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.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 24

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 24


This morning I was at the gym going about in circles like a mind-numbed hamster, (Yes, the Rev. Know-it-all goes to the gym, even in his advanced age. When I was young we practiced harsh penances for the sake of eternal life. Now we go to the gym and submit ourselves to instruments of torture so that we won’t look so much like beached whales while sunning ourselves at the seaside. How culture has advanced!) As I plodded along past the television sets arranged so as to distract the penitents on the treadmills, I saw a news show featuring a perky bunch of dancers dressed as nuns singing invigorating Gospel Music. (Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel and Perky Make-Believe Nuns singing and dancing on the morning news. Sometimes the collapse of the civilization exceeds one’s power to comment.)

It all brought me back to the heady 60's when the spirit was a blowin’ all over this land. In the 1940's, Catholicism was the darling of Hollywood, that fountain head of American culture. Going My Way was a 1944 film, a light-hearted musical comedy about a young priest replacing an old curmudgeon pastor Fr. Bing Crosby, living the typical life and sings constantly. Next year, Fr. Crosby in the sequel, The Bells of St. Mary's is still singing and raising funds as he argues with Sister Ingrid Bergman as they both save a struggling school. The Bells of St. Mary’s was the highest-grossing picture of 1944. After a slew of Bible movies, 1959 gave us the Sound of Music, a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein with more singing religious, nuns this time.

Then in 1963 there was Lilies of the Field in which Sidney Poitier teaches German nuns to be more open minded. And also how to sing more modern music. Then things take an ominous turn. Change of Habit is a 1969 movie in which Dr. Elvis Presley falls in love with Sister Mary Tyler Moore while working in the inner city. Then we move on to the TV show, The Flying Nun, a sitcom placed in Puerto Rico in which Sister Sally Fields learns to fly using her traditional Ursuline habit. This disaster ran for three seasons beginning in 1967.

By 1992 we have Sister Act a film in which Sr. Whoopi Goldberg teaches nuns how to sing more relevant music. The Pope visits them, loves the music and the nuns begin recording careers. Hollywood Catholicism is at best a musical comedy, a kind of harmless joke. At worst it is a sinister cult as portrayed by movies like, Agnes of God about nuns killing babies, Elizabeth and its sequel, The DaVinci Code and the recent Showtime series The Borgias, among many more.

Nuns however, when they aren’t being sinister, sing gospel music which brings us back to the Perky Nun Singers who took me back fifty years to another television show and another perky nun, the original singing nun, Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile) when she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 5, 1964 with her smash hit song, “Dominique”. We knew her as the singing nun.

Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers was born in 1933 in Belgium and joined a Dominican convent in 1959. She wrote songs and played the guitar at retreats for young girls and finally recorded an album, available for sale in the convent gift shop. In 1963, the single "Dominique" became an international hit. In 1967, Deckers left the convent and hit the road as Luc Dominique. In 1967, she recorded “Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill,” a joyous song of thanksgiving for artificial birth control. It was a flop and her career nosedived, despite the 1966 movie “The Singing Nun” starring Debbie Reynolds. Deckers called the film “fiction.”

Deckers opened a school for autistic children in Belgium. In 1975 Soeur Sourire moved in with Anna Pecher, her companion for the next ten years. In the late 70's, the Belgian government claimed that she owed $63,000 in back taxes for the royalties on her one hit song. Unable to meet her financial obligations, she and Pécher committed suicide together by an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol on March 29, 1985. She was 51. Her sad life somehow sums up the disaster that was the optimistic Catholicism lite of the 60's. A happy progressive Catholicism that cast off what it believed to be the shackles of the past only to find itself devoid of any depth, like a seed sown on rocky ground that the birds came and devoured. Jesus said:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
We tried to exchange the rock of Peter which is the rock of Calvary, the SACRIFICE of the Mass for something more pleasant, more in keeping with the times. The attempt has failed utterly.

The Second Vatican Council has not failed. It has not been fully implemented. The rebellion that used the Council as its cover has failed. Jesus said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared”.(Matt13:24-50)
These were not just any weeds. These were “zizania” or lolium temulentum, to use its scientific name. It makes one feel drunk at first, but can cause death. Another name for it is “false wheat,” because until it is full grown it is indistinguishable from wheat. The meaning of the parable of the weeds and the wheat is that certain things mimic food, but are poison. What passed for liberation in the 60's turned out to be a kind of toxic drunkenness. It certainly killed Souer Sourire and I suspect that it killed the souls of many, many more. Perhaps it is time to quit insisting that the weeds are perfectly edible and to return to pure wheat, the Bread that came down from heaven.



Friday, April 15, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 23

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 23

“Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.”


There are two dimensions of church craft I think caused real trouble. First, remember in the Church of the 40's and 50's, there was a strange kind of legalism that asked how little was necessary rather than how much was possible. I remember great discussions of how far one could go before something was a sin. We think of corruption as something obvious. It is really very subtle. A whole branch of church craft seemed dedicated to helping people see their way past the rules.

The best of these theological church crafters did their finest work helping people to think their way around the Church’s prohibition of artificial birth control. Their disregard for the teaching authority of the Popes thus infected the world! There were saints and sinners, but worst of all you could be a very lukewarm church crafter. “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16)

In the beginning of the sixties the great spitting out began. People left the convents and rectories by the busload. Many of the priests who prepared me for the priesthood left the priesthood even as they were teaching me. I remember the dean of our college gathering us all in the assembly hall to encourage us to get our teaching certificates. That way we would have a trade when the Catholic Church went belly up. There was, as I have pointed out, a great pressure to be a priest or nun. I suspect that a lot of people entered the religious life who would rather not have done so.

When Blessed Pope John XXIII opened up the windows, to use his phrase, a whole lot of people jumped out, and many of them got jobs working in the bureaucracy of religion, in the career field of, you guessed it, church craft. Some few remain in those positions today and they with their followers continue the deconstruction of Catholicism, making sure that hymn lyrics are politically correct and that programs are in place to eradicate the problems of the 50's and 60's. The theme song of the church crafters is “Sing a new church into being....male and female in God’s image, male and female, God’s delight.” I get tired just thinking about it.

The second, I have already called the “edifice complex.” As I have pointed out, in the 40' and 50's and perhaps earlier, certainly later, the good administrator was promoted. When an American pastor in the middle of the twentieth century talked about conversion he usually meant switching the boiler over from oil to natural gas. When first ordained I worked with a kind and holy priest who was denounced by his peers for allowing the Spanish charismatic groups to use his church. His accusers were progressives who hated the movement because they saw it as reactionary. Too much prayer. Not enough social justice. In the petition they sent to the bishop, the most damning charge was that he had let the buildings get run down!!!

Some bishops felt much more comfortable in a discussion with accountants and heating contractors than they did with theologians. One of the finest and kindest bishops I ever knew, who is now long dead, actually once said in response to a religious question, “Don’t ask me. I’m not much of a theologian.” This is certainly not true of all the bishops, but I suspect it was true of some. They were made to feel inadequate to the task by experts who were only too glad to tell them what to think and sweeping changes were made because, “Well, this is what the experts are telling us.” This is evident in the architecture of the time.

Experts decided that churches be trashed, and Communion rails were ripped out and Formica replaced marble. I know a contractor who told me once that his family had prospered first by pulling all the old stuff out, and then putting it all back in. They just had to wait until the next wave of experts weighed in. The bishops who had been so good with brick and mortar were made to feel absolutely unsure about the tradition of the Church. When they went to the council, they brought their “periti,” their theological experts with them and the council was thus called the council of the periti who after a couple martinis were happy to sing a new church into being. “His (Jesus’) disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him, and He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” (Matt.24:1-2) Or, in other words, “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.”


Friday, April 8, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 22

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 22

“Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.”
The frogs were tired of their government. It was too old-fashioned, and so the cranes suggested they nominate a large log in the middle of the swamp to be their king. They would dress the log in royal robes so it could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty and rule them in a way that made no demands.

Until now, the frogs had hidden themselves among the reeds and grasses, but now they had a new and more open government. How tame and peaceable Old King Log was! In a short time, the younger frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly about improvements the government should be making. The cranes had suggested such a king in the first place, and when the frogs had forgotten how to hide, the cranes gobbled up the poor frogs right and left. And the frogs soon saw what fools they had been.

A frog about to be devoured, wept and pleaded with the cranes, reminding them that they had been the proponents of this new government. To which the cranes responded, “You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes.” And so the few frogs who still knew where to hide understood all the dangers that lurked in the swamp, even those dangers which seemed pleasant at the time, and they were better and wiser for the lesson. “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out!”

“Did you really mean what you wrote about motorcycles and pro-choice marches? How could you let things like that go on in your parish, Father, and still worse, how could the bishops and the pope let such things go on?”

You are not asking the right question. Better you should ask, “How could Almighty God let such things go if the Church is indeed His Church?”

There are two schools of thought at the present who say that God does not recognize the church whose pope is Benedict XVI, whose popes Pius XII and Blessed John XXIII and Venerable John Paul II also were. There are rebels on the right and rebels on the left. On one side, there are those who ordain women and on the other, those who ordain bishops both in defiance of the bishop of Rome. On one side, there are those who think the Church of Rome is outdated and, on the other side, those who think her throne is occupied by anti-popes. Some think the Second Vatican Council and its liturgy are heretical and some think that all councils before Vatican II have been superseded.

Both factions are, at heart, the same. They are rebels who have turned their backs on the Bride of Christ. They are both motivated by the same spirit though they come to seemingly different conclusions. “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you!” (1 Samuel 15:23.)

The radical traditionalist faction rejects the Second Vatican Council. They claim that the “new” Mass is, at best, corrupt, at worst, invalid. They somehow believe that the Holy Spirit has abandoned most of the members of the Church. The most radical among them are called “sede vacante” or “sedevacantists” (from Latin for “empty seat” referring to the teaching chair of St. Peter.) They claim to be the true Catholics, but are anything but Catholic in its fullest sense of “universal”.” They are a tiny faction who seem to think that the Holy Spirit has no power to protect the larger Church. They claim that the last valid pope was Pius XII. John the 23rd was invalidly elected, as have been all popes since.

Their reminiscences about the 1950's and the reign of Pius XII are flawed. They forget that the Liturgical renewal they so detest and the Biblical renewal were sponsored by Pius XII. The madness of the sixties and seventies were the fruit of the forties and fifties. The Church of the fifties, as I remember it, was “at the top of its game.” Soon after the Second World War, convents and seminaries were full to overflowing. The good pastor was defined by his skills as an administrator. We suffered from something called the “edifice complex.” The good pastor built new schools and new convents and churches and filled them with eager young candidates. The pressure to join the religious life was intense. If an eighth grade boy was in trouble with his teacher, all he had to say was, “Next year I’m going to enroll in the seminary high school.” Of the 50 plus boys in my eighth grade class, fully half went to the seminary. One was ordained.

When a boy got to the seminary, the pressure was really on. We didn’t live on campus. We went home at night like regular high school students, but regular stopped there. We were in school on Saturday and had Thursdays free. We were told this was the custom in Europe, but it was designed to “protect our vocation.” It was the duty of every parishioner to tell Monsignor at the rectory if they saw one of the seminarians in long conversation with a girl. Remember, these were 14 and 15 year-old boys! Leaving the seminary was a Herculean task. If one wanted to leave, it was necessary to have all your teachers sign a “pink slip” in order to have your credits transferred to another school. Each teacher gave you “the talk.”

“You would make such a fine priest! Why don’t you give it one more year?”

After facing three or four teachers, you gave up, threw the pink slip in the trash and told your girlfriend that you were going to stay in the seminary one more year, and no, you couldn’t take her to the junior prom. Maybe next year for the senior prom.

The pressure from outside was just as great. It was the dream of every pious mother on the south side of Frostbite Falls that, had she three sons, one would be the alderman, one would be the police or fire chief, and the gem in the crown, one would be Monsignor at St. Turalura’s down the street. Everyone was pulling for you. I remember a seminarian whose next door neighbor, a young girl, prayed two Rosaries a day for him, that he persevere in his vocation. When finally in the graduate school, he got up enough nerve to leave the seminary, the girl next door had a nervous breakdown. I remember going to the theology school on the monthly “visiting day” to see an older relative a few years ahead of me in seminary. He stood in his cassock at the door of the residence waiting for us. He had lost about 30 pounds and one eye was twitching. He told me later that he paced on the eve of his ordination wondering how he could get out of it. He had been an exemplary seminarian and did not long remain a priest.

At the same time, there was pressure from the inside in the opposite direction. It was hard to leave, but it was easy to be thrown out. There was strict demerit system and we all dreaded the words “Give me your demerit card.” It was always said with an icy tone of dispassionate justice. Something like Darth Vader, but more matter-of-fact. Then there were the academic demands. Every year, the bottom ten percent was routinely thrown out for grades, at least in the seminary I attended. If one had an obvious physical deformity there was simply no way to be welcome in our seminary. Let him go to a religious order. Perhaps they would take him In this incredible tug of was for what were essentially the souls of teenagers, the question was rarely asked, and then only by the pious few among the faculty, “Does this young man have a sincere calling from the Lord?” Some real saints were turned away from the seminary I attended. Some real (word deleted) excelled.

Then one day it all changed. There was going to be a council. It was like that scene in the “Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy inadvertently throws a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West and all her evil guards suddenly fall to their knees in thanksgiving for their freedom. Ding Dong the witch is dead! Catholicism was going to be fun! We would make up the rules as we went along. The same frightening disciplinarians suddenly became flower children. I remember a bunch of these old guys one year were dressed in cassocks and scowls and the next year they returned from a summer retreat sensitivity center at Big Sur, California wearing love beads and turtleneck sweaters. (I am not making any of this up.) A few of them started dating because the rule about celibacy was about to change. An older friend of mine went ahead with his ordination because he had been told by his teachers that celibacy would soon be abolished. One heard stories of some of the guys going on dates on the eve of their ordination.

Those in charge were not always different people. These were the same rigid disciplinarians that had controlled the seminary system and they were strangely rigid about change. The “new” became as rigorously enforced as the old had been. Young men were actually thrown out of the seminary for being “too pious.” My point is not that a new group had taken over the system. It was the same old crew. The pressure was off. The explosion was inevitable. The “spirit” of Vatican Two made everything acceptable for a little while, that is until the cranes started to devour the frogs. The attitude that makes the Gospel and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass a personal plaything did not spring into life full grown, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. It was there all the time.

To be continued...

Friday, April 1, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 21

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 21
You have doubtlessly heard the saying that growing old is not for the timid. As I plunge into senescence (old age-hood) I can never remember whom I’ve told what. I’m sure you have heard me tell this story. One Sunday, many years ago, when I was still young and the Tridentine Mass was a rare thing, I felt much in the need of prayer. I had heard there was a Tridentine High Mass downtown and I thought that was just what I needed, the Mass of my youth with a glorious choir and clouds of incense. So, having finished my last Sunday Mass at 12:15, and driving in my accustomed manner (bat out of somewhere not good), I arrived 10 minutes late for the 12:30 PM Solemn High Mass at the Basilica of St. Antica. It was not High, nor was it Solemn! Some old fossil was mumbling into a wall in a language I could have understood, had I been able to hear him! No choirs, no incense, no stirring sermon. Just a quick Mass on a hot afternoon. 

I said to the Lord, “I am not having a very good experience of prayer, here, don’t ya know!”

And the little inner voice that is sometimes the Holy Spirit said, “Oh, you came for an experience? I thought you came to worship Me.”

Touché! At which point, I started to worship, at which point I  had an experience. I realized that the old priest at the altar was not responsible for my experience, and that I, as a congregant, was not required to have an experience. I was there to bow before the Lord and to offer Him my life. Those 20 minutes changed my life.

Some “liturgists” or “celebrants” or “presiders” or whatever we are calling them this month, think that their job is to provide an experience.  Asked, they would deny this, but it is nonetheless true. We roll our eyes and sneer at “bad liturgy.” What, pray tell, is bad liturgy?  Is it a Mass lacking the latest fashion, be it liturgical dance, or incense in Mexican bean pots? A Mass, perhaps,  at which the music is poorly performed, or the lighting is off or the acoustics are bad? Is it a bad liturgy in which the celebrant is cross-eyed, or has a distracting mannerism and does not harmonize with the edifice?  I remember a blushing bride who refused to allow a Vietnamese priest to celebrate her wedding Mass. She thought his heavy accent would ruin the wedding video. It mattered not that he was a living saint who had suffered in a concentration camp for his faith. It would have been bad liturgy. She was not interested in a Sacrament. She was interested in an inspiring photo-op.
God ceased to be worshiped when Luther decided that Mass is not a sacrifice, and taught that it was only a consolation and instruction. Instruction and consolation quickly become entertainment. The goal of the presider then becomes to create an experience. For us moderns, only experience is real. It’s only real if I feel it, thus the most important thing I can do at church is to feel something, and the most important thing I can do as a pastor is to help my parishioners to “really feel it.”  The great irony is that my attempt to create an experience militates against authentic experience. It is something manufactured. It is a poison that blocks and excludes nourishment. That’s how poison works. It takes the place of something the organism needs. Carbon monoxide substitutes for oxygen. When the real thing comes along, the body rejects it because the need has been filled. The body suffocates without ever feeling short of breath.
To be human is to worship. The ability to worship more than anything else sets us apart form all other beings. To know how small we are and that an infinite Creator  loves us and made us for Himself. To worship is to bow down, to prostrate oneself in both Greek and Hebrew (shachah and proskynein respectively). Why bow down? To bow down, to prostrate oneself makes one absolutely vulnerable. The police know this. “Get out of the car, lie flat on the ground and put your hands where can I see them.” (That is not worship per se, because at that moment I doubt that the officer loves us, no matter how friendly he or she may be.) That is what’s behind all the folding and  raising of hands, kneeling, genuflecting etc. It is about smallness and vulnerability.

Luther exchanged the congregant for God as the object of worship when he taught that Mass is not a sacrifice. Worship became entertainment, and exceptional Americans, who kneel to no one, took up the idea with enthusiasm and have foisted it on the whole world. Where worship ends, humanity dies, and we see a culture dying.
I have no objection to Mass facing the people, it’s just that it only works for a very holy priest and a very holy congregation. It is so tempting to play to the audience when being stared at by a thousand eyes. Most priests reading this must be insulted that I even imply that this might be true of them.

"But , Father, (and I include myself) if it is true that your religion is what you do when no one else is looking, is your celebration of the Mass an act of faith, or just an act? You may think that all your emoting is aimed at the Lord, but is that the way you say Mass when you are all by yourself, if you bother to say Mass when you are all by yourself?"

Mass facing the congregation, as I said is just fine for a very holy priest. It is also a swell place for a raging narcissist. (Though I have met some narcissists who do just fine with the glitz and glitter of the old Mass). Let us remember that the word hypocrite is just the common Greek word for stage actor. I suppose that my whole theme can be summed up simply. Stop the show and return to the sacrifice.

"So, Rev. Know it all, what would you do to make everything alright?"

That will have to wait for next week.