” as if you’d know what she meant. About how Father’s homily was about the evils of Modernism and Freemasonry and Feminism which were destroying the world by encouraging young women to go to college.  About how you had no idea what was going on, but tried to pray silently anyway, and all was well until you went to receive Communion and you knelt at the Communion rail and your older son who has to receive Communion in the hand temporarily because his orthodontic appliance won’t let him open his mouth wide enough to receive on the tongue was refused Communion by the priest, causing your son to hang his head in total pre-teen embarrassment as he returned to the pew with you all.  And after Mass as you slipped silently out the doors most people just glared at you, except for one would-be helpful person told you that you really ought to have a Missal next time (though how exactly you are supposed to follow along in a Missal while holding an antsy toddler isn’t clear to you).

But in your blog post, you don’t just talk about this one bad experience.  Instead you rant and rail about how ALL E.F. Masses are like this, and how all of this just proves how wise the Council was to reform the liturgy, because if you had to spend every Sunday in such a dreary, cold, angry, glaring place you’d be tempted to become an Evangelical.

Would that be fair?

Well, here’s what really happened to a family that had to endure a “shlocky” Ordinary Form Mass while on their Christmas vacation:
This past Yuletide, my husband and I decided to escape the Minnesota winter by taking our family to South Texas. We had a joyfully green Christmas, with our children running wild on the beach while the Gulf of Mexico lapped at our toes. We didn’t miss the snow. Of course, there are always drawbacks to such ventures, and this was no exception. While Christmas at our home parish is something to savor, our Christmas liturgies this year featured campy banners, schlocky music, and homilies with little discernable connection to the Catholic faith.
The children found this confusing. They’ve spent their lives as parishioners at St. Agnes, a wonderful parish in St. Paul where sacred liturgy is always celebrated beautifully and with great reverence. Consequently, they are totally unfazed by the liturgical use of Latin, but I’m not sure the younger two even recognized the schlocky liturgies we attended as “Mass.” (Coming out of one, our two-year-old said something about “the party” we had just attended. And our eventual return to St. Agnes inspired him to chirp out, cheerily and with something like relief, “Oh! It’s the Jesus place!” In his eyes it had obviously been awhile since we’d been to a “Jesus place.”) [...]
Once in awhile I’m forced to venture into the wilds of and be reminded that in fact, the parish around the corner probably looks nothing like St. Agnes. It’s likely a mess of altar girls, guitar bands, and people who wouldn’t even consider that they should walk 10 feet to the vestibule after Mass before carrying on a normal-voiced conversation. (Because it’s not like the sanctuary is a place of prayer, or anything. I mean, Mass has been over for two minutes! How much prayer time do you need?) It clearly doesn’t even occur to them that Christ is present in the tabernacle, mere steps away from where they stand.
Numerically speaking, St. Agnes is the aberration, and the schlocky parishes are closer to the rule. But I want my children to see it the opposite way. I want them to view mystery and unashamed reverence as “normal Catholic life.” I want them to see the campy banners and “Here I Am, Lord” as the wonky aberration. At some point, inevitably, they will notice that wonky aberrations are almost ubiquitous in the Catholic world, while good liturgy is often hard to find. My hope is that, by that time, they’ll already be accustomed to reverencing Christ’s Body, such that it doesn’t cause them embarrassment or shame. Hopefully they’ll have an appetite for beauty and mystery that no other meal can satisfy. Hopefully they’ll always be able to see Christ’s Sacrifice with the wonder and credulity of little children.

What do you do with such a blog post?
I think everyone who has read my blog over the years knows that I’m all in favor of reverence at Mass. I think that there is still work to be done in the “reform of the reform.”  I think that there are things we can all do to help in this important work.
But I’m getting a bit tired of the idea that the “real Church” only exists in these tiny pockets of perfect reverence and liturgical propriety.  And I’m getting really tired of those who sit in judgment of perfectly valid Masses as “wonky aberrations” because their personal liturgical sensibilities are offended.  The “mess of altar girls,” the extraordinary minister in the purple dress, the “guitar bands,” all of these--all of them!--are real people, doing something the Church permits and even sometimes encourages them to do.  Most of them don’t show up to try to impose their liturgical sensibilities on the Mass.  Most of them--most of us--are ready to do what Father wants, out of a sense of obedience and gratitude.  And if Father ever really wants (or you’re worried he might want) something that isn’t permitted, then we tend to fret about it and pray about it and blog about it and, if necessary, contact the bishop about it--but it has to be something actually wrong, something not permitted at all, not just something we’d rather not do (such as sing “Here I Am, Lord,” which is boring musically even with the third-verse descant).
Lu is actually risking more than she may realize.  When you raise children to believe that most if not all of their fellow Catholics are liturgical slackers who attend “schlocky liturgies” and have never been taught the proper degree of liturgical reverence, you might succeed in making sure they will always believe this.  But you might do so at the cost of making them judgmental elitists who won’t bother to go to Mass at all if they end up living somewhere where “schlock” is the only option, or, worse, you might cause them to raise excellent questions like, “If the Church allows all this awful ugly schlock, and even seems to prefer it, then how do we know it’s still the real Church?  Maybe those SSPX-ers or sedevacantists are right after all...”  Which is far too high a price to pay for liturgical purity, in my book.


Nick D said...

I think it's easier to dismiss EF communities like the one you caricatured above as aberrations from an already small sub-group.

Whereas most OF parishes (at least in my limited experience) end up being rather schlocky, and (at least in my part of the world) can be found in almost every pocket of the American Catholic world

Red Cardigan said...

Nick, I’m confused. Of course OF parishes are found in every pocket of the American Catholic world. That’s what “Ordinary Form” means.

Or did you mean that most OF parishes are schlocky, even though by your own admission you have limited experience of them?

John InEastTX said...

Well, if they don't like how we do things in Texas, they can go back to whatever lesser locale they came from.

John InEastTX said...

I expanded on the above in my reply at that site:

"Well, Ma'am, if you don't like how we do things in Texas, you're more than welcome to turn right around and go back to wherever it is you came from. Bless your heart and God love ya."

I should do penance for that, I know, especially since that particular site is the type that my Priest advised me to avoid because of the "Internet Super-Catholic" types that fill their comment boxes.

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

THANK YOU! I play in one of those guitar bands. Sometimes what you hear is not ideal. But our band's goal is to lead everyone in worship. We always remember that our job is to pray and praise.

Nick D said...

I mean that, in my area, most OF parishes are pretty schlocky, and so are much easier to find (and criticize). I'm not saying that most/all OF parishes in America or the Western world are the same way, simply because I won't paint with that broad of a brush.

Does that make more sense? Sometimes I try to put too many dependent clauses and qualifiers in a sentence and then it just doesn't work out...

The Sicilian Woman said...

Nicely done, JohnE. You're going to make a better Catholic than most of the rest of us. You remain in my daily prayers.

My feelings are all over the place on this. Generally, I’ve been staying away from posts such as Ms. Lu’s and blogs that are either anti-OF or anti-EF because they’re not only distractions from my maturing in my faith (especially as a revert) but they’re sad evidence of the divisiveness – of which I’ve been a part – within the Church. Oh, I know the divisions will be there whether I read about them or not, but it’s better for me spiritually to avoid them.

That being said…I’ll dip my toes in a little here. I’ll admit to preferring – mostly - the EF. I like (and need) the quiet. I see much more reverence and dignity in the EF in several areas. (Please note that I’m not disputing the validity of the Real Presence in both forms.)

On the flip side, I suspect many EF parishes would not work well for or be welcoming to some folks. In my OF parish, there’s a man (“B”) who, about seven years ago or so, started turning himself around from decades of drug abuse. God bless him. The effects of the drug abuse were apparent as he still seemed “fried.” Nevertheless, he became very involved in the parish (with support from our wonderful pastor). His metamorphosis has been heartening; the effects of the drug abuse have lessened quite a bit and he’s got much more self-confidence. I can’t imagine Ms. Lu being welcoming to “B” as he was when he first arrived, or encouraging his being active. Where would that have left him?

Red Cardigan said...

Sicilian Woman, well said. I never have a problem with people telling me they prefer the E.F., incidentally, or that they personally find it quieter or more reverent. One thing about the E.F. Mass today is that it is usually celebrated by enthusiastic priests who love the complicated liturgy for what it is--but that was not the case in the past, and it was possible to find a rushed or sloppy Latin Mass too. The difference, perhaps, was that only those parishioners who could actually read and follow along in a Missal (not everybody, in the distant past!) would ever know it.

John InEastTX said...

Thank you for your prayers and kind words, Sicilian Woman!

I've been thinking of an Eye Of The Tiber submission along the lines of "South Texan Catholic Church Parishioners Collectively Invoke Blessings Upon Heart of Minnesotan Professional Catholic Blogger".

The various folks mentioned in her article would make responses along the lines of "The use of Extraordinary Ministers is allowed under Canon 230, paragraph 3, so I'm not sure what her problem is, Bless her heart."

or "I enjoy saying howdy to the folks in the pew during the Sign of Peace. Maybe she's not used to folks being friendly at church since she's not from Texas, Bless her heart".

John InEastTX said...

Anyone want to clue me in on the compares and contrasts between Rachel and KC's (an SSPX aficionado with whom I engaged in the comments of Rachel's piece) attitudes?

I think I get that Rachel is merely offended at the esthetics of the Mass she described, but seems to believe that the Mass was valid - whereas KC seems to hold the opinion that the 'New Mass' is inherently invalid.

Am I more or less right?

Liturgists - bless their hearts...