Friday, April 29, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 25

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 25

I have always enjoyed the song that says “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put in a parking lot.” The Scriptures say it differently: “Do not move your neighbor's boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” (Deuteronomy 19:14) Holy Writ goes on to say it five more times: Deuteronomy 27:17, Job 24:2, Proverbs 15:25, Proverbs 22:28 and Hosea 5:10.

When the Bible forbids the same thing six times, it’s probably because God wants us to get the point. You shouldn’t move a boundary stone because you can never get it back in exactly the same spot. It’s there for a reason. Oh, but that’s not true anymore. You could do it with global positioning satellites! Don’t be an idiot! Haven’t you ever gotten totally lost in some construction zone because your GPS lied to you? That’s exactly the attitude that got us into this mess in the first place.

There is another song from the sixties, “This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.” We actually believed that lunacy. We somehow thought we were smarter, better, wiser and more fully human than our parents. Something had happened in the stars and we were the generation that would end war, poverty, hunger and save the whales. Mine is the generation that gave you the drug wars, new and more horrible sexually transmitted diseases, new wars of religion, universal divorce, fatherless children, spiraling gas prices, spiraling environmental degradation and Jerry Springer.

We also gave you a dying Western culture and, in the field of religion, we provided feel good mega-churches and a much diminished quickly graying Euro/American version of modern Catholicism. It is a wonder that aging hippies like myself occupy senior teaching positions like snarling guard dogs and force the failures of the 60s on the children of today. They must never have read that Bible verse, “O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (1Kings 19:4)

Here is another worthy quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Paragraph 365: The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

CS Lewis says it much more simply in The Screwtape Letters. He points out that we are not spirits trapped in flesh; we are incarnate spirits. What we do with our bodies we do with our souls. That is the reason for all the kneeling and standing, for bread and wine and oil and water and candles and incense and vestments and wood and gold and stone. We are incarnate spirits. We speak the language of matter because that is how God made us.

Many of my teachers left the priesthood for which they presumed to prepare me. One of those who left to marry a wealthy divorcee opposed my entering holy orders on the grounds that I was too “proclamational” and not “incarnational” enough. In other words, I talked about Jesus too much. Now that I am old I have realized that he and his friends were not incarnational at all.

The glass chalices that looked like tasteful Salvador Dali abstractions, the trimmed down liturgy, the de-mystification of ceremonies, the anti-clerical clerics who refused to wear vestments, the breaking of the stained glass, the wooden tables that replaced the marble altars, the removal of the tabernacles, the coffee table Masses that tried to consecrate donuts, these were all attempts to make the faith more reasonable.

Enough of the dark and mysterious churches, the mumbled rosaries, the plaintiff novenas, haunting chants and sentimental hymns. We would be reasonable; we would be spiritual; we would be modern! They thought they were embracing the fullness of human nature, but they were in fact rejecting it because they failed to understand the unbreakable connection between body and soul, even as their bodies ran rampant and their souls withered. They thought they were above the moral restraints of a darker age and could dispense themselves from old restrictions.

Part of the great de-mystification was the removal of the confessional screens. People said the dark confessional box was too frightening, particularly for children. I remember what an old priest said when they took out the confessionals for more compassionate and comfortable “face to face confession rooms.” He remarked that “It won’t be long before they realize why they put in the confessional screens in the first place.” Do not remove an ancestors’ boundary stone.

So what should those of us who are left to do? Simple. Obey the Vatican Council. The Second Vatican Council said nothing requiring the use of popular music at Mass, about removing altars and altar rails, about removing icons and images, about standing for communion. Nothing was ever mentioned about the face to face confessions or face to face Masses. Fasting was never forbidden, rosaries and novenas and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament were never suppressed. Chalice veils and maniples and beautiful vestments were never abolished. Study the documents. Put back the boundary stones. They were there for a reason.

Here’s an example: The thinkers of the sixties, who were about as deep as a puddle, decided to take out the communion rails. “Nothing should divide us from the Lord,” they said. “Communion rails emphasized clerical privilege and made God separate and forbidding. We should gather around the altar holding hands, singing Kumbaya. That would express the great truth that we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.”

Did it never occur to these yahoos, that it was a communion rail? Communion: a coming together. Humanity IS separated from God by sin. The point of the Gospel is that Christ breaks down the barrier between God and man. To take out the communion rail is to say there is no barrier. It is like one spouse saying “There is no problem in our marriage” while watching the other spouse packing a suitcase.

The symbolism that the communion rail expresses is that “God so loved the world.” It is the place where God comes to meet us. He comes to us. We go to Him. With our bodies and our souls, we acknowledge that truth by kneeling at a communion rail. We wait for the Lord and the Lord comes to place Himself in our keeping. With our bodies and our souls, we acknowledge the great truth of grace, that we cannot achieve heaven unless God gives it to us.

The experts of the age of plastic committed the sin of the tower of Babel, “Let us build a tower that reaches to the heavens.” Chaos ensued then and chaos ensues now. The great lights of the sixties believed that removing the communion rails would bring us closer to the Lord. I think it has had the opposite effect. One stands in a line, shuffling slowly, eyes focused on the back of someone’s head waiting for him to move. The celebrant says “Body of Christ” but more often than not, is thinking “next...” There is rarely a sense of waiting on the Lord, there is no sense of a gift lovingly given and humbly received. There is just, “next....”

Around 400 AD, a theologian named Pelagius taught that moral perfection, and thus salvation, could be attained by human effort and action without God’s grace. The removal of the communion rails is the Pelagian heresy in stone, or a lack there of. It is sad to see little children grabbing the Communion host and running back to their pews with it. They are clueless as to the beauty and grandeur of the gift.

At a funeral, a few weeks ago a young woman came to communion and, when I said “Body of Christ”, took the host, looked at it and started to walk away, I caught up to her and asked her if she had made her first communion. She looked a little surprised and said, "No, of course not! I’m Jewish.”

I don’t fault the poor, embarrassed young woman. I fault us. We have been making up the rules for forty plus years now and communion just didn’t seem very special anymore. People are living in common law marriages, or second or third civil marriages and they come to communion. They haven’t spent a moment preparing, or haven’t been to confession in ten years, but they come to communion.

I remember finding (FAMILY COLUMN ALERT) a latex protective device still in its wrapper while I was cleaning the church after midnight Mass one year. I imagine it had been lost by some hopeful young fellow who had accompanied his beloved to midnight Mass. I imagine they both went to Holy Communion. I also imagine that he was disappointed when he realized that he couldn’t celebrate the birth of our Savior in the manner that he had been planning.

If that young Jewish woman previously mentioned had seen people kneeling quietly and waiting for something, she might have thought twice about getting in line. She might even have been intrigued. But what she saw was bunch of people standing in line to get something and she thought she might as well do the same. What is it but a little round matzoh looking thing? If this were an isolated instance I wouldn’t even mention it, but I have had repeated incidents of having to retrieve the host from someone who threw it on the ground or stuck it in a pocket. So get in line, and grab heaven! Even Pelagius would be horrified! Put back the boundary stones. They were there for a reason.



  1. Whenever I'm in line for communion, I always kneel and genuflect right before my 'turn' comes up. Closest thing I can do to tradition.

    I also never take communion by hand. There's only been one exception all these years, when I had the flu.

  2. Wowzers. You put it far better than I ever could. Welcome to my blogroll!

  3. Father, this series needs to be put in booklet form. Then it should be used in Catechism classes (they do still have those, don’t they?), RCIA and in seminaries!

    In fact like the “…for Dummies” series, you could call it: “…for Know-It-Alls”

    Just a thought…

  4. Found you through Anita's blog; we need more priests like you! When our choir decided to move to the choir loft, our priest made a point of saying, at the beginning of Mass, that we were regressing 50 years by such a move.

  5. I second that this needs to be done in a book form.

    Only recently discovered this blog, but read through the entire "short history" and have loved it.

    First-rate stuff Father. First rate stuff.

  6. I agree with you but am curious about the face to face confession. I have only been Catholic for 11 yrs and have always gone to confession that way. I have never been told that I should not. When and why did it change to include face to face? Why do you think it is not ok?
    Thanks and God Bless :)

  7. At funerals and weddings these days, priests have to make it absolutely clear that only Catholics--and only those in a state of grace (which should also be explained for those Catholics whose last time in Church was their other pious aunt's funeral 10 years before)--should line up.