Sometimes bad liturgy happens to good people. That is, sometimes the faithful who desire to experience a liturgically correct Mass are denied the opportunity. What options are available when such a situation exists in one’s parish?
Of course, one could respectfully ask the pastor to address and correct the abuses…[crickets chirping]. Yeah, right. Speaking from experience, I can say that this approach is not often successful.
Another option is to “jump ship” to a different parish where the Mass is celebrated in a more liturgically correct manner. This can be a prudent decision; after all, lex orandi, lex credenda: as we pray, so we believe. Bad liturgy can affect one’s faith – and especially the faith of one’s children.
But…what happens when your choices are limited? I mean seriously limited, as they are where I live in Eastern Oregon. Parishes are few and far between, out here in the wild West; only two cities in our entire diocese have more than one parish. Very few parishes have a Mass that reflects even a modicum of tradition. It’s not that there are clown Masses or dancing girls in every parish; no, I don’t think either of those abominations can be found here. But the parishes in my diocese, in my experience, are undeniably and unashamedly…mediocre. They are lukewarm, at best.
I haven’t been to every parish in the diocese; I haven’t even been to many! But I have talked to people who attend at different parishes, and have heard the stories. I also know a couple of priests who have traveled extensively in the diocese; they have visited most of the parishes and celebrated Mass there, and they know the other priests. I asked one priest the following questions about the state of the liturgy in this diocese; his smart-alecky responses are in italics:
Do you know of any parish in our Diocese where Gregorian chant is sung on even a semi-regular basis?
What\’s \”Gregorian chant\”?
Do you know of any parish where Latin is used regularly, even for just a part of the (Sunday) Mass?
Didn\’t the Church get rid of Latin at Vatican II?
How many/which parishes have only male altar servers?
How sexist! [Actually, I know of two parishes where the priest has taken action to ensure that only males will serve.]
Which parish of the Diocese has the most liturgically correct Mass, in your experience?
Probably least egregious: [He named a parish which I will leave unnamed; but note that he uses the phrase “least egregious” – rather than “best”]
Even if my priest friend could name a parish that was “acceptable”, odds are it would be too far away from my home for weekly travel. The parish that probably has the most liturgical correctness and the most appropriately-appointed sanctuary is an hour-and-a-half drive from us, and in winter that includes driving over two of the most dangerous mountain passes in the state!
So, what do we do when our liturgical options are so seriously curtailed?
I have a suggestion, especially for those who want a TLM but have no access to one, but also for Novus Ordo aficionados who are tired of guitars, tambourines, and adlibbed prayers. The suggestion comes from a correspondent, but these are my thoughts and actions exactly:
Go to Mass at your current parish, wear your chapel veil, bring your 1962 Missal with you, and pray from your missal throughout the Mass in reparation for the sins of the world and the dishonor to God of this and so many other Masses. The Missal will serve the purpose of occupying your mind, your hands and your eyes. You can skip Holy Communion and make a spiritual communion instead.
In other words, you won\’t have to watch what is going on, you won\’t have to get involved in all the \”hand stuff\”, and your mind can focus on the prayers of the Mass in your Missal. In this way you are honoring God in multiple ways, including obedience: you are praying, you are actually participating in the Mass in a deeper way than those around you, and your suffering has merit and means something!
I also avoid the “sign of peace” as much as possible, finding it a distraction and an interruption of the “flow” of the rubrics and prayers of the Mass. Having a missal in my hands and looking at it throughout the handshaking phase of Mass is an effective way of saying, “It’s not that I don’t like you; I’m just busy praying.”
My correspondent adds:
You may choose to receive Holy Communion or you may not, depending on a whole variety of factors. The point of this method of participation at Mass is that you are \”keeping holy the Lord\’s day\” in the only public way available to you. You are giving witness to the priest and those around you by participating quietly (and one priest says this makes priests uneasy, and that it’s good for them!). The important thing is to not let what is going on around you \”disturb your peace.\” If you were at Calvary, your participation would be silent and filled with grief. You are simply declining to participate in the event of Calvary in a wholly inappropriate way. You are choosing to suffer for Our Lord, in obedience.
Who knows? Such silent but public acts of reparation may have the same effect that the Carmelites of Compiegne had on the French Revolution: you will effect change through your suffering that could not be accomplished in any other way.
This is a good answer to “what do we do now?” – when there is no other parish nearby that is leading you to holiness. Everyone can do this in their current parish, no matter how bad it is. Imagine the effect on an errant priest if a sizable portion of the congregation stopped chit-chatting before and after Mass, stopped glad-handing each other at the sign of peace, and stopped singing the inane ditties offered as liturgical music!
But even more than that, imagine the effect of those actions on your own soul. You will be “actively (actually) participating” in Mass in the way intended by the Church. Imagine how pleasing to God your actions will be as you join your suffering to that of His Son on the Cross
After all, it’s really about the Cross, isn’t it? And we much each bear our own, even if that includes bad liturgy.
©2013 Jay Boyd. All rights reserved.