Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mystery Church Shopper Meets Suburban Schizophrenia

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]


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ray: Am I going to have to drop a protractor on your address and draw a radius of 15 miles around it to try and figure out what parish this is? Or, are you going to come clean about it?

I think you should or else I will start wheedling and I know you can't stand that!

Anonymous said...

sounds like st. ambrose based on the comment about the crucifix

Terry Nelson said...

Oh! Oh! Cathy is pretending she doesn't know where you were - a protractor yet! ROFLMAO! Oh! Oh! She's so funny. I know what's going on... mystery diner man! And your little waitress too.

Anonymous said...


An important thing to remember is that our poor young priests (especially associates) are making fantastic and liturgically correct changes incrementally. So, before we publicly shame an individual, we should pray for these priests and their communities as they seek to bring them back to right worship. In many, in fact most of these cases, this is what is happening -so let's not be too quick to condemn. I say this as someone, who is within the system.

Cathy_of_Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy_of_Alex said...

anon2: I agree.

Anonymous said...

Ray, thank you for your comments on my homily. Yes, things are not perfect, but please be patient and pray for us. We are working on it.

Keep up the good work on this blog. I read it daily.

And yes, I am only 27 years old.

Unknown said...


I'm still blushing from embarrassment.

I've been admonished by some pals that new-kid associates don't get to remake parishes into their own image and likeness upon assuming office; nor do new pastors, for that matter.

I don't like to post negative views of the Church. There is enough of that going around as it is. I'm here to defend the Church; not to destroy it.

I probably would not have published such a negative picture if I had not been so shocked to learn that 29 parishes had been recently warned about using lay homilists.

I would have guessed that the number would have been four or five, including the usual suspects.

There's an epidemic rampant.

I think what I should be doing, rather than criticizing parishes, is pointing out those parishes that are doing their job well. And by that I don't mean that just because they have gorgeous architecture, vestments or music, or say the Mass in Latin.

No, just because the priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as it was intended to be celebrated.

I can think of one parish where the priest is not of the glad handing personality+ type and his Sunday homilies aren't particularly scintillating. The architecture of the building is nice, though wreck-o-vated. But he says the Mass exactly as it is meant to be said.

His weekday homilies are quite excellent, by the way, proving my earlier point in another post that 5 minutes seems to be the max that some priests can preach.

And he has one of the finest adult education programs in the archdiocese. And his choir is quite good. And he has a grade school with an expansion program. All in all, that parish should be considered a Great Parish, without the left-handed compliments.

Thanks for the wakeup call, Father. And God bless you and your pastor.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply. I would be delighted to discuss liturgy at any point. You can e-mail me through our parish website if you like.

Personally, I have a great love for liturgy (meaning liturgy done well). Believe me when I say that I have read most of the documents and I am fully aware.

What excites me is that we have so many lay people who are aware of the documents as well and have a desire to have them implemented, such as yourself! For us priests, that gives us courage to implement changes that perhaps some may have hesitated to do!

You do have a fine blog and I am so excited that this medium is being used to promote the Catholic faith so well!

Keep up the good work. You are in my prayers. God bless.

Adoro said...

You know, Ray, I've gotten my hand slapped on my blog, too, but that priest wasn't nearly as nice as this one.

I must be doing something wrong...priests don't read my blog....did I scare them away?


Glad you took the info from your pals to heart. You really are a humble guy, and you're protective of the Church. That's a good quality.

swissmiss said...

Thank goodness for our young priests. I'm counting on them to provide a good example and instruction for my children! Our nearby parish was just blessed with a new associate fresh out of SJV who will be a wonderful example and shepherd.