Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mystery Church Shopper Meets Suburban Schizophrenia

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For some reason unknown to me, I seem to have gained a reputation as a "mystery church shopper" and maybe even a bit of a ecclesiastical spy in the local community. I sure don't know why. Today, for example, I was just tooling around in my car ($4 bucks a gallon? Ptchaw!) and came across a parish about 15 miles from home when I realized it was Sunday and I needed to go to Mass. A friend had recently recommended that I attend Mass there sometime because he had heard they had a new pastor and wondered if any change had been made. He was of the opinion that they needed some changes.

Zipping into the huge parking lot, past the sign stating "Catholic Parish Community of St. ________") [bad omen], I found a parking spot, surprised that on the first gorgeous Sunday since probably last October, the parking lot was full. Who says Catholics don't go to Mass any more? I won't identify the parish because I have more than a hunch that there are more than one parish like this in the archdiocese.

Sure enough 80-90% of the pews in this modern, semi-circular shaped church sanctuary, wider than it was deep so folks are somewhat close to the altar, were packed and the dozen or so members of the excellent choir, accompanied by piano, guitar and flute, were entertaining the congregation, as they did through much of the Mass with their peppy, contemporary hymns.

The choir director must not have read the memo from Cardinal Arinze last year that stated that the 10 minutes preceding Mass should be devoted to silence so that those in attendance can prepare themselves properly.

As I am wont to do in a strange church, my eyes searched out the location of the tabernacle. I couldn't find it. So then my eyes lifted to the sanctuary and the modern sculpture of scrap lumber and driftwood, that might have been intended to be a crucifix, but resulted in perhaps one of the ugliest and most pompously described piece of art imagineable: "You don't see Jesus right away as you look at this crucifix. You search for Him. As you keep looking, you finally find Him. This is our quest in life: to seek Him until we find Him.". [really bad omen].

But soon after the choir finished three or four of their warmup numbers and the entrance procession started followed by a nice looking young priest, probably not yet 30, the parish associate. Father quickly began the Mass, soon making me forget about tabernacle and crucifix. He had a nice looking gold chalice on the altar before him. He did an excellent job, not omitting the Kyrie, Gloria or Creed and giving one of the finest Sunday homilies I had heard in a long time. (I have discovered that lots of priests are really great at giving the five minute weekday homily, but they fail miserably when they have to triple its length for Sundays and Holy Days). The lectors and choir also did a fine job with the readings and responses..

Father's homily was on "What it means to be a Christian." He stressed two themes: Listening for Jesus, and Responding to Him. It is not enough to just go to Mass on Sundays. We won't find Jesus in modern art or 45 minutes of modern hymns in a Sunday Mass [He didn't say it quite that way], but in silence. Jesus is always talking to us. And He is waiting for our response.

After the homily, Father baptized what appeared to be adopted twins, (really cute boy and girl, quite young) in a nice ceremony, and things were going along swimmingly. I said to self, "Self, it looks like St. ______ has got its act together", at least as far as the Mass is concerned.

Pow, Bam, Kerplooey, pfffttttttt!. The air came out of that bubble.

Down the aisle came the Kool-Aid jug with the wine and what appeared to be a plexi-glass angel food cake cover with the communion hosts for the presentation of the gifts. The congregation remained standing for the Eucharistic and Communion prayers, even though this fairly new building does have kneelers in almost all its pews.

Father did not pour the wine from the "Kool-Aid jug" into the small gold chalices used by the EMHC's (I'd bet they call themselves Eucharistic Ministers, wouldn't you think?) before the Consecration. [Really major error] That was done by one of the EMHC's as two others assisted Father by dumping the Consecrated Communion Hosts
into the gold bowl patens for the others. [Major error]

How can so many things have gone right, and so many gone wrong?

Father John Zuhlsdorf, who has the blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say, is a real stickler for correctness in the performance of the liturgy. He has a nifty catch phrase that sums it all up: "Say the Black, Do the Red" This
comes from the General Instructions of the Roman Missal and the Sacramentary, the missal used by the priest on the altar. These tell the priest exactly what he must say (in black type) and what he must do, the "rubrics", in red.

Lots of folks wonder why there is so much interest in the old "Tridentine Mass", the 1962 Latin Mass, these days. The major reason is that so many priests have taken so many liberties with the text and the rubrics of the English language Mass that it has lost all of its reverence and has become nothing but fluffy entertainment for the congregation.

Millions of Catholics have realized if the Mass is nothing but entertainment , well then they can get much better entertainment at the big protestant mega churches, at the Pentacostal churches, at the Assemblies of God, etc. They sing and preach better than Catholics, for starters.

And millions more Catholics are being robbed of their heritage by priests who think that is what their congregation wants. They are told that they would get nothing out of the Latin Mass because they wouldn't understand the language. I don't know if they get much out of the English Mass either when the choir sings a dozen songs throughout the Mass. The priest is rarely heard.

Oh, by the way, as I was leaving St. ________ after Mass, I noticed a small chapel across the hall from the main sanctuary that had a large tabernacle, next to it, a sacristy where the ministers were cleaning up. [Another major error]

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