I Am Done…
I don’t make a practice of leaving the church before the Mass is over. The nuns said we had to stay to the Final Blessing: so it was taught, so it has been done.
I suppose I would leave if the priest preached outright heresy, damned the pro-life movement, or something like that. Al Matt, editor of the The Wanderer newspaper (a tall, imposing sort of figure) would sit up front at his parish church, then when the homily went south, he would loudly close his Missal and walk down the main aisle, remaining outside until the Creed. I try to be more subtle, so I have stayed through the guitar lady singing on Good Friday, the young man trying to sing the Responsorial Psalm in a manner similar to the Propers of the Graduale Romanum while strumming his guitar. I have put up – hymn book closed – with “Gather Us In” and “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” (reminiscent of a ’70s TV theme). But today I left. Since we sat toward the front and everyone was sitting, it wasn’t so subtle when my daughter and I got up and left. It came in that pause between the Post Communion prayer and the Blessing, when the celebrants sneak things in by saying “Please be seated,” meaning unending announcements, guest speakers, and pitches for the spring festival, summer picnic, and fall extravaganza.
To illustrate plans for being a “welcoming” parish at Easter, the vested deacon and the religious education coordinator began acting out little skits in front of the altar – the religious ed coordinator running across the front of the church as though late for Mass, and the deacon holding the door open for her. Several other scenarios were set to be acted out, as though the congregation was made up of the dim individuals (perhaps smart phone addicts who never lift their heads full height?) who need entertainment and visual arts to understand what ushers and door holders do.
Did we not just celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in this place? Was this not happening in the few minutes after reception of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, the time when we should be thanking Him for our very lives?
My daughter, she with the mental disability, was upset. “What were they doing, running in church?” she asked. The disrespect overwhelmed her, she said she was going to rest awhile when we got home to think about it. Obviously, welcoming didn’t cross her mind as much as irreverence. Hours later she still expressed her upset feelings.
Now maybe this isn’t a biggie, I am overreacting. But consider this: I am an editor of Catholic things. When not working on Bellarmine Forum projects, like our recent book, Slaying the ‘Spirit’ of Vatican II, I edit for other people. Currently I am working on a compilation of the writings of Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, of the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, where the Latin Mass, chant, and sacred music thrived after Vatican II. That priest had it right in so many ways. He wrote of things not mentioned from the pulpit in 50 years, things like the meaning of the Mystical Body and the Eucharistic Body of Christ, the sacred, why music at the liturgy needs to be sacred in honor of the divinity, and the demands preserving the sacred makes on us all. (The book should be out this fall and perhaps an excerpt or two will land on our Bellarmine website.)
So, somehow, in light of this understanding and with a book on the actual writings of the Second Vatican Council still in mind, a pantomime of the welcoming church didn’t do it for me. The whole idea of a welcoming church atmosphere is the new thing these days. Priests are seeing dwindling Mass attendance, dwindling collections, and they are scrambling to be attractive to the common person. (I would say common man, as that phrase is all encompassing of mankind, but these days, using “man” is a no-no.)
It isn’t going to happen, at least not the Protestant glad-handing mega-church way. If people understood the Mass and grace and encountered the sacred in a measly five-minute visit to the local church this Lent, they wouldn’t need to be hurrahed for coming on Sunday. They would feel a need to be there on Sunday for the Sacred Mysteries. To be truthful, we wouldn’t need a guitar strumming musician or a polyphonic choir, we would have the alter Christus before us who brings Christ to us. We would be actively participating by uniting mind and spirit to the action of priest at Mass, not “actively” active with arm movements, and handshakes, not to mention the distractions of felt banners and the decorum of Eucharistic ministers who gather behind the priest at the altar.
This Lent, I am reading The Left Hand of God by William E. Barrett (good luck finding it anywhere, the only library-available copy in Minnesota was at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville – here is a link to the listing on Amazon, an affiliate link that throws a small percent to the Bellarmine Forum). Maybe you remember the ’50s movie with Humphrey Bogart. The book is way better. A sacrilegious tale of an American flier escaping service to a Chinese warlord by assuming the identity of a murdered mission priest. The Mass, confessions, marriages, sick calls, baptisms — all of it a hoax by a fallen away Catholic who somehow regains his faith by understanding the depths of his sin. A mere layman wrote this book with such sublime descriptions of the Holy Mass, celibacy, and the vocation of the priesthood that it could be truly considered spiritual reading.
And that book only added to my discomfort at my parish, especially with the news that video screens will be added near the sanctuary soon. Something is missing in all this fol-de-rol. Perhaps it is in me in this 21st century, expecting the Holy One to be adored instead of cheered nowadays. Perhaps it is my fault for being subtle, maybe I should have taken a stand sooner, slammed my Gather book and stomped out to “I Danced in the Morning.” No matter, what is done is done and I am done.
This article, I Am Done… is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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