The main character in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Evelyn Waugh’s 1957 novel based on his own experience published when he was 54, is a Roman Catholic who just when church leaders were urging worship as a corporate rather than private act, had “burrowed ever deeper into the rock” and when away from his home parish sought the “least frequented mass” and remained “aloof from” church organizations formed to meet the needs of the times. Called “a leading Catholic” by media, he was not conspicuous for his leadership.
Some find that appalling, I’m sure, but I find it appealing. Today’s RC worship represents capitulation to a personal, Protestant approach to piety. Once the emphasis was on God and ceremony, now it’s on the priest. He has become the main character, as performer. We like this or that parish because the priest is a performer after our likes. Once it mattered far less who said the mass. Differences were muted by sheer force of ritual. Personal, quirky additions or emendations were unheard of. Now they are everywhere. They are what give the priest-performer style. He may not intend that, and he’s under the gun to perform. So he does.
That said, the goal can still be there for the mass-sayer or celebrant if you insist. He can ditch the folksy business, or the pseudo-scholarly or the innovative. And he can be more matter-of-fact about it. You wonder sometimes about the emotional stability of some. They spill their guts and go all compassionate. They are romantics when you get down to it. But classicists have feelings too. They just don’t go all sloppy about it. Granted, the priest is in competition with a media-frenzied world, especially as on television. But even there you can find clarity without bathos sometimes. Even there the message is muted sometimes. Priests should hit the mute more often, even sometimes shutting up, but at least toning things down.
And for starters, they should not open mass with that “Good morning” bit. They are not running into us at the supermarket, they are leading worship. Let them can the informality.
Later, from Reader D.: I LOVE your suggestion that priests should hit mute. Hey, mute is Biblical: I must decrease so He can increase. All the chummy baloney at Mass is the Phil Donahue syndrome. That’s when it started, and that’s when this generation of pastors were newbies. They learned to take their mikes down into the audience. Spare me!!! I decided during the Triduum at the Monastery of the Holy Cross (which I enjoyed) that Gregorian Chant is over-rated. Who the heck hums Chant in their free time besides Brother Peter? It’s mathematics as music. Give me a little melody. Watching a bit of the Easter vigil on EWTN with Pope Benedict, I discovered Latin is an equalizer. There was no German accent — just Latin.