Suffering Through Mass

Jay Boyd - Liturgy


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.

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31 thoughts on “Suffering Through Mass”

  1. I like a reverent liturgy as much as the next person. It seems good to remember that reverence though is first and foremost a matter of the heart. God is most concerned with our heart.

    Please let us offer up our sufferings regarding irreverence to Our Savior. If we think we are suffering through irreverence, imagine what He feels, giving His life and having it be treated so lightly.

    Please let us also pray that all Masses –regardless of the type –be offered up reverently and gratefully by laity and priest.

    Liturgical practices done in Latin can be done with an irreverent spirit. Novus Ordo services done reverently can bring glory and honor to God. Let us pray that Mass is increasingly a place of true worship, holiness, and encounter with Our Lord.

    God bless.

  2. i too live in a small town (less than 700 people.) one Catholic church is about 20 mins away. the other is forty mins if you don’t get lost. I could relate to everything in the above article. I don’t move from my pew to shake hands (would we shake hands & greet each other at His Crucifixion?? & I do receive Communion on the tongue. (one piece of good news is that a San Francisco priest has banned altar girls. the article is at

  3. Do others, like you, Mrs Boyd, suggest to the priest to follow the rubrics? I’ve accused the “new faithful” of criticizing traditionalists for being out of line or the liturgical abuses, but doing nothing. Gaving Latin Masses is great, but we need most Catholics to have a by-the-book N.O. Mass.

  4. Well, Mary Ann,as Cardinal Arinze would say, “that is not Catholic doctrine”. Here are some passages from Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004):

    The Mystery of the Eucharist “is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured”. On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved, and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ’s faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. (RS, §11)

    …it is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. (RS, §12)

    … Let Bishops, Priests and Deacons, in the exercise of the sacred ministry, examine their consciences as regards the authenticity and fidelity of the actions they have performed in the name of Christ and the Church in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Let each one of the sacred ministers ask himself, even with severity, whether he has respected the rights of the lay members of Christ’s faithful…For each one should always remember that he is a servant of the Sacred Liturgy. (RS, §186)

  5. Mary Ann,it’s not a matter of liturgical “style”. It’s a matter of liturgical abuse. I am sure that Our Lord weeps over the abuses He is forced to view on a daily basis. It’s not about MY satisfaction with the liturgy; it is always about God’s. Someone in a very protestantized parish asked me once, “Do you think God really cares?” when I mentioned the abuses that were going on there. Of course He cares! The Church has established rubrics for the Mass for a reason: to ensure proper worship of God. When the rubrics are intentionally disregarded, that is disobedience, and can even result in a Mass being invalid or illicit.
    The Novus Ordo can be celebrated reverently, but often it is not. When I am scandalized by liturgical abuse, I prefer not to receive Holy Communion in that situation, especially if the priest is doing or has done something egregiously out of line. I also will not receive Holy Communion from a lay minister, whose hands are not ordained for the purpose of touching the Most Holy Sacrament; instead I present myself to the priest. The more we accept sloppy liturgy, the less we are truly worshiping God.

    1. I truly believe that whenever we worship God with sincere and grateful hearts He is pleased. I don’t believe there can be such a thing as “sloppy liturgy”. It may be presumptuous on my part, but I don’t think God gets upset with an occasional change in the “rubrics” which were established by the Church, because the Church itself is a living body, comprised of creative human beings.

  6. Thank you, Howard Duncan. That was a good article. I hope that it actually goes that way. It would be nice to know what you will walk into when going to mass at a different Church. If there was at least some regularity and reverence, whether Latin or vernacular. I have been shocked at some of the masses I have seen. They made it hard or impossible to get the graces possible. Once I was so upset, I couldn’t go up for communion. I felt sick and sinful for how I felt. I didn’t feel worthy of receiving and doubted the validity of the mass anyway.

    1. Please don’t ever get so upset with the presentation of the liturgy that you abstain from the Eucharist. Receiving the Body of Jesus is such an amazing privilege that it should never be missed! The true point of attending Mass is to offer gratitude and worship to God, with a humble heart. If we’re honest, criticism over modern vs. traditional Mass are very similar to criticism from those who say they don’t attend Mass because they “don’t get anything out of it”. Both instances miss the point by setting the criteria of a successful liturgy with OUR satisfaction over God’s.

  7. St. Donatus – I don’t doubt the wisdom of thanking bishops on a regular basis. However, once upon a time, I had a bishop complain to me that all I ever did was complain. I was flabbergasted, because I had made many efforts to thank him for his efforts, without complaining! So I reminded him that I had regularly thanked him for articles he had written in the diocesan newspaper, and classes he had taught; and that he himself had used me as a sort of “reference” when a reporter wanted to write an article about him. He paused and then admitted that sometimes he might be “a little thin-skinned”.

    I guess the moral of the story is that no matter how much “positive” we think we are giving our bishops, they can probably always use a little more. They are human after all!

    1. I think sometimes they get sooo many complaints from every direction, that if we have complained once, then later complain about something different, they lump you into all the other complaints they get. I think that would be the hardest part of being a Bishop, dealing with the people who all seem to think they need to make the Catholic church into ‘their own image’. People in the western world have become so democratic that we all seem to think we know what is best.

      I have a hard time trying to get to a balanced place. I believe that the Extraordinary form Mass (when done correctly) is the best and gives us the most Grace we can use in our lives. I know it does for me, but does that make me right. I would say that 19 centuries of its use would be an indicator but do I have the right to make that judgement. I just pray about it and try to be as understanding as I can be.

      God Bless

    2. There is support for analyzing our reaction to the different Masses in the words (and subsequent actions) of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

      Address to the Bishops of Chile (July 13, 1988)

      “While there are many motives that might have led a great number of people to seek a refuge in the traditional liturgy, the chief one is that they find the dignity of the sacred preserved there. After the Council there were many priests who deliberately raised ‘desacralization’ to the level of a program, on the plea that the New Testament abolished the cult of the Temple: the veil of the Temple which was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross is, according to certain people, the sign of the end of the sacred. The death of Jesus, outside the City walls, that is to say, in the public world, is now the true religion.”

  8. My priest suffers from just the opposite. He follows the correct form of the Mass and celebrates a TLM for Saturday vigil. We have parishioners who complain to the Bishop that he is TOO traditional, not modern enough. When he made a statement about modest dress to the congregation, some were actually outraged that he would make such a comment.

    1. It is important to thank the Bishops for giving us the gift of these holy priests. Thank them every month or so. This is what they notice. If nobody tells them, all they hear is the complaints of those who want gay marriage, abortion, invalid masses, etc. Also pray for your priest and the Bishop.

      God Bless

  9. Excellent article! Just a few miles from me is a parish in which all maases are traditional latin masses. Very solemn, very dignified. When one steps into the church it is as if one steps into another world (as it should be). I think all parishes should begin going back to “the old ways” because they are much better than the so called “new and improved” ways. Thank God that Pope Benedict brought us to the long road back to the traidtional liturgy, as a people and a culture we most certainly need it or Catholicism will die out.

  10. I very much enjoyed your article as well. I have taken a middle ground (but not riding the fence). I am about an hour away from a TLM mass and know people that drive 2 hours to attend weekly. It is well worth the drive. I also attend the Novus Ordo on week days and still get something out of it. Thankfully during the week there is no music so I can easily focus on the miracle that is happening. I try to show my traditional stand and have made several friends at the parish. Everyone used to chit chats after mass at full volume but as I say my prayers after mass, most have moved the chit chat to the back of the church in a whisper. I also take communion on the tongue but I don’t kneel. (I wish I was as brave as Blaine but maybe someday.) I also only receive from the consecrated hands of the priest.

    Honestly I would find it extremely difficult to read my missal while a bad 1970s rock band plays protestant music in a beautiful old church. If I had to, I would move before having my faith slowly destroyed by that type of assault on the mass. I went with my brother to one of these masses and found that though I tried to be understanding and get into the mood, I left feeling empty and sad.

    Most anyone with knowledge of history can point at any particular point in that history as an example of how it is beneficial to do something but over the years the Church has found the best ways to bring the most spiritual blessings to Catholics, then the 1960s came along with divorce, contraceptives, open homosexuality, and every other type of depravity and many in the Church seemed to think we have to keep up with the world.

    Well they did a good job, now 75% of Catholics don’t go to weekly mass, their children receive no or very poor Catechism and never come back, Catholics divorce and contracept at almost the same rate as the rest of society. Sorry, I don’t care for keeping up with the world. I would rather retreat to my wonderful FSSP parish and worship my God with my whole self. This while watching the large loving families, good marriages, and wonderful loving Catholics around me. What a blessing.

  11. I attend the TLM weekly and I feel blessed to be able to do that. In return for this marvelous beauty of a Mass, I give as much time to my parish as I can. My experiences with the Novus Ordo have shown numerous faults – young girls in shorts, non-ordained giving the homily, personal comment to the congregation during the Consecration, a priest having to warn people not to leave the host in the pew when you leave, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

    An example of the blending of liturgy and show-biz glitz was where weekly I told myself, “wait for it”, and getting the ending of a certain hymn with the electric piano going, “Ba…..dump..bump”.

    As I have told several people, if that is all I had I would still go to Mass, but, with a deep, deep, deep, sadness over what has been lost.

  12. The Eucharist is the most beautiful gift we can ever receive on this side of heaven. To intentionally “skip it” when it is being offered would be a real tragedy. If you focus on the privilege of being united with Christ by receiving his very body, then the means by which that can occur become somewhat secondary. Liturgical ‘style’ should never consciously be allowed to overshadow the spiritual ‘substance’ of what is taking place. That is why I could never comprehend someone referring to Mass as a “Sunday obligation”, as if the most compelling reason to attend was out of a sense of duty. I see it as an incredible opportunity to receive Jesus into my heart as often as possible!

    I have been a Eucharistic minister for about 4 years and I’m overwhelmed with the honor that I have been given. Especially when I distribute Holy Communion to patients in our local hospital, I see the gratitude in their eyes and know that I am doing something very honorable and pleasing to God. There is nothing casual or irreverent about carrying Jesus to a world that sorely needs to receive Him… after all, wasn’t that the very thing requested of Mary?

  13. What a great article! Very interesting, and the comments were wonderful as well; lots of food for thought.

    So difficult to be a faithful Catholic these days, isn’t it? We’re faced with so much more contention, controversy, and non-conformity. God will bless us for our attempts to revere Him in the best possible way. 🙂

  14. The idea that it is borderline profane to abstain from Holy Communion is absurd. For the vast majority of Catholic history, very few laypeople received weekly — or even monthly. If it is wrong to abstain from time to time, then our forefathers were in grievous error. I can’t believe this. Communicating regularly is wonderful, but we should not feel duty-bound to receive the Eucharist at every Mass we attend. Irregular communication was the norm for centuries and centuries. Let’s not condemn our own ancestors. Indeed, had weekly communion always been the rule, then the Church most likely would never have developed Adoration, for it was a substitute for actual reception for many years. This is one reason why some of the Reformers (such as the Anglicans) linked their rejection of Adoration with their insistence on more frequent reception of Holy Communion. In fact, it’s ironic that we sometimes condemn, say, the Presbyterians for only communicating quarterly — yet this conforms to medieval Catholic practice!

  15. Skipping Holy Communion is a slap in the face to the Lord who gave us Himself. It would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Otherwise, the suggestions stated are good. I wear a chapel cap, bring my Latin Missal and bury my head in it until I head for the Communion line.

    Also, it is very salutary to keep repeating while on the Communion line: “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto everlasting life.”

    Never skip Holy Communion unless your soul is in a state of mortal sin.

  16. Instead of skipping communion, a better solution (assuming you are properly disposed) would be to receive on the tongue while kneeling. It can be done in the standard Novus Ordo communion line. I do it every week. Only receive from an ordinary minister (Bishop, Priest or Deacon) and reverently bow or genuflect to the blood of Christ, but don’t take if being distributed by an unnecessary EMHC. The host is of course the full body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.

    Do this with the utmost humility, and if asked why, be sure to explain what the Real Presence means to you, and how you feel so unworthy to even touch Our Lord.

  17. I will not comment on the idea of the article (it’s midnight over here, too tired). But please, do not, as you say, “skip” Holy Communion. That would be madness. Even if the priests is dressed in a clown suit (that’s a sentence i never thought I would write).

    1. Father Ignasi, you reminded me of Kierkegaard’s parable of the circus clown.

      A circus had set up tent at the outskirts of town. One day a terrifying fire erupted which threatened to spread into the town. Wishing to save lives, the clowns ran into the town and canvassed the streets gesturing and screaming, a fire is coming!

      The townspeople, distracted by the outfits, laughed and dismissed the clowns. This, of course made the clowns gesticulate and scream all the more, which made the people laugh even more hysterically. Of course, the townspeople died in the fire.

      Our beloved Joseph Ratzinger reminds us in Introduction to Christianity that Kierkegaard’s parable is precisely the situation our clergy occupies in modern times. A secular world views their salvation with contempt and unseriousness.

      As you said, receive the Eucharist even if the priest is dressed in a clown suit!

  18. PJ, Mass as it is celebrated in my neck of the woods is definitely a mournful occasion, by and large. I can certainly find the joy of my salvation in it, but the liturgical abuses,the Protestant-minded songs, the guitars and tambourines (and occasional trumpet), the adlibbed prayers, the inappropriate objects placed on the altar, etc., etc., make me weep. And I believe Our Lord deplores those issues as well. And so I unite my suffering to His.

    1. Those abuses are heinous. But I speak of the essence of the liturgy: it is joyous, though there is a somber element to it, as well. The weakness of medieval and Tridentine liturgical theology was its emphasis on the sacrificial dimension at the expense of the festal dimension. This is why I dislike those illustrations which portray the crucified Christ hovering above the altar. We receive the glorified Lord — crucified *but risen* — in the Eucharist. “The whole Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine—the glorified Christ who rose from the dead after dying for our sins” (USCCB, “The Real Presence Of Jesus Christ In The Sacrament Of The Eucharist: Basic Questions And Answers”).

  19. “I also avoid the “sign of peace” as much as possible”

    The sign of peace is an ancient aspect of the liturgy. You can find it discussed with much affection by Cyril and Chrysostom. This isn’t to say that it’s not abused.

    “If you were at Calvary, your participation would be silent and filled with grief.”

    But the Mass is not simply the representation of Calvary. As the Catechism makes clear, it is communion, thanksgiving, memorial, mystical meal, sacrifice, and more.

    “The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament is expressed in the different names we give it. Each name evokes certain aspects of it. It is called:

    Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words eucharistein141 and eulogein142 recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification.

    The Lord’s Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.143

    The Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meat when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread,144 above all at the Last Supper.145 It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection,146 and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies;147 by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.148

    The Eucharistic assembly (synaxis), because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful, the visible expression of the Church.149

    1330 The memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection.

    The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering. The terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, “sacrifice of praise,” spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used,150 since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.

    The Holy and Divine Liturgy, because the Church’s whole liturgy finds its center and most intense expression in the celebration of this sacrament; in the same sense we also call its celebration the Sacred Mysteries. We speak of the Most Blessed Sacrament because it is the Sacrament of sacraments. The Eucharistic species reserved in the tabernacle are designated by this same name.

    1331 Holy Communion, because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body.151

    We also call it: the holy things (ta hagia; sancta)152 – the first meaning of the phrase “communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed – the bread of angels, bread from heaven, medicine of immortality,153 viaticum. . . .

    1332 Holy Mass (Missa), because the liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes with the sending forth (missio) of the faithful, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives.”

    Thus the Mass is not a mournful occasion, though there is an element of grief and pain. Ultimately, it is joyous, for it shows forth the paschal mystery: the crucified and risen Lord.

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  22. It’s reading posts like this where I truly thank God for the luck I’ve had when it comes to my liturgical experiences even outside of the TLM. Probably the worst I’ve had to deal with on a regular basis is the “contemporary” choir at the cathedral in DC, and even that is far superior to some of the things I have seen on Youtube or other accounts I’ve heard about. It’s truly a shame that so many parishes feel that being hip is how to appeal to people.

    That being said, I can’t agree with the advice being offered. What you’re describing is showing up to Church and simply being there physically. While we may mock the way that “active participation” has been interpreted, but there is something to that concept. If people do what you are suggesting, are they really honoring the Sabbath as we are commanded to do? Perhaps you can bring that 1962 Missal and prayerfully read it at certain points, but to sit there and ignore your surroundings at Mass – now matter how pitiful the Mass – seems like a bridge too far.

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