NE OF MY GREATEST LAMENTS as a full-time church musician is the inability to go to mass with my family with any regularity. With Saturday and Sunday evening masses and rehearsals, this precludes most any possibility. We get to attend mass together as a family perhaps four or five times a year, so when we do, it is a rare and special treat.
My wife and I met at church. Until we had children, she played clarinet at most every mass that I directed. Meanwhile, she has been quite saintly in handling our children by herself at our local parish, as it is now sometimes impractical for them to attend mass where I work. For example, she must negotiate with my three-year-old son, “the liturgist” who apparently knows exactly when mass should be over. Around the fifty-five minute mark, he expresses “in his own special way” the “dismissal.”
My son is also quite an expert in liturgical music, once yelling only a few rows behind the organist at another parish, “I want Daddy’s music! I want Daddy’s music. DADDY’S MUSIC!!” (I love my son. He’s a very good boy.) My poor wife, horribly embarrassed, was trying to quiet him, but little could be done to mitigate this social faux pas. I’m not sure if they’ve ever been back to that parish.
Recently, we had such an opportunity to attend mass together as a family. It was even more extraordinary; while traveling with my wife’s extended family, we were all together at mass—all nineteen of us!
When traveling, of course, it is difficult to be picky about where to go. This particular mass that we attended (in an unnamed and undisclosed parish somewhere in America…) presented some “challenges” for me. The game show atmosphere and steady stream of jokes throughout mass grossly distorted the flow and shape of the liturgy. This included a well-timed joke about celibacy from the celebrant that drew riotous laughter. The music had nothing to do with the liturgical calendar, but was a list of “Catholic top-40” and was more closely related to the secular calendar. (OK, so the Lalemant Propers were out of the question.) The cantors were in fact quite talented and excellent, if for Broadway.
However, looking around, the church was full and the congregational singing was quite robust despite microphones set to eleven. (I’m dating myself again with the “Spinal Tap” reference.) The homily was in fact quite prayerful and intelligent despite the stand-up routine from the celebrant throughout the rest of the mass. The people seemed very happy to be there. The atmosphere was welcoming, if bereft of reverence and very much not my cup of tea. (Btw, welcoming and reverent environments are NOT mutually exclusive!)
In all of my dismay, in which I felt I was doing great penance to endure such a mass, I must remind myself that I am a huge sinner and far from perfect. (My great sinfulness has and will continue to be a regular topic in this blog.) Plus, I must be mindful that I wasn’t such a great liturgical musician twenty years ago. (Although the “Missa de Jerry Seinfeld” from a clearly intelligent celebrant is disheartening.)
(Please forgive me for this obnoxious post, because I am the luckiest man alive; I have the love of my family. Furthermore, the love of Christ should be good enough for me.) And therefore…
Someday, what I will remember most about this mass are none of its misguided liturgical abuses, however well received they were. What I will remember is that I knelt side by side with my daughter during the consecration. I will remember reciting the Creed in my fidgety three-year-old son’s ear as I held him. I will remember singing with my children, even if the music was not the best the Church has to offer. I will remember that I married a most wonderful woman from a wonderful family—that all nineteen of us made it to mass together. I will remember that we are united in the Eucharist—that the love of Christ is the center of our prayer, of our Universal Church, and of our family. For this unique time with God and with my family, I am deeply blessed and most grateful beyond words.