Diary of a worshiper 1

A TIME TO PRAY . . .

In the spring of 2006, our parish collapsed the Sunday mass schedule from 8:30 and 10:30 to only 9:30, for reasons evident to anyone familiar with our shortage of priests and reduced mass attendance.

“Some of us will groan” at this, our pastor said in the bulletin, making the best of it: “Some have been going to [one or other of these masses] for years and don’t know the parishioners at the other masses!” The change provides a chance for us “to see each other and know each other.”

There’s merit to that. The change would be an exercise in habit-changing for the sake of “unity.” The one-mass celebration will be “joyful,” he predicted, and will “remind us of our oneness in Christ.” A stick drawing had a crew in rowing shell and the words “Pull together.”

Prudent parish management for logistical reasons. At the same time, exemplifying the community-building priority of the mass to which Catholic churchgoers had become accustomed, or inured as the case may be. Our pastor was operating in the main flow of Catholic thinking and practice. In that role, he was doing his duty as he saw it.

He also was substituting one aspect of Catholic worship for the whole. At least he was leaving it out of the equation. Nation-building was for the U.S. President for much of this century. Community-building was for the Catholic pastor. He didn’t celebrate mass, for instance, he presided. He didn’t lead people to Christ, he organized them on the premise of leading them to Him in that way. What better purpose for the mass than being crucial to that process?

It took a while for this to dawn on me. The new normal, not so new, of course, was to find God in your neighbor. The other, to find Him in prayer and meditation, though never denied — hardly, that would have given away the show — was de-emphasized or reformulated as extracurricular, something auxiliary which you can also do, while the mass was turned over almost entirely to community-building. Moments of silence were dropped in here and there — the consecration, which always got its due, the brief time for adding one’s petitions in silence, and usually a smidgen of inactivity post-communion.

Otherwise, the air was filled. If radio performers can’t permit dead air, neither can today’s priests, bishops. organists, solo singers, choruses, commentators, hey, even ushers, who on their way to usher people out of the pews for joining the line for communion stop along the way to shake hands with all on-the-aisle pewsitters. It’s gangbusters, and for what? Not, surely to enhance worship as divinely directed but to build community.

Shake hands with all the neighbors, but do not kiss the colleens all unless you know them very well. You will know you’re as welcome as the flowers in May, as if you were newly returned to dear old Donegal — playing off an Irish melody I learned from my brothers decades ago.

Whence came such a wonder, so dramatically different from a few generations ago? How happened those revolutionary changes of the 1970s and later? Who did it? Why did they do it? How did they pull it off? A little book like this can shed some light, drawing on what happened, who decreed it or opposed it, what critics said about it.

Take the all-church changeover from Latin to English after Vatican II, not just suggested or strongly urged but enforced — centralized planning and enforcement to make a statist weep with envy. The world over, Catholics got used to mass in the everyday language of each. Social engineering on a world scale, change by design of a few, not by natural influences.

Vatican II celebrated freedom for the children of God — grand phrase! — but not in liturgy. Latin had to go. Latin went. Rebels were marginalized. Only recently has Latin returned with church authority’s blessings. (And by now in limbo at best in a new regime.)

more more more later . . .

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