Friday, August 8, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 7

Letter to Ann T. Clerikuhl continued….yet more whining
There are many more elements to the current mess. One is the new concept of “liturgical style”. We have dancing celebrants, Broadway tune-singing celebrants, children’s Mass clown celebrants, and the ubiquitous Five-Sermons-Explaining-The-Mass-As-You-Go-Along celebrant. We also have the Say-What’s-In-The-Black-Do-What’s-In-The-Red celebrant, or the boring celebrant. I am of the boring celebrant school.  Someone recently recommended that I make Mass more exciting.
I retorted, “On the contrary! I am trying to make Mass more boring!”
They said that I was succeeding beyond my wildest dreams in doing so. 
The Five-Sermons-Explaining-The-Mass-As-You-Go-Along celebrant says things like “Peace be with you, true peace, inner peace, that deep serenity, that knowing which the Lord gives us that makes us aware of the beauty of nature and the fullness of the plentitude of all innerness.” 
To this the congregation responds, “And with your Spirit.” Or sometimes just, “Back at ya’ Father.” 
This kind of priest finds himself infinitely interesting and thinks we do too. It never occurs to him that maybe you just want to go to Mass. This type of celebrant also tends to have a religious voice when praying; He says things like, “O, Gawd…” in high-pitched voice accompanied by extravagant gestures.  He usually wears interesting vestments.  
In the old Mass there were lots of ways a priest could commit a mortal sin while saying Mass. If he willingly left out or changed parts and actions of the Mass, it was a big deal. This seems absurd, but it had a few things going for it. Mass was Mass was Mass. You were perfectly at home in the jungles of Bavaria or on the dark and mysterious North Shore of Chicago. Now that we have dancing, singing, clowning, extemporizing celebrants, it doesn’t seem that absurd.
The wisdom of the ages knew that we the clergy have serious temptations to raging narcissism, but as long as we all had to do the same thing, weren’t talking into a microphone and weren’t even looking at people for most of the Mass, we were pretty much held in check. When we turned around and got our mitts on a microphone, all bets were off. A few neglected children found a ready audience for their unrecognized and unappreciated cuteness.
Things are better now. Most of the serious narcissists found more amusing things to do 20 or 30 years ago, but the tendency among some is to think that the emotive, cute, expressive liturgical style is somehow better, or more pastoral, or more sincere. I remember a homiletics teacher who used to say, “Gentleman, you have to put more pizzazz in the homily!” I agree with him. The homily sometimes needs a little more enthusiasm, but we have definitely overcompensated and put our pizzazz into anything but the homily. I for one am pretty tired of liturgical pizzazz. I would like a little more substance and a little less pizzazz. Anyway….. 
The liturgical pizzazz syndrome has had some interesting results. Combine that with the fact that now a person may drive for half a day to a parish where they feel “comfortable,” and you get designer parishes. If you like lots of incense, you can go to St. Foggia’s. If you like grand Mozart Masses you can drive across town to St. Teutonica’s. If you like Broadway show tunes you can always stop in for the matinee Mass at Saints Panes et Circenses.
You catch my drift? In the evil olden days you were stuck with old Monsignor Fensterslammer who said Mass pretty much the way everybody else said it. This was the same era in which all phones were black and kept on the desk in the front hall, the era in which telemarketers could not harass you in the bathroom.  Just as we upgrade our phones every six months, we can upgrade our religion about as quickly. In the sad past your parish was your parish and you knew those people from cradle to grave and they knew you.  
When Old Monsignor Fensterslammer kicked the bucket, they carried him out of the rectory feet first, decked the church façade in black bunting and waited for the next guy, who might be a better or worse preacher or a better or worse confessor or more or less a curmudgeon than the old guy who had just died, but the parish was still the parish. The head of the Altar and Rosary Society was still the head of the Altar and Rosary society. The same was true for the women’s guild, the Holy Name Society, the men’s club, the school and the mothers’ club. The secretary and the housekeeper and the janitor still growled at you when you wanted something and life went on.
You still had a community that demanded your tolerance, your love, and your best efforts to make it work, and often your forgiveness. Thank God that era is over and we can make demands of our community instead of having to put up with the demands our community makes on us. We no longer have to put up with people we may not like and who may not think like we do. We can have genuine community. (This is sarcasm, of course, like most of this entire screed.)  
There is an unforeseen problem with the designer parish. The pastor is moved every 12 years, maximum, the associate every six years. Then they put in someone at St. Foggia’s who hates incense, someone at St. Teutonica’s who only likes that new music from 50 years ago, like those classic funeral hymn “On Beagles’ Wings” or “I will Raise The Rent” and someone at Saints Panes and Circenses who refuse to say Mass in any language but Latin. People take to their cars in a desperate search for another parish where they can feel comfortable and have true community.
I am writing all this not merely to get things off my chest, which feels remarkably refreshing, but to point out that if you are looking for the parish and the parish priest of once upon a time, that structure died in the heady days of the post-conciliar Church. It’s not coming back. The cloud of glory has moved on.  Where it has moved I am not sure.

Next week, more endless whining.

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