Thanks to RomanCatholicBlog, I found this essay on abused liturgy by one of my heroes, Fr. James Schall, author of "Another Sort of Learning." Father's Day, we attended Mass with my in-laws, including my wife's grandfather, in Illinois. Instead of a homily, the priest decided to (ab)use that portion of the Holy Sacrifice to conduct a survey. Ushers passed out forms like baseball All-Star ballots. Those of us who were not members of the parish were left to sit and pray amongst ourselves while the parishioners applied their number 2 pencils to the little dots. The survey took about 20 minutes, and the children were the least amused.
My eyes wandered over the shoulder of the woman in front of me. The first question was "How do you rate this parish?" Gee, I wish I'd have filled one out. As the celebrant asked for a show of hands of those who were done, I leaned to my Catechumen wife and said, "This isn't the purpose of the homily."
"I know," she said. (She probably knows better than I.)
Says Fr. Schall:
The kneeling, standing, sitting, bowing, genuflecting aspects of Mass and Communion are up for grabs and cause all sorts of needless controversy. No two parishes or dioceses seem to be exactly the same or even think they should be. When we visit a new parish we often have that bewildered look about what is going to happen next. The old suspicions seem borne out in practice, that if you change one thing, on the grounds that it could be "otherwise," then everything connected with it will be changed. I sometimes wonder whether every parish will not end up having its own liturgy, sort of like the reformation.
Sunday night, I watched the Mass on EWTN. The beautiful Latin wasn't the only stark difference. Father Francis Mary spend more than 20 minutes speaking of the importance of fathers: real fathers. God the Father. Fathers going to Mass. Fathers making sure their kids are catechized. Fathers honoring their wives with fidelity, trust, understanding, friendship, service, obedience, respect, and love. His homily was, as always, true, accurate, and beautiful.
I recently blogged about a poll showing that only 26% of Catholic men attend church regularly, compared with almost 40% of Protestant men. Now, I don't know that there were more men than normal in attendance Sunday because of Father's Day. But those 20 minutes spent completely blackening circles probably won't increase the adult male participation next week.
All Christians and all Catholics are called upon to spread the good news. While surveys are important, they are administrative burdens, not ecclesial necessities. The long-term effects of the survey may someday save a soul, but the opportunity to reach that particular set of human beings will never come again. The priest who chose to use his homily for paperwork chose not to become part of the solution.
My knees bend to Catholics who refer to C. S. Lewis:
Even the slightest changes in wording and gesture usually imply a veering in thinking or understanding, even in doctrine. C. S. Lewis pointed out that we cannot say liturgical prayers together if the celebrant or other minister is making up the words as he goes along. The Mass words are very precise, very much expressive of a definite, well thought out understanding of who the Father is, who Christ is, what this sacrifice of the Mass is about in each of its details. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading what is also being said. In fact, it is often a help in praying the Mass, both because rarely in the average church are the acoustics and pronunciations clear enough for everyone to hear and because understanding takes constant repetition and attention.
I pray each day that the Roman Catholic church restores the dignity, majesty, and solemnity to what is the most important sacrifice in the history of the world: the only ceremony in which God Almighty feeds His creatures with His own Body and Blood.
The sanctity of the Mass means more than mere adherence to tradition: it means we believe everything we claim to believe in the credo that Fr. Schall misses. Wake up, Catholics: Jesus Christ established our church to bring souls to Heaven. He gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom, along with a stark choice: we will each spend eternity with Him in Heaven or with Satan in Hell. With eternity at stake, we are well advised not to play fast and loose with the words and works our Savior gave us.
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.