Sunday, September 17, 2006


I went to Mass at 8:30 to the parish closest to where I live. I rarely go there. I’ve got lots of reasons, but let’s say that it doesn’t meet my “standards” for what a “Great Parish” should be.

I arrived a bit early and was going to attempt to say a Divine Mercy Chaplet. The organ was playing, “interfering” with my prayer period. I glanced around and nothing had changed, architecturally, since my last visit. And then at the last minute, something that seems to happen to me no matter where I sit, some tall guy plunks himself down right in front of me, obstructing my view. I’m going to have to move up to the first row with the Pharisees, I guess. But there are down sides to that, too. You get to watch the communicants and that is often not a pretty site, all the chewing and munching.

The pastor, a veteran of many years at the ambo (boy, do I hate that word), always gives a good homily. I’m not sure why I don’t go there more often. And then he stood up and gave me the proverbial 2 x 4 across the side of the head.

Today’s Gospel [Mark 8:27-35] was about the Lord asking His Apostles who they thought that He was. Peter said that He was the “Messiah” and Jesus then swore them to secrecy, informing them that He would have to suffer and die first. Peter, then tried to convince Him that he didn’t have to do that and Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get out of my sight, you satan.” I would guess that would have been a 4 x 4 across the noggin to Peter. Then the Lord said: “If a man wishes to come after Me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in My steps.

Father began his homily saying that we, meaning me, were all like Peter, personalizing everything. Peter didn’t like the Lord’s plans and suggested alternatives. If we don’t like the service at our stores, we don’t go back, and if we don’t like our parish, we find another. Those were the only two examples Father gave and I was in the fifth row, startled. “How does he know”, I wondered. “He could have been wondering who the stranger was.” Me, the “church shopper supreme-o.” I am registered in a parish, make monthly contributions through automatic deductions, but I’m rarely seen there two Sundays in a row.

Boy, did that hit home. Years ago, I was diagnosed as being a “detached critic.” Somewhere along the line I have developed a set of criteria as to what the “perfect parish” would be like and I have set out in search of it.

I have no problems with the Novus Ordo (post Vatican II vernacular) Mass, but the pastor better have memorized the words and stick to them and have mastered the General Instructions of the Roman Missal “rubrics” (instructions), or he doesn’t measure up.

The crucifix has to be of a particular traditional design and quite large, the tabernacle better be pretty much behind the altar, the altar cloth better be magnificent (none can match the standard set by the Salisbury Cathedral in England), there needs to be lots of statues, icons and/or stained glass, the congregation must be reverent (and tall people can’t sit or stand in front of me).

The choir must be loud, if not in tune, and the older the date on the music copyrights, the better! If the music appeared in the St Gregory’s Hymnal in the olden days, so much the better. And a few Latin responses, especially if chanted, now and then are kinda like dessert. Needless to say, any church built or remodeled after say 1950 has a difficult time cutting the mustard with me. But it can be done.

Isn’t it interesting that there isn’t much about God in my standards!

Last week, I was visiting a friend at another local parish and was pretty much turned off with the architecture. But the youngish priest seemed to have his act together and I started mentally composing a “Great Parishes” post (instead of praying or paying attention, you note) until he got to the homily. And he delivered probably the best homily I have ever heard in my life. He even managed to tie the two readings and the Gospel (“Ephthatha, Be Opened”) into it. Then it went down hill from there and by the time it got to the Communion, the altar looked like a pot luck picnic with all the Extraordinary Ministers messing around up there while Father watched.

I wonder if I really attended Mass that day. It was my intention to. But in “not denying my self” and my standards I was denying the Presence and the Word of the Lord.

I think that that a major editing of my standards needs to be done. And my self and those standards have to be forgotten as my first footstep touches the floor of a Church as I enter for Mass.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ray: You make a good point. At what point is too much criticism too much? Or, is there no such thing? I don't have an answer but I ponder this frequently myself.

Maybe I should send you a chapel veil!

Terry Nelson said...

Ray, if Cathy sends you a chapel veil will you wear it for a photo and post it? And then can I use it? :)

Good post however, yet some of the things you mention as your preference devotionally may be things you need - or then again - things you can let go of because you are interiorizing more.

The Mass can be in a gymnasium for all I care - if it is well said and prayerful...

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the honesty of your post. It's so easy to confuse the things that are important to liturgy with those that are a matter of taste.

Several years ago, we had some musicians playing in the chapel. The closing hymn was upbeat and vibrant, and many people really got into singing it. As we were leaving, I heard one Sister say to another, "Wasn't that music just great?!" She was completely taken aback when the second, much older, sister said, "No, it went too fast and it was too loud."

Your post reminds me that, really, both of them were wrong (or both of them right). Perhaps a Great Parish is one which is solid and excellent on the core elements of the liturgy - I always like a good homilist - and able to respond to the differeces in taste and style for the others.

Anonymous said...

Ah Ray. I think what you speak of is SO easy to fall in to...I like to call it an occupational hazard, if you write about the Church for a vocation (or avocation). It happens to me too.

I think one of the real dangers in Catholic liturgy is that it cannot become performance...even a gorgeous performance. Everyone has to BE there, and participate in some manner. Maybe if we all called a cease fire in the "liturgy wars" we'd all benefit from praying where we are, as we are, who we are. Forget the details for an hour.

And that homily a couple of weekends ago was truly great, wasn't it? ;)

Unknown said...


Thank you for your comments.

Yes, the dangers of having the liturgy be considered as entertainment is very real. And I found it to be so even before I started blogging about it.

One thing that has really helped my awareness has been "Mass preparation." Early last Summer I found a copy of the "Lectionary for Mass" of the Roman Missal at a used book sale. 1970 edition, almost new condition. For one dollar! (God wanted me to have it)!

It has all the readings of the Liturgy of the Word.

When I spend a few minutes going through the Mass readings before I go to Mass, I find that I pay attention more to the readings at Mass, and also find it easier to pay attention during the homily which is supposed to be related to the readings.

And yes, Susan, that "Ephthatha" ("Be Opened") homily of two weeks ago is still sticking with me.

Thanks, again.