Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mass Confusion Some people are bored out of their minds when they go to Church. What they experience in the Mass seems to be completely unrelated to the experiences of life in "the real world." They read Readings, pray Prayers, offer Offerings, and "take Communion." Often it seems they're just going through the motions of a conversation that's uninteresting, but obligatory. Like when you were a child, visiting "older people," and you had to sit in the dining room with them. Now we know from those trusty polls that Church attendance has dropped, belief in the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has dwindled into a foggy, half-mumbled ascent, and faith in Church leadership has been deeply wounded by recent and ongoing scandals. Not a very comforting picture. For many living in our fast pace, gimme'-something-worth-my-time culture, the kind of experience of Church as a seemingly dry repetition of words and gestures just doesn't "do anything for me." This conclusion has led some in the Church to want to jazz up the Mass. Make it more "exciting" for people. Reach out to the youth with a different kind of music, something they can feel. Getting faith means getting funky, loosening up, changing stuff around.... improvising. "Oh we love Father Soandso, he comes down from the altar and walks around and tells jokes... and stuff." A few years ago, I found myself at a national meeting of diocesan staff who were all in the field of Catholic Evangelization. There were priests, deacons, sisters, lots of laity, and even some bishops. The burning question was "How do we get them back?" We prayed together, and the prayer laid out was supposed to be a model for us leaders to bring back to the parishes. The theme was "multicultural." Here are some snapshots of our time together: - processing two by two towards a large clay pot filled with sand, each of us holding a lighted incense stick which we were to place in the sand, after a short bow. - singing a song whose lyrics included the phrase "free us from dogmas that bind" - watching a young Vietnamese deacon burst into the circle where we were praying, leaping up and down, swirling a stick with a ribbon on it (like one of those Olympic sporting events) - tamborines, remember those? - and finally, after our closing Mass together (which was led by one of the bishops), it got really crazy. People were clapping and the young deacon was grabbing random people (not the bishop) and dancing with them in the middle of the chapel. One elderly nun in full habit (yep, full habit) was pulled bodily out of her chair to join in the dance. That's when the congo line burst out. It snaked around the room, stilted and dizzy, looking like a wedding reception gone awry; where the open bar should have been closed, awhile ago. During all of these multi-cultural activities and prayers, I would glance from time to time over to a little shelf in the chapel, off to the left of the altar. There, in a niche on the side wall was the tabernacle, in shadowy stillness. (Sigh...) The Presence was there, drumming on, a throbbing Heartbeat that seemed to me to be keeping a different time, another Rhythm. It was the same beat that Abraham stepped to, over countless Mesopotamian miles. It was the same pulsating power that Moses kicked up his heels to, throwing off his sandals in absolute adoration. And before this Presence, David danced with wild abandon. I looked back at the congo line, now forming a grand circle. Everyone was turned in on themselves, smiling and satisfied that at least "we" get it. But did we? I think for too long we have been a circle, looking at the Church as if it were all ours, as if it were our job to keep the thing moving and growing and maintaining itself. Better music, more programs, rockstar priests! And all the while, Jesus waits... like a young man at a dance without a date, sitting in the shadowy stillness of an empty church that seems to be emptying still. What would happen if you and I walked over to Him, and took His hand? What would happen if our eyes met? Would we take the lead, or would we let Him take us? What if we stepped to His Rhythm for a change? I wonder what would happen?


Anonymous said...

I belong to a very Traditional Parish, St. Peter Chruch, Merchantville, NJ. We have Perpetural Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (10 years), Perpetual Miraculous Medal Novena (12 years); the one rigtly led us to the other, and we have traditional liturgies. For example we just closed our 40 hour devotion with a solemn mass con-celebrated by 10 priests, asssisted by a Deacon, and served by 70 or so altar servers. The traditonal Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are used. In addition a dozen altar servers solemnly process from the side sacristy door while the adult choir is singing the traditional Agnus Dei, carrying lit candles sticks and by the end of the Agnus Dei they are kneeling around the communion rail to further assure that no misses what is about to happen. A detail so simple but speaks volumns about the Real Presence. A beautiful procession around the Church with the Blessed Sacrament follows the Mass while the packed church is singing Pangua Lingua Glorisi.
The recipe is easy and proven, but many refuse to follow it.
Oh did I mention that this very same parish has three High School Seniors committed to the seminary and has produced many priests, seminarian, and religious sisters over recent years.
God Bless you,

Bill Donaghy said...


Thanks for the post. I think your parish is an oasis of reverence in an otherwise cloudy situation! The line from the film "Field of Dreams" comes to mind... "If you build it, He will come."

Your parish seems focused on Him, on respect, reverence, beauty, the best we can give back to God with all of our art and song and posture. That's the key. And that seems to be why you have vocations and a thriving community! When we look at Him, all else falls into place, doesn't it? All of the questions about increasing vocations, filling the pews, increasing the collection, reaching the youth... We have to give Him all and we will get all. We have to lead others to His Face, not some other face. And His is a Eucharistic Face. I think experiences like mine (at the evangelization meeting) where we are really looking at ourselves, takes us away. It's a strong statement. We must have both beams, the horizontal love of neighbor and the vertical love of God, to make the sign of salvation. It's that tension of the two beams where we are challenged to stay. The Eucharist is where they come together!

God bless you and St. Peter's,

Anonymous said...

...your writings seem to inspire response. If you speak as well as you write you must be a dynamic leader. I think the church is experiencing the backlash of extremes. For so long much was so unapproachable,the clergy and even the sacraments. When I made my confirmation it was NOT a spiritual experience. I know now that it should have been but it was not. I was more afraid that the bishop would ask me a question ,I would answer incorrectly and face the wrath of the sisters the next day.Another example of this-, the convent had a chapel and I always so wanted to go into it to pray but never would have dared to ask. This was wrong. So now we are going to the other extreme. I have experienced the young priests of whom you speak. I must say when the one would say he was saved by a televangilist I would almost burst out
laughing because I could hear my deceased mother saying "Well I wouldn't brag about that". So here we have one to the left , one to the right and most of us are somewhere in the middle, I think. The way it was did not fulfill many ,this new extreme probably will not either. Yak, yak, yak, I don't have the answer but prayer always seems to help all situations.There is my 10-cents worth (inflation).

- Anonymous

Ephrem said...

I've unfortunately felt the need to absent myself from prayer services that seemed to be--pagan? Heathen?

(And all the time Jesus waits.)

Invariably, the prayer services were those organized by/ for professional Catholics. Why? Boredom? "Style?" I really don't know.

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