Every year during Advent I want to bring out my inner-best self. He’s in there somewhere, I just know.
But there are moments like this morning’s Mass that bring out the inner Scrooge in me. And because we live in a brave new world of not letting a single thought go unexpressed, I’m going to allow myself to give vent to the incredible feelings of being irked I felt during today’s Divine Liturgy.
However I’m not just going to complain for the sake of complaining (although, hey, that’s fun, too). Instead I’m going to try and be somewhat constructive with these feelings and suggest them as resolutions for the new liturgical year we’ve just begun.
All are driven by the dictum taught by a priest I one met to his seminarians: In the Mass, everything matters.
Before proceeding, however, I feel compelled to note that while I firmly believe these resolutions are based on objective rather than subjective considerations, I know a lot of people will disagree. And they’ll mostly be women, if my past experiences hold true. This isn’t a sexist observation, I assure you. Evidently women are better at being disembodied souls during Mass. They’re able to keep in mind the need to focus on Who we encounter at Mass rather than the external things that make such a focus so hard for us mere mortal males.
Now it’s true some menfolk might share the opinions of our women folk. If they do, more power to them.
In either case, I don’t care. (See? Scrooge.) I’ve felt this way for several decades now, and having tried and prayed to receive the grace to ignore the crud that passes for acceptable liturgical practice in today’s Church – and either have not been capable of receiving that grace or have not been given it – I’m not about to change my mind. Thereore feel free to stop reading at this point if you choose. Again, I don’t care.
Resolution #1: Let us resolve to treat the church past the narthex or vestibule as something other than a social hall.
If you want to socialize, either mortify yourself by waiting until after Mass or doing so on your own time.
Today several old people were yapping on-and-on-and-on-and-on quite loudly about their ancestry, their children, the difficulties they encounter, etc.
It’s almost always old people, why I can’t begin to guess.
When I say old, I mean old, like Methuselah old. As in, “Ma’am, sir, you are all old enough to know better. And you’re old enough to appreciate why you should care to maintain a respectful silence in the church before Mass.”
This is not just because people are trying to get their souls into a prayerful place so they can truly encounter the Word made flesh. It’s also because the Word made flesh is before us, hidden as He was in Mary’s womb before that first Christmas nearly 2,000 years ago. Out of respect for His presence in the tabernacle—if not for consideration for your fellow worshipers—can you please not just shut up and be silent? Do you have to talk and yammer on and on?
Resolution #2: Let’s resolve to be considerate of those around us.
Old people—but this goes for all the infirm—I get that you can’t comfortably kneel at the consecration and after the Agnus Dei anymore. As someone with a bad back who has torn his ACL twice, I get how painful it can be.
But you know something? It’s not all about your comfort. Can you not scooch forward just a bit so when the people behind you are kneeling, they’re not breathing in the scent of your bald head or hair product and not in danger of constantly bumping their hands on your back?
If you have small children, be mindful that your child’s antics or screeching during the consecration may be for you akin to the sound of bells to workers in a bell factory. That is, you’re so used to them, you don’t hardly notice them.
Believe me, that doesn’t go for the rest of us.
People go to Mass to pray. Now don’t get us wrong. We are absolutely overjoyed you’ve brought your child to Mass and are trying to raise them in the Faith. Just, please, be considerate of those around you. Take them into the cry room or the vestibule or at the very least to the back so that they provide less of a distraction. Yes, they have a right to be there, but don’t the rest of us have a right to assist at Mass without the agitation your child is providing?
As a codicil to Resolution #2, remember: It’s not a bad thing to discipline your child during Mass if they’re acting like a brat (as the parent of six, I can tell you all children act like brats at some point in their lives during Mass). Children crave discipline (although you might never know that by their reaction to it). What more appropriate place to give them what they desperately need to be good citizens and godly people as adults than in church when they’re children?
Resolution #3: As you dress for Mass each Sunday, keep this thought in mind: ‘If I was dressing to see the Pope or even just the President, would I be dressing like I was going to a barbecue right afterward and that that was a more important consideration then dressing for the person I was seeing first off?’
I once read of a woman who cried after learning of being criticized for lectoring while dressed in jeans. The jeans were, she protested, the best she could afford and were at least clean.
My guess is that few of us have so little money that we can’t visit the local Goodwill or parish thrift store and buy something presentable and inordinately inexpensive to look our best at Sunday Mass.
Understand this: It is not about looking good for Mass, that is, for other people at Mass. Rather it’s that, again, in the Mass, everything matters. Looking good means we put some time and thought into how we were going to present ourselves to the Lord in His house.
If we were going to meet the Pope, we would put on our, well, Sunday best.
In the Mass we encounter someone eminently greater than any pontiff has ever been or even than all have them have been put together. We go to meet the Pope’s “boss.”
Shouldn’t we dress accordingly out of respect for His majesty and presence?
Instead we dress to show our favorite team’s colors. Or we just throw on whatever is closest to the bed: jeans, shorts, short-short skirts, T-shirts, tank tops, etc.
Is this really the best we can do for our Lord and God, the King of kings, our Creator?
In case it’s not obvious, the question is rhetorical.
Resolution #4: If I am a priest, I will say the black and do the red.
The world does not need Fr. Smith’s or Msgr. Baker’s creativity. If you think the liturgy can be improved, go through the proper channels. Until then, be obedient to the rubrics. No one is interested in what you think would make the Mass “better.” We the People of God have a right to liturgy done properly and done well. We have a right to the Mass as envisioned for us by Holy Mother Church and approved by the popes. Don’t pretend you can improve on that, because likely you’re just subjecting us to your bad taste.
Resolution #5: If I am a priest or deacon, my homily will not only be good and free from anything that goes against what is in the Catechism, it will also teach people how to be holy and thus become saints.
The Second Vatican Council taught that each of us has a personal vocation to holiness. In other words, saintliness is not just for priests and religious, it is for you and me.
It basically consists in acting as though our profession to love God above all else is not just pious words. It comes from us doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways out of love for Him.
We need to hear this, week in, week out. For if we do not die saints, to what will all your pontifications about why we need women priests, why we need to do away with priestly celibacy, why homosexual genital relations really aren’t as bad as Church says they are, why divorced and civilly remarried people ought to be able to receive the sacraments, or the need to practice social justice in XYZ fashion and all the rest come? Nothing.
Here’s the thing: If we are holy, if we live as saints with all the integrity of Christian life that implies, then if something is really of the Holy Spirit—whether it be from the above list or something else—we will recognize it. We will, say, be convicted to use the graces we receive in the Eucharist to live out our calling to holiness by giving more to the poor or volunteering with the homeless or whatever.
Teach us how to become holy and how to rid our lives of sin, Deacon/Father/Monsignor/Bishop. The rest will naturally fall into place from there.
Resolution #6: Let’s make Communion in the hand less prevalent.
I know, I know, what a troglodyte traditionalist I am, right?
Here’s the thing, though. Communion in the hand started back in northwestern Europe as an abuse during the late 1960s. It was not allowed, but that didn’t stop dissenting and deconstructionist priests and theologians from encouraging it. “Who cares what the Vatican says? We know better” was the spirit that animated this movement. We were told that, based on the writings of one—one—Church Father, this is how the ancient Christians did things.
Except they didn’t. Or at least only at first. By the fourth and fifth centuries, however, the norm had changed to Communion on the tongue and only on the tongue. In the hand was reserved for very specific circumstances.
We forget that the Church did a lot of fine tuning during its early days. If she kept a certain practice or custom, it was for a good reason. Likewise if she jettisoned a certain practice, it was for a good reason. What makes us thing we know better than Church Fathers who are called “the Great” (i.e., Ss. Basil, Leo, and Gregory)?
In the 1969 document, Memoriale Domini, Bl. Pope Paul VI made it known that he was allowing Communion in the hand so that those who received in this way wouldn’t scandalize other Mass-goers. He wasn’t doing it because he thought it was a great idea.
St. Teresa of Kolkata (aka, Mother Teresa) once told Fr. George Rutler that the gravest problem in the world (not just the Church, mind you) was the reception of Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the hand.
For over 1,500 years Catholics and other Christians only ever received on the tongue. Now, somehow, we know better. These days it is hard to find anyone who does this.
And if you insist there’s nothing wrong with receiving your Creator in the hand, please, reverence Him by at least washing your hands after leaving your car (if you’ve ever cleaned your steering wheel, you know how dirty it probably is). Don’t give God a dirty place on which to rest, even if for only a second.
Resolution #7: Can we have sacred music at Mass that is, well, sacred?
We don’t need a Gregg Allman song (as happens at one Southern parish), the Up With People exuberance of “Go Make a Difference” (which does not celebrate God so much as it celebrates us), the treacly, saccharine atonal verses of “On Eagles Wings,” or the banality of that song that tells us the real reason for attending Mass: “We come to share our story.”
No. It. Isn’t.
No. We. Don’t.
We come to Mass to take part in the unbloody re-presentation of once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross that won us our salvation.
Such music does not encourage holiness, and it certainly doesn’t meet the standard of “In the Mass, everything matters” in that it comes nowhere near approaching the excellence for everything that makes up the Divine Liturgy.
Granted sometimes these tunes are great for the car. Sometimes they’re just unbearable (witness most settings for the Gloria and Sanctus). You wouldn’t sing them in the car or the shower, so why are such insipid mediocrity and trite tunes worthy of the mystery of worship of El Shaddai, much less acceptable?
I can imagine hearing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” or even “How Great Thou Art” in heaven.
These other tunes?
Resolution #8: Can we show some decorum during Mass, please?
Don’t turn around and insist I hold your hand during the “Our Father” (which the Vatican and even the US bishops once decreed was not the most Catholic of things to do). Don’t get out of your pew to go shake everyone’s hand during the Sign of Peace. Pay attention to the homily (it’s not the best time to read your bulletin and/or diocesan newspaper).
There. With my inner Scrooge vented (hopefully for good reason), I pray we all have a blessed and fruitful remainder of our Advent and a glorious Christmas in which the Incarnation becomes ever more alive in our hearts. I know I certainly want and need that.