Most are familiar with parody. Parody is “an imitation of the style of a particular genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect” or “an imitation or a version of something that falls short of the real thing; a travesty”. Parody comes from the Greek parōidia, meaning “burlesque poem”. Parody is mockery.
We live in an age of mockery; and the parody is an entertainment staple. Examples are found in movies (e.g. Airplane, The Naked Gun, Scary Movie, Young Frankenstein, etc.) and on TV (e.g. the cynical faux-news shows The Daily Show and The Colbert Report).
While it is debatable if the examples above are funny, parodies are supposed to make us laugh. But parodies performed in the wrong place are, at best, boring, and at worst, anger-inducing or even sorrowful. Such is the case when parody is brought into the Mass.
The Catholic “Man-Crisis” and the Mass
We are living in a time of catechetical crisis where the majority of Catholic men don’t know the faith. One key indicator of the crisis is the fact that 50+% of men are “bored in the Mass” and “don’t get anything out of the Mass”: if a man understands the Mass, boredom is not really possible.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a rich description of the astounding power of the Mass (pars. 1324-1332). The Eucharist is, inter alia, “the source and summit of the Christian life”; a supernaturally nourishing encounter with the Almighty King in a place of refuge from the spiritual battle with Satan; God’s direct and miraculous action occurring where heaven and earth meet; the penultimate act of thanksgiving; a connection to historical sacrifice from the time of Moses, transformed into the Lord’s Supper by Jesus Christ in which a man can partake in the actual Body and Blood of the Almighty King with fellow Catholics; it is the miracle and the power of God entering bread and wine, a power greater than that of the Big Bang.
Men become bored by the Mass when the Mass is celebrated as a parody. Parody Masses are perhaps why the most prevalent reason Catholic men give for leaving the Church is that they “simply drifted away”. Parody Masses are boring.
Interestingly, the term “Parody Mass” is not a new term. There was liturgical style in the 16th and 17th centuries that was called “Parody Mass”. These Masses were called “parodies” not because of their farcical or comical approach, but because of the types of melodic material and the use of polyphony in the music. The Council of Trent found the Parody Masses objectionable and sought to banish the “lascivious or impure” which distracted from the reverence and sanctity due to God. I shudder to think what those who were at Trent might think of the modern Parody Mass.
Example of a “Parody Mass”
I recently attended a modern-day Parody Mass. Here are some observations:
- The Vigil Mass started at 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon, with the sun still high overhead. While a Vigil Mass is allowed by the Church and starts on the evening before the Sabbath or a Holy Day, 4:30pm is certainly a stretch in terms of calling it “evening”. The parody began early.
- A Crucifix was nailed to the back wall, apparently carved by a disciple of Grandma Moses in the primitive style, distorting our handsome Lord to look like some Nordic sacrifice on a log. Our Lord is not ugly, but caricatures of Him certainly can be. There was a tabernacle that could be seen if one was prepared to squint. Nothing special. Nothing dignified. Nothing that would suggest that the Greatest Power that Could Ever Be resided there.
- Above the altar on the left was an absolutely beautiful statue of Our Lady, the only thing in the parish that most could call beautiful. It was as if Our Lady stood as a testament to what her Son deserved, perhaps praying for the day when a priest with a love for her Son would offer Him an altar worthy of Him. On the right side of the altar, on a pedestal of equal size and position of Our Lady, was a huge fake potted plant with an autumn arrangement. Perhaps that pedestal was where a statue of St. Joseph once stood, before some confused soul — “in the spirit of Vatican II” — “feminized” the parish. St. Joseph, pray for us.
- Entering the parish, there was a very high “shirts with lettering on them” ratio on for the men; at least 20% of the men wore t-shirts or sweatshirts with sports team’s names/logos. Other men wore plaid flannel or causal shirts. No man wore a suit or tie. Women were dressed only slightly better (though there were more than a few wearing jerseys); however, none wore dresses. These people drove nice cars and certainly had clothes more appropriate for their meeting with the King of the Universe. They simply didn’t care to present themselves to Him in a respectful way.
- Right before the Mass, large numbers of people streamed in, perhaps anxious to get a seat; the place was very full. The last-minute crowd were dressed as if they were attending a Saturday matinee at the local multiplex, as opposed to the re-presentation of the greatest and bloodiest sacrifice in human history. The parish was filled with noisy chatter making it difficult for those few who attempted to pray.
- An elderly priest walked around the aisles, carrying the processional Cross, repeatedly pounding it on the floor, evidently to draw attention to himself as he laughed and spoke to people in his “audience”. It was sad to see a priest in vestments act like a buffoon before the Holy Mass. May Christ have mercy on him.
- The piano music began, with a well-meaning, but not well-rehearsed, man singing a syrupy “warm up” show-tune with vaguely religious themes. Like the man playing the piano (who played quite well), the “cantor” was dressed down, wearing a nice sweatshirt. The music throughout the Mass was syrupy with strings of scriptural clichés, dumbed down to the level of the profane. It was highly infantilized, like music that pre-schoolers might sing; it was not beautiful, sacred or inspiring in any sense. Only a few men sang; the rest were either too embarrassed or bored to sing.
- The priest was in his 70’s and had longish white hair and wore “hipster” glasses; he was a priest who had come to his vocation during the early post-Vatican II period. Despite his age, the priest had the vigor to conduct the Liturgy at a full-on gallop. He “speed-talked” his way through his parts, and rushed the audience through the Confession of Faith, the Creed and the Our Father. Rather than imparting some inspiration for holiness, the priest played for laughs; there were a few during his 4-minute homily.
- Reception of the Eucharist was like a forced march, moving so quickly as to fatigue and distract. The people hurriedly cued up and trotted up to receive the Body of Christ, the Eternal King as if they were grabbing a potato chip from the buffet line. Few bowed before receiving the Eucharist in their hands. The lack of recognition of, and reverence for, the miracle they were participating in was heart-breaking.
- The parish was completely cleared of some 400 people by 5:13pm, less than three quarters of an hour after it began. Remarkably, the priest made at least one comment about how proud he was that the Mass was done rapidly, much faster (and better) than one of the nearby parishes.
These types of “Parody Masses” are sadly common, blown in by evil spirits who seek to diminish or distract from the True Presence of Our Lord. But despite how much a sacrilegious priest’s actions and words might distract the flock from the uncompromising dignity of Christ, the Grace in the Eucharist remains for those who are prepared to receive it in a worthy and grateful manner.
Catholic men of good will, let us get on our knees and pray for every bishop, every priest, and for the whole people of God, that they might approach the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist with the greatest reverence and awe possible. Pray, do penance, begging Christ to forgive all of us, and especially those who profane His Eucharist.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.