By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 06, 2005

Look at me. Look at what an easy-going, modest, loveable guy I am. I'm a cazh priest serving a cazh god -- a no-big-deal god, an earth-colors and coffee table god, a "sit back and make yourself comfy" god. No point in putting on a chasuble. My god doesn't subscribe to the Gammarelli catalog [please chuckle in knowing sympathy with me here]. Besides, it's a better tease if I do my own thing with the rubrics, agreeing with some and ignoring others. It shows I'm my own person and throws the faithful just a little off-balance, which makes them uncertain enough to have to attend to ME and pick up their every ritual clue from ME, who am the most important Being at this event.

The trick is not to overdo it. If you go overboard with the disrespect people tune out. Better to play off their expectation of a Catholic Mass, leading them on with the familiar and then shocking them with something baffling, mixing piety and impiety. Am I an obedient priest or a disobedient priest? Both. Neither. Doesn't matter. What matters is that the thoughts of the assembly won't be going heavenwards -- as tends to happen when they get spiritual freedom from the Roman Ritual -- rather their thoughts and feelings are trapped in the here-and-now, within the cage I have built for them.

Cute, isn't it, the way I have the kids elevating the hosts like concelebrants? It shows I'm unconscious of my priestly dignity. It foregrounds my humility, and that's good. It also trashes the priesthood of the baptized. What -- you thought it emphasized it? On the contrary, the priesthood of the baptized is signaled in bringing forward bread and wine at the Offertory, in which our common humanity takes part. No, by giving the patens to the boys to lift I'm actually making the point that unless YOU have a special and personal role in The Sacerdotal Show YOUR priesthood doesn't count. In fact, the kids get pretty excited the first couple times they take over bits of my duty, and then they feel bored and resentful when they fall back into anonymity in their ordinary parish Mass. And that's what I like to see. I'm singing a new church into being.

The problem with saying Mass by the book is that it edifies. That's a word that means "builds up." When the members of the assembly are edified, they are built up into an edifice which is of no single member's making; they're made into the Church -- and that in such a way that their differences, far from being a source of division, actually work in a complementary way to form an organic whole. But that organic whole poses a serious obstacle to my personal project, in ways I'd just as soon leave unspoken. Better to blur. Better to obfuscate. Better to use the inherited respect of the faithful for a priest to lead them to a liturgical fork in the road, where they have to choose between obeying ME and obeying the Church, between sharing in the rite I concocted and sharing a rite given to the universal body. In the best case scenario, some will tap into the anger and take positive relish in defying the Church. In the second best case, they'll feel soiled by their timid acquiescence and transform the discomfort of their guilt into resentment against the Church, against the Church that asks such simple and "doable" obedience from them.

Don't you see? Obedience is the key to the whole game. The words and rubrics are so simple and so clear that any priest who wants to do so can offer a perfect Mass every time, and the faithful can offer a perfect Mass along with him. That means every variation from the words or the rubrics takes place for a reason. A noble reason? You should be ashamed even to raise the question. As a priest in good standing, could I offer you anything else?

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 9 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jul. 08, 2005 12:36 AM ET USA

    Also, is the girl sitting in "the chair" (not on the couch with the boys) acting as a visiting cardinal-type person, in "choir dress," in recognition of the infamous & damaging legacy of, let's say, a cardinal in, uhhh, Los Angeles? If she's not doing so, then this priest is certainly being exclusive at his "table of the bread and wine."

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2005 7:03 AM ET USA

    The photograph reminds me of a "Mass" which I attended some years ago at the Paulist church on Boston Common. The service was so far removed from what is prescribed for the licit and valid celebration of Mass that I felt obliged to attend Mass again later that day at the Franciscan church in Arch Street in order to fulfil my Sunday obligation.That was an altogether happier experience.But do the authorities take any steps to stop these abuses? Dream on........

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2005 6:55 AM ET USA

    The wonder is that the "priest" bothered to wear an alb at all. He clearly hasn't encountered the "shirt Mass" which is quite fashionable when clergy gather together in Ireland.Its too bothersome to vest for Mass and having to divest delays your arrival on the first tee so be cool and offer Mass in your golf shirt.Thats of course if you say Mass at all on your day off or while on holidays!

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2005 9:43 PM ET USA

    The kid with the arms crossed. Is he sitting in...could it be? Its an IKEA chair? I thought the word on the cross was INRI.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2005 8:51 PM ET USA

    Just guessing (don't know where Uncle Di got this picture), but could this be a Dutch "priest"? The clothing on the kids definitely says "non-USA," while the boy's glasses and the girl's stockings say, "Europe." The pussy-willows and the window casement say "Europe" also. Can you give us a clue, Diogenes?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2005 8:08 PM ET USA

    The only thing puzzling about this scene is why both "concelebrants" are boys, when there is a girl present.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jul. 06, 2005 7:29 PM ET USA

    Obedience is the key, as you well note, Diogenes. As a priest, I have a DUTY to offer the Holy Mass according to the Church's rubrics. The rules engage us to be reverant, for they are Jesus' rules, this is Jesus Christ's Mass, His Church, His Magisterium... & we are members of His Church to the degree that we are faithful & obedient to Him & His Church. Indeed the people have a Right to the Rites, properly offered, so that they can fully participate in the way that the Church instructs them.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jul. 06, 2005 7:21 PM ET USA

    Great essay, D. I'm printing a copy -- it will edify my bishop, as I invite him to paste many of our priests' mugshots on the one of the disobedient/traitorous priest in your photo. Many of them criticize me as being "rigid" & "pre-Vatican II," when all I do is follow Church rubrics, the Sacramentary, wear proper vestments, use metal vessels, etc. Disobedient priests are actually the ones who want to go backward, to the 1960s-70s, w/ rainbow vestments, clayware & root beer/pizza "Masses."

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2005 6:58 PM ET USA

    Let's combine the last two this a picture of abuse in its embryonic stages? And was it only frozen by the Dallas agreement? Hmmm...