Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Archbishop Flynn Presided Today at Father Egan’s Service at St Joan of Arc in Minneapolis

I went to Father Harvey Egan’s memorial service at St Joan of Arc parish in Minneapolis this morning, first, to see what it was like over there now, and also to pay my respects because when I began attending Mass after a very long absence back then, he was the first priest I found that I really liked. But after a while that style of Mass got very tiresome, he retired and his replacement wasn’t that good, and I knew there were things very wrong about what they were doing. It has been 20 years since I had been back.

St Joan’s bulletin called today’s event “A Mass in Celebration” and a “Contemporary Eucharistic Liturgy in Memory of Father Harvey Francis Egan.” Father Egan, who came to St Joan’s in 1968 was the originator of its famous and controversial “gym Mass.” He retired in 1986 and died last Saturday.

I was surprised at how much bigger the “gym” is than when I was there. And the lighting and sound are far better. While still a gym with a tongue in groove wooden floor, it does look nicer than it did. They had tables and tents set up outside for a free brunch after today’s service, lots of people handing out brochures, putting out chairs, etc. So considering he just died a few days ago, they were really well organized with volunteers. Being it was a Wednesday, I would say it was only 90% filled, still pretty darned good.

Because Father Egan was cremated, there was no casket and funeral service as such. I don’t know what the Catholic procedures call for in the case of cremations. There was no urn blessing either.

The “gym service” there is unlike most “Catholic” services you have ever seen. Just like the big mega-churches, they provide comfort and entertainment in terms of music. They are very friendly and welcoming to visitors, unlike most Catholic parishes, unfortunately. They also have a strong “social Gospel” ministry that appeals to the ex-hippies and war protesters and others that make up the older core of their membership. Lots of pony tails and Birkenstocks were on display today. There weren’t too many younger people present because it was a weekday. But I would imagine that most of the younger people are single and/or political liberals who have not had many hours of CCD for their religious instruction. Some probably wouldn’t know what a properly celebrated Mass would look like, and why it was that way.

Most of you no doubt will be upset by what follows. I was. It wasn’t this bad back in the “olden days.”

They pretty well butchered the Mass by re-writing many of the words of the Roman Missal to make it more relevant to their philosophy. Of course, like with all liberal parishes, the words “He”, “His”, “Him”, etc. get changed to “God” or “God’s” or even “She” or “Her” to make the liturgy more acceptable to those whose primary goal in life is to have women ordained as priests. That would pretty much be the whole parish there, I would wager.

There is no tabernacle or sanctuary light in sight. A former parishioner told me that the tabernacle is in a nearby closet. Behind the plain altar stood a seven or eight piece musical group. There are no religious statues, paintings, icons or stained glass windows in the gym. Some currently fashionable wide colored ribbons hang at various points from the ceiling.

In today’s service for Father Egan, they skipped the Penitential Rite and the first and second readings; they did read the “There is a time to love, Time to die” verses from Ecclesiastes; and then for the Gospel they took the Sermon on the Mount and rewrote it to reflect Father Egan’s political “issues.” Apparently Jesus’ words weren’t good enough. They used pita bread for the host at the consecration, “crystal” vessels were used on the altar and they used what I surmise was the usual contingent of Extraordinary Ministers for Holy Communion while a dozen or so priests from the archdiocese, properly vested, just stood off to the side. Each E.M. helped themselves to their ciborium or “crystal” goblet. They then ended the “Mass” without the final blessing.

The music was all folk music, gospel or old slave “spirituals”: “What a wonderful world”; “My Lord, what a mourning”; “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”; “I come to the garden bells”; “Follow me”; “Shall we gather at the river”; “Just a closer walk with thee”; “In the sweet by and by”; “Song of soul”; “Day by day”; and “I’ll fly away”, accompanied by guitars, trumpet, keyboard and drum. Words to the songs were projected on two screens. But this congregation proved it didn’t need help. The slides stuck a couple of times but the singing continued with nary a drop in decibels til the projectionist caught up with them.

The eulogy was given by a Father John Brandes, an elderly priest, I believe a friend of Father Egan, followed by two couples who regaled the congregation with some of Father Egan’s pithy aphorisms from over the years and then some of his more recent serious thoughts.

The crowning hurt was that Archbishop Harry Flynn himself celebrated the Mass and his auxiliary, Bishop Richard Pates, concelebrated with five other priests. There was no entrance or exit procession for the archbishop. He just walked up to and off of the altar, like someone bringing up the gifts. They did wear their miters, so that’s how I knew they were there. I suppose it is traditional for a bishop to attend the funeral of one of his priests, but I would bet that some bishops get stomach aches now and then, too.

The Archbishop has done a lot of good things here, but when he cracks down, it is always on the more conservative people in the diocese, and places like St Joan of Arc, known nationally as being listed among the most liberal parishes in the country, generally go their own way.

He changed pastors at St Joan’s last Fall and made them cease having laypeople give the Homily. I’ve been told a secular message is now given before the service begins.

The new pastor, Father Jim DeBruycker, was there today and at the conclusion of the service, he thanked the archbishop for granting permission for the service, wondered whether the archbishop thought he was in control of his new parish (much to the laughter of the congregation) and then somewhat boldly invited the archbishop to give a “rebuttal” at the end, which except for the eulogy, was apparently a typical SJA service. I wouldn’t call today’s service a Mass.

In his final words, not taking the bait, the Archbishop joked a bit about really “not having a choice when it came to giving permission” and commented humorously about “too many homilists” and said he was going to restrict it in the future.

But at least twenty priests witnessed that performance. And you better believe that they are probably all on the phone or emailing right now.

Wouldn’t the average priest have concluded that the service led by Archbishop Flynn today was in fact a verbal and visual imprimatur that will tell the rest of the priests of this archdiocese that he approves of the way the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated at St Joan of Arc parish and that they can experiment with the liturgy as much as they want, no matter what Rome says?


Father Harvey Egan: In love with God and the Church: A Strib Op-Ed piece by Terry Thompson

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