Seeking Advice

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For Midnight Mass, I attended my Parish Church. I mean my actual parish which I haven't visited since we first landed here in 1997, except for a confirmation sometime back.

The experience wasn't nearly as trying as the first time; however, it had just about everything possible to disorient and irritate.

Let's start with the decor. A typically modern church with the modern "flourishes" or architectural absurdity. The altar area resembles something out of H.P. Lovecraft with convoluted angles that suggest eldritch realms beyond--but nothing of glory.

Now the crucifix--ah, that's an essay in iteself to describe everyhting wrong with it. Picture Eric Idle in a loincloth in "Life of Brian" skipping through the desert. No--here it is--imagine a devout and devoted, but not very good plaster worker who has placed Jesus on the cross in something resembling a "retirer" (or Don, is that "retir&eactue;") pose, only the foot is at the front of the knee rather than the side. Now his arms are positioned out along the bar of the crucifix, palms upward and Jesus is looking upward--giving the overall effect of Him being out for a summer hop, skip, and jump with the notion of checking to see if there's rain in the forecast. Now, after this unfortunate devout plaster worker had finished the entire work, some bumbler went and spilled water over the entire thing causing a certain about of flaccidity and dripping--think Francis Bacon's Famous Triptych (Was it of Innocent X?). Oh, and all of this with a gold lame throw discretely veiling the privates.

Okay, that has always been there, and is an unfortunate reflection of the revolution in litugical art that is truly revolting.

Now to the liturgical absurdities that the present congregation did have some control over--there was present a full-grown woman dressed in altar-server's clothing. Because this woman did nothing but handle the objects involved with incense, I thought perhaps that this was simply a safety precaution on the part of the Church to avoid having relatively young girls and boys dealing with it--overall perhaps overly cautious, but sensible.

But this came after other things had already raised the hackles. The classic Christmas carol lyrics had been all but gutted and revamped so that there would be no mention made whatsoever of "man" or "men." Now, no matter how I feel about inclusive language (and I regard it quite guardedly) I outright despise the alteration of Charles Wesley's lyrics, or those of any number of other people to cater to today's whims in Political Correctness. If you want PC lyrics, write a new carol to reflect your views, don't gut my old and cherished ones--ones to which I have the lyrics memorized and do not wish to follow along in some preprinted inclusivity fest. Similarly, don't alter the psalms and the present translation of the Bible to suit your PC needs. (They did only a little of this, but it was sufficient to be annoying, given the already putrid translations offered us by the USCCB.)

One moment I did like (contra the vast majority of St. Blogs, which I know despises this beyond words) was holding hands during the "Our Father" even to the point of crossing aisles. (Obviously the GIRM hasn't reached this particular Parish. On the other hand, some changes in liturgy and practice occur as a result of grass-roots measures. My indoctrination as a Catholic was done by a very devout group of Claretians that had a mission at my college. My introduction to the liturgy came through the Newman center there. And other than this hand-holding was enitrely Orthodox and orthopraxial, so far as I can remember. Thus I came to love this moment, and it was beautiful.) Unfortunately it was spoiled by the show-tune version of the Our Father that seems all the rage in such parishes. You know the one--where temptation becomes the nearly four syllable--temp-tay-ay-shun.

Okay, so it wasn't a satisfying liturgy. I sat there much of the time fuming. And then it occurred to me, that perhaps I should spend a good deal more time at this place. Perhaps I have been dulled into complacency by attendance at a Church that, while not spectacular, does do everything by the book. (Moreover, the homily was very, very good--emphasizing the need for a constant rebirt of Christ in all of our lives in order to carry Him and His message into the world.) I also thought that there were here many very devout, very loving people, who cherish the liturgy--in other words, people who were doing their best to express to God their love of Him. They weren't doing a job I particularly appreciated--but I didn't hear anyone else complaining on the way out.

Third, it occurred to me that attending this church would be a practice of patience and charity. Attending Mass would have at once a certain penitential and celebratory aspect--this seems quite desirable.

I haven't decided yet, but I've almost convinced myself that I should be at this church, assisting at Mass in such a way that perhaps through time it might change, little by little, to reflect a somewhat more correct practice. Also, it would be good to wean me from attachment to things that may matter greatly, but not so greatly as the presence of Christ Himself. And He was there in the proclaimed word and in the validly consecrated Eucharist (under both species). If anyone was out-of-tune, it was me. But I can't shake the feeling that this was a good place for me to be--that I should cherish the opportunity offered by God in this particular setting.

Any thoughts or reflections that may help me in my decision would be appreciated. I know that it is ultimately up to me and up to the prayer I share with God to discern where I should be. But it is quite difficult. This church has the attraction both of obedience (my parish) and of not fitting me to a "T." Perhaps I need to be more open and more generous in my view of things. Perhaps I also need to learn to sit quietly and endure certain kinds of hardship. I honestly don't know.

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Wish I could help you. Your critical judgements are right on, but then, in charity, you look for reasonable explanations as to why such and such might be happening, and how such a mass might work to your spiritual good. I don't see how it can, since everything you mention serves to distract from your primary purpose, spiritual union with Christ's sacrifice. There are plenty of opportunities to suffer in daily life; attending Mass should not provide another. I'm a little more hardboiled about it. When I see these things, I go somewhere else, because I feel my presence lends support to the abuse. And when you go to a parish where things are rightly done, you lend support to the priest who acts out of obedience to those in whom Christ vested charge of these affairs, and such priests, being few, need that support. My nightmare is that one day all Masses in our area will be conducted as you have described. What then? We'd have to go, because we are obedient. But until that day...

Dear Bill,

As usual, these are excellent thoughts and I've considered things along similar lines.

I don't know why I wonder about going to this place. Perhaps I have the hope of exerting something of a balancing effect. I know that is unlikely and so a "pipe dream" in once sense.

And your point about lending support to liturgical abuse must be considered very seriously. Although, I must be very fair and report that while things were not to my liking and other than choosing a musical setting to the Psalm that had words other than those in the NAB (which I understand can be done in order for the psalm to be sung) there was nothing that really screamed "abuse." (also excepting holding hands during the "Our Father."(and I'm uncertain if that truly qualifies as "abuse.")) So truthfully, while it was as Huysmans would say Á Rebours, it probably was within the rubrics as presently defined.

But, it's that quality of rubbing me the wrong way that suggest perhaps I have a lack of charity or some deficiency of focus. Should it really matter to me so much? I was able to worship at a Mariachi Mass and at a Creole Mass with little trouble, and there were odder things going on there than here.

I'm not really asking you these things--your points are well made and food for thought. The only point to this response is to further consider what it is that rattles around in my head and suggests that this may be a beneficial thing for my journey with God.

Thank you so much for your response though--it will require much more serious consideration and thought that I have allowed in this response. I truly appreciate the time you took to answer.



It will be a good exercise for you in detachment from sensory comforts. Perhaps you might practice the "breathing" technique of prayer--except that, instead of spirating, "Jesus, Lord," you could try, "Jesus, HELP!"

You might end up amused instead of frustrated, and the Lord will enjoy your deliberate redirection of focus onto Him as you share your truest and most vivid real-time feelings with Him.

I enjoyed your word-picture of their crucifix. I believe that I have seen the likes of it also.

At the closest parish to my house I have also felt that tug you describe. Their liturgies are much like you described and with the added penance of a drummer. I do not come away prayerful or edified, but often distracted and upset. I chide myself for not seeing beyond the externals to the awesome mystery of the Mass, but I am presently too weak for such a penance. It is also a prideful temptation for me to want to join them and set them right.

James Akin of Catholic Answers who has done much work on liturgical abuse was queried about what he does when he is presented with the less serious abuses during a Mass. He described the same feelings that you wrote about and said that later he realized that God did not want the Mass to be something of a problem for him, and he has learned to become more at ease and centered on the Mass.

I go to my geographic parish for daily Mass but have joined and am active in another parish that is more formal and richer in terms of traditional music, homilies, etc. I am a lector and Eucharistic minister there. One year I half thought of giving up the good parish for Lent, because I believe that attending ones' geographic parish can be a form of asceticism. On some level I understand the need to be community with those I do not choose. (Choice being the great American myth.) When I mentioned this to my spiritual director he told me to "hold that thought" and not act on it. When I was first baptized (1993) I was very sensitive to the kinds of liturgical abuses you write about, but consider it a grace that I mostly am not bothered by this anymore. The pure form of the Mass is a perfect vehicle for worship, and I think it is hard to "ruin" that spare and holy structure, even though there are foolishness. It might be less abrasive on a normal Sunday in Ordinary Time rather than on Christmas.

Steven - For me too, holding hands during the Lord's Prayer is a highlight of the liturgy. We do it at my parish, but we use a traditional chant, not a contemporary version. And the GIRM has been proclaimed in Cincinnati, but our parish is still holding hands - it is just part of who we are.

As you have written, there's a lot of room for various styles of Liturgy. I believe the style needs to fit the parish community, and the priest and parish decide what that style is. Well, sometimes the priest changes styles without consulting the parish, but I would hope that's not the usual case.

I think it could be useful to focus on what 'it' is that is bringing these things (desire for change and to help, etc) to the surface. That's what I do in times like this - what is 'it' that makes me want to do something? What is 'it' at the core of my being? Focusing on the source and not the action. It most often takes a lot of prayer, patience and contemplation but I learn a lot about myself and God's plan for me in the process.

But you know, free advice is worth what you pay for it ;)

Christmas peace, Steven.

I would not underestimate your presence as a balancing factor in any community, especially over the long-term. It would take time. A devious thought would be to consider yourself the instrument of chinese water torture, wearing away at poor liturgy one drop at a time.

Your discernment seems to be one of spiritual care and feeding (or yourself) versus being an apostle for the care and feeding of others. I empathize with you, for as a parishliturgist, I rarely find myself in a position to be fed at my parish. Some of that is my own preoccupation with details (why did the server do that? why did the cantor change the psalm? why did the EM stand over there? why didn't the people sing the new song?). Some is that I have high standards (or needs) and prefer something the parish can't quite yet offer. I hope I can facilitate the offering to others, though.

If anyone will find the right course, it will be you.

A good homily compensates for a lot, and you can close your eyes and ignore the H.P. Lovecraft motifs and gold lame. For me, it would come down to how badly Scripture is mangled for the sake of inclusivity. The Midnight Mass is probably not representative of the usual liturgy at that parish; it might be worthwhile to attend another Mass or two there before making a decision.

Last night I was looking quickly to find the Ten Commandments and grabbed my 1928 Book of Common Prayer, where I knew it would be easily found. I was struck by terrible pangs of nostalgia for beautiful liturgy. I feel these pangs regularly, whether in our parish of membership or any of the 3 other parishes that we attend mass at. I have to constantly remember that it is about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and about being fed on the Word of God and the Word made flesh.
A good homily tells you where the heart of the pastor is, and that means a lot. There are valid liturgical variations (holding hands at the Our Father comes to mind) that are NOT banned or discouraged by the GIRM (I know, I have looked and have not found it addressed at all - if you know else please let me know!). There are also outright liturgical abuses - but I think there is a lot to be said for charitably enduring some variations that may be personally distasteful in order to support what is good and true.
Me, if I had my way and the $$$ to do it with, I would buy my parish a set of Adoremus Hymnals and subscriptions to Magnificat for all the pews. That would get rid of the bowdlerized 'inclusive language' hymnals and missalettes and would take care of many of the problems you cite.

I've been to a lot of masses in a lot of places. The only mass that was really awful was the 20 minute Easter mass in Madrid, Spain. It was done by the rubics but man-a-live, the guy in the FED-EX commercial couldn't talk that fast. If the priest could have FED-EX'd communion to us in our pews to shave another minute or two I think he would have. (He remains on my pray for priests list)

Of the rest of the many masses I have attended, I have been to a few very conservative masses and a few liberal masses where it was very hard to concentrate because folks had altered things so much and were expecting you to know their new rules of engagement. (Mantellas for ladies and absolutely no sign of peace, priest distributing communion to altar servers and ministers so they can consume it at the same time he does to emphasize their co-priesthood, lay persons holding up the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic prayer,standing during the eucharistic prayer even though wonderfully well padded kneelers are present at every pew). I find it sad that some Catholic communities have to go so far out of their way to persue Church "our way" they in fact break union with the rest of the Church. What should be an act of intimate universal communion becomes and act of exclusion. They break communion with the Church universal both in their actions and in a spirit of "OUR WAY" is not only better but woe to ye who enters these walls and does things "THEIR (the Church's) WAY".

We are called Catholic because Catholic means universal. Any Catholic should be able to enter any Catholic Church without being challenged to break the disciplines and practices of the Church. We should be able to participate in a liturgy that does not tempt us with having to deal with the fact that it is theologically or liturgically in violation of what the Church teaches or requires. Why should I have to feel like I am not practicing charity and communion because I have serious concerns about someone else's decision to seriously "break communion" with the Church universal in the case of the more egregious violations of Church law or the GIRM.

That said, I can say that in the vast majority of parishes I visit, most folks are trying to worship sincerely. Something's might be a bit wrong here or there but people really aren't trying to say, "gee, we know better than the Church." Jesus is present in the Eucharist. That is enough for me. He alone is enough to keep us one despite our human failings. It's surely the secret to how a church with so many characters sticks around for 2000 years!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 26, 2003 3:46 PM.

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