can't we all just get along?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 25, 2004

What is it about "faithful orthodox Catholics" that makes so many of them talk as though despair and anger are the first and only characteristics of the Truly Christian life?

Several blogs have recently raised the question of why orthodox Catholics so often froth at the mouth when the subject of liturgical abuse is raised, why so many of us stumble out of Mass nearly sick with rage, so that we shock and repel those around us.

As a man who very often prays to be distracted during Mass so as not to take a machete to the celebrant, and as one who spreads alarm and despondency among nearly all he meets after leaving church, I feel I'm qualified to speak to the question.

What exasperates and maddens me about liturgical abuses is that the Mass given to us by the Church is so supremely, eminently DOABLE. Almost any priest not in a concentration camp or on a battlefield can do what the Church asks him to do with perfect compliance. It's all there: wear this; say that; bow here; now rinse your hands; now elevate the host -- the dimmest clergyman in the poorest parish on earth can score 100% every time, and thereby offer a pleasing sacrifice to God.

That means that the departures happen for a reason. The innovator wants to jack us around for motives of his own, which he does not "covenant" with us. I almost never hear complaints about occasional inadvertent omissions by celebrants trying to do it right; it's the deliberate changes that infuriate.

I once read an article in a lefty newsletter called Miriam's Song that laid out the campaign very neatly. The author noted how, on the campus of Ohio State, students would not keep to the sidewalks but take the most direct route between buildings, thereby wearing out a footpath in the grass. Eventually the grounds crew would acknowledge the fait accompli and lay a concrete sidewalk over the course already marked out by pedestrians who didn't stick to the "approved" ways. The author used this as an analogy to encourage her readers to "make a path by walking on it" in the liturgy -- i.e., to start doing at Mass what they want it to become, confident that sooner or later the Church will bow to necessity and declare officially that the innovation (joining in the priest's prayers, say, or having a lay minister communicate the celebrant) is liturgically licit. The Mass becomes an exercise in agit-prop.

It's not as if the Mass established by the Church -- the standard Mass in the missal -- just happened to coincide with my personal idiosyncratic tastes. I didn't choose this particular ritual as I might choose this particular necktie out of a hundred possibilities. The Church simply gave it to us. Some parts I find pleasing, others not. But I value it precisely because it's not mine. I value it because we (bishops, priests, layfolk) received it from the Church.

Hence the unfairness of it when the celebrant himself departs from the rubrics, even quite peripheral ones, to "make a path by walking on it." When Father suggests in the vestibule that I'm guilty of pushing a private agenda by asking for a kosher Mass I had no part in making; when he tells me the Mass of the missal is "not good liturgy" or "not the tradition of our local faith community"; when my only alternative is to keep silent and let him score out his path a little more securely -- then, brothers and sisters, I want to jamb his Gather Hymnal down his throat.

And that's not conducive to spiritual repose.

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 30, 2004 10:40 PM ET USA

    Much of the ridiculousness comes from complete ignorance about what the Mass is. Last year some helpful soul hung a large posterboard fundraising thermometer next to the ambo in the sanctuary so that we would be sure to see how much further we had to go on the bishop's appeal. All of these nice people have their great ideas on how to improve Mass! It gets treated like town hall meeting. But it is truely ignorance (and a very weak pastor) that cause most of the trouble in our parish.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 26, 2004 3:16 PM ET USA

    Eucharistic Eugenics is a phrase that leaps to mind. Feel free to reuse the phrase, free of copyright.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 9:29 PM ET USA

    While I pray for my enemies and implore God for their conversion, I also take a deep, deep comfort in knowing that those making their own paths in order to force changes on the rest of us, will ultimately arrive at the destination they have chosen--and will stay there for all eternity. After praying for them, I pray for myself--that I won't join them there.

  • Posted by: Margo - Mar. 25, 2004 8:58 PM ET USA

    Oh, I think the aim is not Protestanism but Universal Unitarianism. Tolerance of liturgical abuse is leading the way. Many "Catholic " parishes, under the misguided pastoring of "progressive priests" who are undisciplined by their bishop, are pushing Jesus out of the church: No crucifix in the santuary, excuse me, worship space/ multipurpose room; store the Blessed Sacrament out of sight in a reservation chapel down the hall; and replace Christian spirituality with the Enneagram.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Mar. 25, 2004 5:14 PM ET USA

    Thank you, once again, Diogenes. You are the expert articulate marksman. Priests, including myself, would be well-advised to re-print this column (along with your column titled "First Things First," an open letter to a bishop, that appeared in the March issue of Catholic World Report), with your permission, and give it to their bishop and brother priests at their next assembly (maybe the upcoming Chrism Mass)... as a type of catechetical "machete" of Truth that cuts to the core of the matter.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 3:06 PM ET USA

    By changing the way people pray the revolutionaries intend to change the way they believe. Eventually the ecumaniacal movement will score the victory it seeks and bring all "christians" together under one roof. Their faith will consist of a list of "common denominators" with each little "denomination" contributing its own "traditions." People will pick and choose what they want to believe and ... we will wake up Protestants, just like the descendants of Catholic England eventually did.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 3:02 PM ET USA

    Perhaps an experiment is in order. Let there be a "traditional" Latin Mass offered in every parish church in the country every day along with whatever kind of modern Mass the liturgy committees and priests want to cook up. Live with this for a year, or two ... and then bring the attendees of the respective Masses together and ascertain if they have the same faith and core beliefs. You will see that they would not believe the same way. This is the intent of the liturgical revolutionaries.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 2:50 PM ET USA

    As a child, I was taught that you go to Confession BEFORE going to Mass. But often I get so angry at the lack of respect shown toward the Blessed Sacrament that I feel the need of a good cleansing AFTERWARD. Yesterday evening I went to Mass and Communion. I had planned on making my thanksgiving by meditating on Christ's sufferings. Instead I spent a good half hour asking Him to help me calm down.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 1:32 PM ET USA

    You are right on target. Ritual isn't ritual if it's individual, and what I resent is not getting the ritual that I as a Catholic have a right to get. Maybe the trouble with conservatives in the Church is that they don't make this a rights issue - after all, who argues against rights these days? But a sense of humor, I have found,does help the cause. My wife wonders why I leave Mass singing the theme from "Gilligan's Island" after another entrance with "Gather Us In."

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 1:16 PM ET USA

    Bravo!! What's even worse is, when brought to the attention of the bishop in as polite and hopeful a manner as possible, the bishop asks his vicar to meet with the "complainer" and make sure he goes SOMEWHERE ELSE in the future. At the risk of being "divisive" perhaps it's time we stodd up in the middle of the Mass and begin loudly to correct them. If it's war they want, let's give it to them!!

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 1:04 PM ET USA

    Diogenes has done it again. Articulated one of the primary things that make so many livid about the Mass. It's bad enough that the liturgical heretics re-make the Liturgy in their own image without any sense of or understanding of the Liturgy. Add to that, that they are aesthetic and cultural ignoramuses and it's enough to make a saint wish for a machete. They have no idea how replusive their sentimental pablum is. It's what happens when you celebrate the community rather than worship God.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 1:03 PM ET USA

    Amen and well-said. It is precisely this aspect of liturgy as agit-prop which drives me absolutely batty so much of the time as well.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 12:14 PM ET USA

    Amen! Thanks for the great statement; I'll be distributing it to some of the members of the parish. One omission here, however, is that it is often the case that the celebrant is not the origin of these departures. Yes, he has the final say, but how many times do these problems originate with someone who is involved in liturgical practices at the parish? I know that this is the case at my parish, and have gotten into arguments on our RCIA team about specific Masses where this was a problem.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 12:11 PM ET USA

    Amen, I know the temptation. I sometimes handle this by asking the good father how he differentiates his attitude from that of Ab Lefevre (sp?) who also thought he knew best. That often stumps. But the real solution is to ask God to help us feel sorrow rather than anger, and make an oblation of that sorrow. And to pray for the perpetrators. When you sincerely pray for someone, it makes it harder to feel anger towards them.