GLANCING AT the image on the right side of the screen, you will see a picture of our son. Posting a picture of him was doubtless a mistake on my part: as a parent, whenever I share a photo of my child, I immediately want to share a million more pictures of children. If I succumb to the temptation, this blog entry will be nothing more than cute pictures of my children . . .
In any event, if you’re a parent, you realize that having children . . . complicates everything. Just to leave the house with our children can sometimes take between 3-4 hours of preparation. Every contingency must be thought of and prepared for: clean clothes, diapers, medicine, food, bibs, washcloths, etc. Furthermore, kids have a “time limit” — their schedule must not be disturbed. Rather than write a whole bunch more, I will stop here, because people who aren’t parents will never be able to understand what I’m talking about, while the parents out there require no further descriptions from me!
So how does this relate to the Sacred Liturgy?
When I attend Mass, I often notice that there is absolutely no preparation. The priest has not planned out what will happen. The altar boys have not rehearsed. The lectors have not prayerfully read in advance the readings nor commentaries on them by Catholic writers. The ushers were not properly notified or show up late wearing street clothes. The vestments are wrinkled. The bulletins were not carefully planned, created, and placed. Nobody bothers to look up the Mass texts in advance, for those who desire to follow along. And the music . . . well, let’s just say that proper preparation of sacred music for Mass can easily take hundreds of hours of practice. However, it usually ends up being thrown together at the last second.
I know very well what will happen to me if I invite anybody to our house without checking with my wife, Cynthia. Just having someone over to our house for an hour can require days of preparation, and I am not kidding. Rooms must be cleaned, toys put away, food must be bought, transported, stored, and prepared (before it goes bad!). Children’s activities, meals, baths, and naps must be “scheduled.” And this is all in addition to our daily work and routines. I can only imagine what would happen if I randomly just brought a friend home without any preparation.
The point is, I cannot help but think that our lack of willingness to prepare for the ceremonies at Mass belies a lack of faith on our part. It also indicates a lack of love for our Lord. It is a problem, and it needs to be addressed. We need to pray for a stronger faith in God.
I suppose if we think the Mass is “all about us” — that the Mass is a “celebration for our entertainment and fellowship” — I should not be surprised when people cannot be bothered to carefully prepare the sacred liturgy, instead simply leaving everything up to chance.
For myself, it helps me to remember the Jesuit martyrs of England, and how seriously they took the holy Mass. They suffered unthinkable pain and even gave up their lives for the sake of the Mass. The holy Mass was something of great value to them: its success was not contingent upon the amount of “fun” or “entertainment” each person at Mass experienced. These were priests who actually understood what the Mass was. There were many holy English martyrs, but one of the best known was probably St. Edmund Campion. I will now quote a few of St. Campion’s words (addressed to his captors), shortly before his brutal martyrdom:
“I stand condemned for nothing but the saying of Mass, hearing confessions, preaching and such like duties and functions of priesthood.” — St. Edmund Campion (1581)
One factor that can really help is when you have a priest who truly understands what the Mass is: a priest who takes the Mass very seriously. Everybody can “sense” this at Church.
The return of the Traditional Mass will also help this problem. As Fr. Deryck Hanshell, S.J. pointed out decades ago, before the Council, every single rubric was carefully prescribed for the priest. After the Council, these directions were eliminated, so now we have the horrible situation where so many priests are sloppy in their motions, careless in their actions, and haphazard in their celebration of Mass. What many people do not realize is that David danced before the Ark of the Covenant — his dance was “ordered movement.” People who are frightfully ignorant might imagine that David’s dance looked like dances in the 21st century: ballet, pop, hip hop, etc. They are gravely mistaken. This “ordered movement” is preserved in the careful and beautiful motions of the Traditional Mass, but I will stop talking about this, since I’ve already spent a lot of time talking about this on other blog entries.
The worst is when a priest goofs around, tells jokes, and acts like a “clown” at Mass. Granted, some priests try so hard to avoid this, they can take things a little too far the opposite way. I have attended celebrations of the Latin Mass where the priest doesn’t even acknowledge the congregation, letting them know which Mass he is about to celebrate. (You see, for certain daily Masses, the priest has a choice.) This is wrong: the priest ought to at least tell the faithful which Mass he has chosen, so they can follow the Propers.