Meditating at Mass

2011 PRAYER AND MEDITATION: No paragon of these am I, even if at 18 I left home to study them full time.

After two years of it (novitiate), I got my SJ degree, which I relinquished many years later but would rather not go into right now.

Even so, much of it has stuck. At Mass, for instance, I often enter the zone of prayer and meditation, which makes me a poor participant in the liturgy.

Doesn’t mean I think of nothing else (distractions, you know) or that I am superior to the fellow or gal next to me who belts out the songs and other responses.

In fact, you could argue I’m not as good because I seem to reject the communal aspect that characterizes today’s liturgy.

So allow me to hang my head in shame at that, asking only for tolerance, OK? I am what I am, stuff happens, and all that. Bear with me.

However . . .

Do we not exceed the limits of liturgical propriety sometimes when, for instance, we extend handclasp of peace to other pew-sitters far and wide, even getting out of our pews to hug and chat?

Just asking, don’t get mad.

Communion time also. What about our meeting and greeting on way to the communion station?

Ushers do it. They are the souls of geniality as if they were the host greeting you at the door of a party.

And they and others seem sometimes to take it amiss if you don’t participate, like the old gent at Ascension-Oak Park a few years back who stood where communion-goers passed, glad-handing one and all. I didn’t go along, and the fellow was surprised and wounded.

It happens. We get carried away with our communality.

Something missing? Sense of the sacred, anyone? The R-word, reverence?

Communion time at a Mass of burial, an arguably solemn time on an arguably solemn occasion: Worshiper who has participated lustily throughout Mass thinks of something to call to another’s attention, does so.

But the other is in a zone and working on staying there and can only nod and turn back.

Later, returning from communion, same worshiper has to pass others to get to his place in the pew, puts head down and looks straight ahead. Others for whom this is a social occasion seem not sure about this, wondering what gives with this fellow.

I ask you.

Is something missing that used to be there at Mass? What was missing from the Mass of old, a certain on-site communality, has replaced the prayer-and-meditation aspect.

Pious chatter there is, mostly from the altar, where Father feels compelled to comment when once there was silence. Time for some sort of pendulum shift? I ask you.

Changing the words of Mass

In 2011 I wrote:

Like the TV detective Monk, I have a gift that is also a curse: I pay very close attention at Mass.

So when the priest veers away from the approved text, I hear it and fume. Used to. Now I go into my free-fly zone. Frequently.

In this zone, I wool-gather, daydream, write columns and imaginary sermons, etc. This means that one minute I’m saying “Lord hear our prayer” with the other faithful, next minute that I know about, I am rising for the Our Father.

Awful, I know. Can only say I’m working on it.

The paying close attention thing is a bigger problem.

The priest subs out “His” for “God’s,” “disciples” for “friends,” “Almighty God” for “Almighty Father,” etc. Two of these reduce masculine references, sparing feminist sensibilities. The other is apparently meant to de-emphasize levels of authority in favor of intimacy.

Irritating, if you are a listener like me, who has leaned toward close listening for years, even before becoming a reporter and having to get things straight: listen, listen, scribble, scribble.

Our friends  at the Vatican paid attention to this phenomenon. In 2004 they called it a “reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful . . . alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce.”

They said this in a disciplinary document, “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” issuing a must-cease order in the matter because such freelancing with the liturgy makes its celebration “unstable” and distorts its meaning.

I think so.

Unstable because worshipers who pay attention never know what they will hear from the man with the microphone up front.

Distorts meaning in various ways, including (egregiously) in the matter of the centrally located doxology.

That’s when the priest says in a fairly dramatic wind-up to the canon, “Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

To which the people say the Great Amen, affirming trinitarianism, telling the world we are not Unitarians, not Arians, that we think Jesus is God the Son. It’s a very important case of lex orandi lex credendi. As we pray, so we believe.

I have heard, however, “Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in, all glory and honor is yours, almighty God, for ever and ever.” For “Father,” God. It doesn’t deny the Trinity, of course, but it undercuts the liturgical expression. Why? Apparently to cut back on masculine references.

The priest sidesteps the fatherhood of God in favor of the politically correct non-reference to gender. It’s part of the church’s save-the-women project.

As for the Lord’s Prayer, I am waiting for “Our Parent, who art in heaven,” etc.

Changeover Latin to English . . .

. . . was a triumph of centralized planning, enough to make a statist weep with envy, I wrote in 2006.

The world over, Catholics got used to mass in everyday language. It became part of a worldwide social engineering victory — change by design, not by natural influences or “organically,” as you hear.

Vatican II celebrated the freedom of the children of God, but not in liturgy. Latin had to go. Latin went. Rebels were marginalized. Only recently (in 2005) had Latin returned with church authority’s blessings.

So it goes, change dictated from above for our own good by people who know what’s best for us.

A whole new mass developed after Vatican II, developed quite consciously by dedicated experts.

Young Jesuits like me debated the coming changes in the mid-50s. It was already foreshadowed.

This liturgy of the future, in the vernacular, would be as much communicating with each other as with God. The priest would face the people, look at them, saying the sacred words, making them more pew-sitter-friendly.

Mass today has the arguably good thing, in our celebration of community with each other. As for the mystical and mysterious, that’s a memory fast fading from Catholic consciousness.

Saginaw Priest Removed From Parish for Traditional ‘Style of Worship’

Tradition works, bishop objects because of “division.”

Blithe Spirit

It would seem this young priest touched all the bases when in the face of declining attendance he introduced a legal, hybrid Novus Ordo mass (the “ordinary” form) with (legal but out of the ordinary) Latin and Gregorian chant, “bells and smells” to his parish, after prepping parishioners for the change.

But he’s now out of work though not penalized
, because some parish members complained and “division” ensued. And the acting bishop stopped him.

Good rundown here, closing with this from the priest:

“Believe it or not, tradition works,” he said. “So-called ‘old ways’ are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, Latin are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church.

Furthermore, when younger non-Catholics experience these traditions, they are struck by how different they are from everything else they experience in a noisy, secular…

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“Shake, rattle . . . ” — blogger’s cutting remarks . . .

. . . Nah. Penetrating. To the heart of the matter.

. . . Which is yet more on the “Shake, rattle” controversy — handshake as kiss of peace before communion.

Summarizing, offering selective observations by readers of ten-plus years ago.

* Bob O. suggests kiss and non-kiss (-shake) sections of church, the ushers asking your preference.

* Bob K. considers church ideal for meeting, greeting, and otherwise being nice to people.

* Margaret tells us that church is for God, not us: Ask not what God can do for you but what you can do for God.

* D. says timing is all off: you greet fellow or sister worshipers (discreetly) at the start of mass, not in the middle of it.

* Jennifer has no use for “power” as used by Bob K. — “our gathering of power from the spirit” — and sees psychobabble in this.

* Bob K. notes that mass has changed with the centuries, defending how we do it now as in the tradition.

* Margaret asks, “Can a New Mass that so obscures its own meaning be from God?”

Some good stuff here.

* Bob O’s consumer-preference model reminds me that the new mass was stuffed down our throats in the ’70s, to the extent that Latin mass-sayers were made to stop, because they were drawing too many away from what experts thought was good for us.

* Bob K’s meeting and greeting is a great idea — outside of mass. Attempts at prayer go with socializing? Don’t buy it.

* Margaret’s bringing us up short with her revolutionary idea that we are not the center of the known universe is refreshing. So is her (unpublished) reference to accounting for herself “on judgment day” for steering anyone away from mass.

Who now is concerned about judgment day? Is it a legitimate concern, or has it gone the way of the Latin mass? We don’t hear about, that’s evident. Maybe some expert can tell us.

* D. addresses the way kiss-handshaking is done, raising her small voice of reason as maybe a stopper or slowing-downer of ENTHUSIASM in the pews.

(Ronald Knox wrote a book about it, bringing scholarly restraint to our impulses and compulsions.)

* If Jennifer is going to spot psychobabble in public utterances by church people, however, she will have time for nothing else. My advice is to pick out the more egregious examples and pray hard for the perpetrators.

* Bob K’s changing-mass concept leaves us wondering why this change and not that. What we have is “prescribed,” Fr. Dietzen reminded us (incorrectly) in his New World column.

There’s something awry also in Bob K’s saying our “faith” has changed, citing cardinals’ fancy duds as something Jesus did not wear. “Faith”? Bob slipped, I’m sure; he does not want to say faith includes vestments.

Meanwhile, the kissing for peace continues as strong as ever, in its handshaking incarnation.

It happened to me on a weekday morning long ago, in a two-hands-on-shoulder from the parish deacon in vestments, who had left the altar and sought me out as I sat in a back row off to the side, sitting with ONE HAND OVER MY EYES TRYING TO BE AND LOOK PIOUSLY ABSORBED.

Talk about ENTHUSIASM. He climbed into the pew in front of me and scared the bejesus out of me with the clap-on-the-shoulder bit. I had not seen him coming!

Next time I will have to keep my eyes fixed on him so I can be ready.

Some years earlier, going up for communion at a Sunday “family mass” in the school hall of another parish, I failed to give my name as had been prescribed by the organizers, and the big guy holding the host refused me communion until I did.

Oh I tell you, there have been some fun times in church in these glorious years of the mass since the council. Of which more later.

Further comments on “Shake, rattle . . .” pointing up the great divide . . .

. . . in March of ’06. . .

The divide is in terms of religion as therapy vs. as sacrifice, people-centered vs. God-centered, that separates Catholics.

From Reader Margaret, reacting to Bob K’s enthusiastic endorsement of the kiss of peace as widely practiced:

We’ve slipped from the meaning of Mass as sacrifice, not as gathering for celebration. The idea of “our gathering of power from the spirit” sums up the problem.

The New Mass is about what God can do for us – bless us, empower us, help us, raise us up on eagle’s wings, etc. . .

But the traditional Mass is a sacrifice, the reenactment of Calvary where the emphasis is on God and giving Him thanks and adoration.

Can a New Mass that so obscures its own meaning be from God?

Reader Jennifer finds Margaret’s comment that we have “slipped from the meaning of Mass as sacrifice,” etc. “so very true” but finds Bob K’s use of “power,” as in “our gathering of power from the spirit,” misguided.

“Next to ‘love,'” she says, “‘power’ is the most seductive and misapplied word of our time.”

As for Margaret’s asking rhetorically, “Can a New Mass that so obscures its own meaning be from God?” Jennifer agrees, adding pregnantly, “God does not do transactional analysis.”

Bob K., responding, does not think we have slipped in our grasp of the mass. Based on what he learned in high school in 1955, he considers the mass a distillation of centuries’ practice.

“There have been changes in many aspects of our faith over the centuries,” Bob says, citing “the elaborate garments that our cardinals wear today” as clothing “certainly Jesus never wore.”

In the mass “we commemorate and relive the sacrifice Jesus endured. . . . At different parts of the mass, we share different aspects of our mystery and our community together.”

At the start “we say hello to God.” Then “we read and listen and contemplate our readings.

“We transubstantiate [“we”?]; we share the body and blood, we greet and acknowledge one another, we . . . [receive] and share a blessing.

“At various points we put our words into song — joyous, sad, reflective depending on the season, the occasion, etc.

“At the end, we move with our beliefs out into the world to . . . try to be a force for good in the market place.

“The Mass has many aspects, including beauty and seriousness . . . enlargement of our spirit and acknowledgement of the goodness of the others who are with us in Christ.”

Bob captured the spirit of our dominant form of worship.

more more more . . .

Pointed, piquant comments on “Shake rattle roll . . .”

Garnered some years back while blogging on the sign of peace question.

Begin with Bob K.:

Sometimes it is good for Christians to reach out . . . and communicate with each other. The MASS is as good a time as any and better than most to do so.

It is when we GATHER TOGETHER to worship and celebrate the Transubstantiation and our gathering of power from the spirit . . . .

If we can’t talk to each other (whom we see and know and who are standing right next to us), how can we talk to the Lord (Whom we . . . have not seen or cannot see) or to the world (whom we are to evangelize)?

At that time of [mass], I make it a point to talk to those near me — the wheel chair kid, the three African-Americans who always sit in the last pew, being shy [in] an all-white congregation, older women I know who are widows, and some teenagers who rarely come — in each case to make them feel welcome.

Then D:

The logical moment to greet each other is when entering one’s favorite pew and finding another “regular” there, or if I’m there and the regular comes in after me.

That’s when I greet folks, but I don’t shake their hand because it’s not a natural gesture in that spot — the person kneeling or sitting, or walking in to sit or pray.

To the regular lady in the pew in front of me, I kneel and whisper in her ear as she sits in the pew. I find out how she’s feeling because I know she has a heart problem. She tells me a few of her aches and complaints, including about her husband in the pew with her, who she says doesn’t show her any compassion.

I wave hi across a section of pews to friends as they come in. That’s normal “greeting” and wishing-well time.

Why can’t a bunch of bishops realize shaking hands in the middle of mass after being cheek to jowl with everyone for 25 minutes is not natural? What do you think a survey in church would disclose about hand-shaking?

Bob O.:

My physician daughter shrugs aside the germ question, saying, “Just remember to wash your hands as soon as you get home.”

But what about passing a neighbor’s germs on to another? Saying, “I’m sorry but I’ve got a bad cold,” and pointing to your throat will work once in a while, but every Sunday?

How about wearing a sign that says, “UNCLEAN” or “UNSOCIABLE”?

The problem’s not too bad in parishes that haven’t been brain-washed too long by a liberal pastor. But for parishes that have been, the only solution is: Avoid them. I’ve been in some that had enough empty pews to allow enthusiasts to kiss-hug-shake everybody in reach, then scramble church-wide for more fellow enthusiasts or victims. It usually took up to five minutes before the church settled down.

The worst are churches where everybody is expected to hold hands and daisy-chain across aisles, etc., during the WHOLE Our Father. As someone who had to attend one too many rallies during the sixties where we had to pretend we were all one downtrodden race, hold hands, sway in rhythm and sing “We shall overcome,” I have a strong aversion to this.

Looking straight ahead and holding on to the pew with a death grip doesn’t always work. I’ve had a bright young thing give me a sharp rap in the ribs to let me know this kind of thing isn’t tolerated.

Give me the celebrant who knows the whole greeting of peace is optional and skips it, Save me from the celebrant who, contrary to Vatican directions, leaves the altar and parades down the middle aisle, handshaking both ways. [Bob was right on both counts.]

I’m not hard line on this, though, Why don’t ushers just greet Mass-goers and ask, “Kissing or non-kissing?” and wave us to the appropriate pew?

At last, Nancy:

I enjoyed your writing about “shake time.” In many non-Catholic churches, “prayers and concerns of the people” is an integral part of a church service. Parishioner participation in the issuing of those concerns sometimes becomes quite senseless (and long-winded), especially when issues are brought up that are out of the realm of the purpose for prayer.

Thus spoke the people. A few of them anyhow.


Back in my younger days, I considered the importance of ignoring what’s up front during Mass.

Various ministers were thrust up front by current rules. It’s not their fault, I told myself.

Politeness does not require looking at them, however, I added.

So don’t look, I said. Instead, mind your own business, reading and meditating on the day’s Scripture.

There’s too much going on up front, such as traipsing to and fro with book held high over forehead as if to ward off falling plaster, I said, prior to reading Scripture of the day.

It’s not helpful. Merely distracting.

Then you look up and see priest looking at you.

He can’t help it. Reverentially downcast eyes have not been part of his training.

But you can help it by not looking.

Modest proposal years back for a Latin mass

The bulletin warned us away from my illegal Latin mass church.

It’s a “chapel,” the bulletin said, “that advertises itself as ‘Our Lady Immaculate Roman Catholic Church.'”

But it’s actually not Roman Catholic, we were told, but is run by the St. Pius X society founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, who was excommunicated, etc. etc.

The bulletin quotes the Pope about the “grave offense” involved in adherence to the Society leading to excommunication.

I’m at risk, therefore, by now and then attending the Latin masses at Our Lady Immaculate.

Would  my  parish consider now and then having a Latin mass, so as to ween me away? For pastoral reasons?

A recent special mass for gays and lesbians at a neighboring parish was a one-time thing.

Maybe have a one-time thing for Latin mass embracers, who make no claims about being born that way but only say they were raised that way?

FEELING GOOD WITH JESUS a decade or so ago . . .

. . . Father Emil discussed “what Mass is all about” in the bulletin. It’s our coming “with full hearts to thank God,” he wrote.

Moreover, the Mass is “truly alive . . . when we bring to [it] the everyday things of our lives.”

Some of his best mass-time experience, he confessed, was when he is “truly bringing what was in [his] heart to God.”

The “sacrifice of the mass,” he said “refers to our self-offering to God.”

This self-offering “feels good” because it reminds him that God is “taking care of” his problems.

He said nothing about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and its redeeming value or its being re-enacted in the mass, whatever we bring.

He spoke only about what we bring.

Apart from his belief in God as protector, it’s as if there were no Christian tradition.

Pagans did this much, and probably still do.

If you are wondering what there is about liturgy that reminds you of Rotary Club meetings, picnics, and other gatherings that make you feel good, consider this foray into theology by a coming pastors, who does a good job and is probably as theologically literate as most.