Circumstances once again forced your humble writer to skip the regular Melkite Divine Liturgy to which he has become so accustomed and again attend a rendition of the Pauline Mass. The Rad Trad noticed three available Masses at the nearest parish, an octagonal-shaped building with a fountain that doubles as a baptismal font in the center of the nave. He picked the 8:00AM Mass, the second of the three, thinking that it was early enough to dissuade the more enthusiastic madness that sometimes accompanies the new liturgy. Oh boy, was he wrong.
Upon entering the "worship" part of the parish, as opposed to the large complex of offices occupied by various lay "ministers of XYZ," the Rad Trad was of two minds as to where he ought go:
- Pick a chair/pew spot: despite the low attendance, about 100 or 150, most people were seated at the aisles, meaning entering a pew, none of which faced the altar squarely (we will find out why in a moment), and exiting in a pinch would be impossible. He would have to seat in the middle.
- The Blessed Sacrament chapel, hidden behind the main entrance to the church proper: bingo!
|Even this arrangement betters what was seen today|
Before actually entering the Blessed Sacrament chapel the Rad Trad had a quick look at the architecture of the place. The "sanctuary" is comprised of a square wooden table (legs exposed, aside from two liturgical-green strips of cloth draped off the right side for effect and two candles of uneven height on the left side) and an ambo. The two objects occupy symmetric space and neither is at the dead center of the sanctuary from the center aisle or the entrance to the church. The focal point is Fr. Someone's elevated presidential throne.
The Blessed Sacrament chapel was a wholly oriental affair, and I do not mean Byzantine or Syro-Malabar! The chapel itself is formed by enormous wood and paper Japanese screen walls. The tabernacle, if you can call it that, was a wooden-framed box about two feet high and eight inches wide. The rest of the "tabernacle" was glass. Within was a "ciborium," a very large metal (gold or brass) dish with a lid on it. I resolved that, despite the absurdity, it was better here than "out there" in the nave and that for the foreseeable future this chapel would be Fortress Rad Trad. Still, horror struck when during Mass a man approached the tabernacle, produced a pyx, opened the door of the tabernacle, popped the lid off the ciborium and placed it on a conveniently placed glass shelf above, and took a Host or two! Off in the distance the Rad Trad was still interrupted from his rosary, Our Lady's consolation in his hour of desperate need, by pertinent bits of information such as "Our opening song will be number whatever-the-hell in the Gather Hymnal, Alleluia, Sing to Jesus'." Lord, have mercy! Enter the solo guitar!
During the reading of the Holy Gospel the Rad Trad ventured out of the chapel to show a little attention to the Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ. During the Gospel (Luke 12 today) the priest kept staring up from the pages of the lectionary for long periods of time, possibly to gauge the crowd's reaction. I marveled at the shapelessness of the church while hearing the words "What sort of steward, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their allowance of food at the proper time?" proclaimed from the ambo. What sort of liturgical function was this? Do the people who produce this sad bit of theatre realize with what they are entrusted?
|"And the Lawd said unto Moses...."|
The Rad Trad actually likes his sermons to be based on the Scriptures of the day and wishes more Ecclesia Dei/SSPX type groups would follow that path once in a while rather than an instruction or mini-lecture on whatever general topic amuses the priest that week. Conversely, scriptural sermons in the Pauline rite, outside of very few places in my experience, take the lowest, cheesiest, least interesting, and most agreeable approach to the Word of God. Today was no exception. Today's Gospel passage lends itself to all sorts of interesting possibilities for a sermon much needed in today's Church: God's call to holiness, stewardship of one's gifts, our eventually accountability before God for said gifts, or even a relevant sermon on yesterday's glorious saint, deacon Lawrence of Rome, who was custodian of the Church's gifts and intermediary with the poor. Was anything near this preached? No. Instead the priest, a man in his late 20s or early 30s, spoke of treasure hunts when he was a child and how God just gives us wonderful stuff. The more serious material need not be preached in a dry, Scholastic fashion which condemns every plausible fault a person might have, but surely we could do better than this!
The "bidding" prayers, totally unrelated to the litanies of the ancient Church or the prayers before the Rood screen in Sarum, were mostly impromptu. People called their intentions allowed. Two teenagers in shorts, the only excited ones in the building, jumped from their seats to grab a tray of hosts and a carafe of wine and walked them up to the priest. Rad Trad does not recall what ditty was belted out during the Presentation of the Gifts, as he was too busy debating the canonical requirements for Mass attendance:
- New rule: Mass attendance defined as the Gospel through the people's communion
- Old rule: offertory through priest's communion
The Rad Trad considered abrogating the new rule unilaterally, but decided to see how things played out as some poor, miserable looking teenage boy placed five (!!!) chalices for consecration on the table. Canon II was used in an expedient fashion. Rad Trad found himself standing next to the usher. During the Our Father the congregation locked hands and raised them high! Not only families, but the entirety of the people present held hands, locking across aisles! The usher, finding the Rad Trad un-compliant, extended her hand across the Rad Trad's front side, leaving it in his line of sight. During the handshake of peace people jumped across the aisles. The poor boy who was recruited to serve the Mass leaped into the bleachers to see his family. Then a mob of half a dozen old ladies in pant-suits got their hand-sanitizer and gathered 'round the table, chit-chatting about whatever old ladies discuss while the priest fractured the Sacrament. At this point the Rad Trad decided to employ the hermeneutic of continuity and merge the old and new Mass attendance rules. Rather than leaving immediately after the priest's communion or waiting for the laity to finish communion entirely, the Rad Trad would make his way to the door after the priest's communion, during which time some of the not-so-extraordinary ministers (a.k.a. the laity) would receive, hence completing a generous interpretation of the Sunday obligation.
At my last visit to the Mass of Paul VI I witnessed the new liturgy done as best as can be expected at most American parishes, which is not a very high standard at all. As lacking as it was there were still some minor attempts to create reverence. Here no such pretensions existed. It was all about the laity. At the last parish almost all the congregation was white-haired. Today a majority were. There were three or four families with children who looked bored out of their minds. Today's insight was into how disinteresting young people find the new rite. Back in elementary school and high school the Rad Trad held to the faith devotionally and intellectually, but Mass and the Sacraments just never "clicked" in practice until he found the old rite. The old rite is inherently didactic. Once when attending Mass in Oxford a small child yelled at the elevation "Look, it's Jesus!" The Rad Trad did not mind the interruption. What is the future of this parish? What of the diocese? This particular Mass is actually the norm in the diocese, aside from a few scatted once-a-month 1962 Masses and a Feeneyite center in the middle of no where. Eventually the structure of a diocese like this will implode. As much as people complain about closing parishes, why keep a parish with only a few hundred people open and extend a priest over several locations? Why pay the bills and a staff for three poorly attended parishes instead of one moderately attended one? It will not only be the passing of the old that eventuates the collapse of the old diocesan structure, but the fact that most youth, outside of very sane circles, have not received the faith in any meaningful way and will probably lapse in college or after moving out of home. This last point is particularly depressing, as it endangers the souls of many, but it is the reality.
The Rad Trad actually thinks that in a generation or two the oratory system, not necessarily the Congregation of the Oratory, might be conducive to a revival at the diocesan level. Both Oratories and, in the Boston area, friaries have been very successful in getting people to pray regularly, publically, and reverently every day. These communities are also successful because a decent number of clergy means confession can be held daily, which conduces people to think more about sin even when it is not preached from the pulpit. It also means daily Masses or celebrations of the Office when people are on lunch break or heading home from work. It even means enough people to head groups geared towards different age groups: the elderly, catechesis for young people, Legion of Mary, a service group, and a group for men—which is very important in keeping the faith masculine and robust. Yet this is the complete opposite of what happened today. The current order is somewhere between aging and death. But how long before re-birth? How painful will the death be when, in a generation or two, the old order and diocesan arrangement does collapse? Who "steps in"?
Some of this is meant to be cathartic, not bitter towards anyone. But the questions asked above are all serious.
Questions. Questions. Questions.