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My weekly attack on Catholic liturgical abuse needs some caveats:
A wedding this weekend left us no choice but to attend the 5:30 PM “LIFETeen” mass at our local parish. I’ve been to these travesties before, but tonight, after weeks of attending Tridentine Mass, I was embarrassed. I hoped against hope no non-Catholics were in the pews. I hope no one thinks that what I saw tonight is the best we can do in offering ourselves to Christ. After all, He took the body of a mere human in which He was arrested, beaten, mocked, crucified, and stabbed in the perfect sacrifice for man.
And how does this new Mass repay Him?
First, we dress like we’re going to a picnic or to play softball or, in the case half of the teenage girls in attendance, like we’re going to turn tricks. Next, we blast rancid music at full volume. Then we interrupt beautiful chants with this shrill, clashing music–a contrast sharp and painful, like powering-on a stereo preset to Heavy Metal and full volume. Finally, we chat throughout the Mass to people around us and avoid prayer at all cost.
I don’t know what’s going on inside the others minds. I know the chance of people “worshiping” in such confusion and sexual vividness is slim. At the Tridentine Mass, it’s impossible NOT to think about God. At the New Mass, it’s nearly impossible to think anything about Him except “God, please save Your church.”
In the past two weeks, I have read a lot about the liturgy from a lot of people way smarter than I. People like C. S. Lewis, who said (paraphrased) Christ’s command to Peter was ‘tend my sheep,’ not ‘experiment on my rats.’ He also wrote:
Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best–if you like it, it “works” best–when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not dancing but only learning to dance.
In Lewis’s Church of England in the 1950s, the music to which he learned to dance was at least dance-able. But familiarity in the Mass is gone. We never, ever, ever say the Confiteor at St. Alban. Each week the Gloria is sung to a different, horrible song with words changed, meanings changed. The same goes for the Alleluia, the Psalms, the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, and every other once familiar piece of the Catholic liturgy. Moreover, the complex beats of these songs make it impossible to sing unless you know them–and you can’t know them unless you buy the record and listen at home, as you will not hear them performed the same way more than once a month.
When St. Bonaventure writes in Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum that only a man of desire (such as Daniel) can understand God, he means that a certain attitude of soul must be achieved in order to understand the world of God, into which He wants to lead us.
This counsel is especially applicable to the Church’s liturgy. The sursum corda-the lifting up of our hearts-is the first requirement for real participation in the mass. Nothing could better obstruct the confrontation of man with God than the notion that we “go unto the altar of God” as we would go to a pleasant, relaxing social gathering. This is why the Latin mass with Gregorian chant, which raises us up to a sacred atmosphere, is vastly superior to a vernacular mass with popular songs, which leaves us in a profane, merely natural atmosphere.
I offer this prayer which has not been certified error free by the church.
Heavenly Father, through your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, send your Holy Spirit to open the hearts of our priests, bishops, and brothers and sisters that they may see the necessity for a sacred and holy mass. May we rediscover the joy of total prayer, total sanctity, and total abandonment of this world to Your Kingdom. May we be inspired by the Holy Spirit to elevate the Mass to approach the grandeur of its purpose and of what it celebrates. And may each act and word therein move us closer to the perfect sacrifice to You. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.