Monday, 3 October 2011

The excruciation scale: when will going to an OF Mass be uplifting?

Why is going to Mass so often an excruciating experience, where the wonder of the sacrifice is undermined by erroneous or just poor sermons, casual irreverence and awful music?

And why don't our bishops pay more attention to making sure the Mass is the highlight of our weeks - and thus help improve attendance, increase the amount put in the collection plate, not to mention promote our growth in sanctity?

A reverent OF is possible!

When I first reverted to Catholicism, in my late teens, I was living in London, and was enticed into the practice of the faith in large part by the beauty of the Masses at the Brompton Oratory, which I walked past each day on my way to work. 

At the time, there were some Traditional Latin Masses (EF) said there, hidden away in the Little Oratory, but most of the ones I attended were actually Ordinary Form.  Mostly I admit, Ordinary Form in Latin, with all the wonderful music, smells, bells and silence one could wish for, but some in English too. 

I know, therefore, that reverent Ordinary Form Masses can be done.

So why do we so rarely see it?

The Canberra experience

In my own diocese, some three years after our Archbishop released a 'reform of the reform' manifesto as a pastoral letter, it remains difficult to find an uplifting OF mass on a Sunday.  Better ones do exist.  But they are few and far between, and in this diocese at least, I haven't found one that even goes even vaguely close to those London masses.

Take the Mass I attended last night.  I often prefer the evening Mass on my side of town for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because there are actually younger people at it compared to the morning masses - as I feel my own advancing age I hate the feeling of sitting in a sea of ageing liberals and knowing that I've lowered the average age of attendees by about twenty years or so (yes, I know its shallow, but...)! 

But alas.  I was lured back to this particular mass by a comment in the parish bulletin that they had found an organist and a few young people to form a choir.  But I had failed to take into account the long weekend, and found it had actually reverted back to the previous canned schmaltzy music approach (is it even licit to use pre-recorded music at Mass?).

Worse, the music was played at every possible opportunity, starting, for example, as soon as people started queuing for communion, and giving little or no time for silent reflection as the Archbishop's Pastoral Letter actually called for.  And while most people didn't bother or couldn't sing along (why do those 70s numbers insist on using such a wide range and such hard to sing tunes?), one extremely tone deaf person did, shouting the words of one song very loudly, to the amusement of many present.

Nor did the actual set parts of the Mass go smoothly.  The acolyte had to be prompted to do his part by a congregation member.

Then of course there is the tower of babel effect with the responses - the visiting priest seemed a little surprised that most of the congregation haven't quite managed to give the 'And with your spirit' response as yet.  Mind you, since he is a member of the same religious order as the usual priests (indeed, I think their superior), he can hardly be unaware of the continuing subversions of his confreres towards the new Mass - the jokes immediately after Mass about how hard it all is to learn coupled with a dig at those close to home involved in its development; the substitute priest a few weeks back who didn't even bother attempting to use the new texts; and much more.

Worse in my opinion, three years after priests in the diocese were told to 'minimise' the use of Extraordinary Ministers in the Archbishop's pastoral letter, we had three for a half full Church.  But why offer communion under both kinds at all?  Sensibly, particularly given that it is still flu season and more than a few cough-ers made up the congregation, only a few receive under both kinds.  And would another minute or two with a single queue really be so awful?  If so, perhaps things could be speeded up by having everyone kneel in a line on the altar step, speeding things up by having the priest move, rather than having to wait for everyone to come up, make their reverence etc and move on...

On the plus side this week we were at least spared those jolting moments common at masses in my parish designed to take us out of any sense of the sacred and focus attention back on the priest - such as invitations to indicate whether we would like the long version of the Gospel or the short (guess what the shouted out answer invariably is!); the Apostles Creed or the full thing; and so forth.  The sermon moreover, was in the mostly harmless category- a bit twee, no great insights to think about or take out message on what to change about ourselves in the week ahead, but nothing actually wrong with it either.

A scale of pain...

The Mass is the Mass of course, the same sacrifice no matter the externals.  But the externals do make a difference, both to our own sanctification, because we are both body and soul, and to God.  Thy can increase or decrease the amount of grace available to us aside from that received in communion, not to mentin affecting our disposition to receive/when we receive.

These days reality shows are encouraging us to judge everything.  So I hope it will not be considered too inappropriate to suggest a points system for rating these matters.  Because sometimes, such a system is needed to focus the attention of priests and bishops on how to improve things - so do please suggest additions and amendments based on what you have come across in your own experience and views of what is good and holy when it comes to the celebration of the Mass!

A Music (Plus or minus 10 points available):

1.  Selection of the music (max 5 points)

Plus five points for use of chant for the ordinary and propers (see Pope Paul VI on importance of the use of the chant)
Plus four points for excellent repertoire of the patrimony - motets or polyphonic sung masses, or interesting and good music from diverse cultures used appropriately
Plus two points for at least some chant, such as the Ordinary (Kyrie etc) and sung propers in English or Latin (Introit, communio etc) instead of hymns
Plus two points for adapted English chant/simple composed monophonic masses combined with orthodox, well written hymns displacing the said propers
Minus three points for Marty Haugen and similar 70s travesties
Minus two points for music at every possible moment, and excruciatingly long hymns

2.  Performance of the music (max plus or minus 5 points)

Plus or minus 1-5 points depending on quality of choir and accompaniment
Minus five points for use of pre-recorded music

B Ritual - Servers (5 points available)

1.  Wears the correct vestments - plus or minus one point
2.  Follows rubrics, rings bell at right times - plus or minus one point
3.  Stops priest from making errors/makes mass flow smoothly - plus two points
4.  Male servers only - one point
5.  Extraordinary Ministers - deduct two points for each

C Ritual - priest (10 points available)

1. Wears the correct vestments, use correct sacred vessels - deduct points for glass vessels, lack of vestments etc
2.  Ad libs/changes to the texts of the mass - deduct a point for each
3.  Follows rubrics - two points
4. Priest engages devoutly with the words and ritual not the congregation - plus or minus five points (deduct two points each 'audience' interaction!)
5. Uses Eucharistic prayer one (Roman Canon) - plus two points for continuity with tradition and rejection of fabricated liturgy
6. Uses Nicene Creed - plus one point (for continuity with tradition and greater stress on important doctrinal points such as consubstantial...)

D  Ritual - 'active participation' by the congregation (10 points available)

1.  Responses: Plus two points for correct new missal responses; minus a point for each time a group of the congregation shout out 'And also with you' or other old missal responses can be heard against the new
2.  Sign of peace: Minus a point for each person who leaves their place in the pew to shake hands with someone distant to them, contrary to the rubrics
3.  Singing: Plus two points for a majority joining in at normal pitch and volume (I'm tempted to make it a point per person given most congregations but...)
4.  Minus a point for each breach of the rubrics - when the 'responsorial' psalm is said in whole by the congregation instead of being responsorial, people attempt to join in the Eucharistic prayer, etc
5.  Plus a point for each person who receives kneeling/on the tongue as recommended by the Pope; minus a point for each breach of the rubrics (self-inctinction, walking off without having placed the host in mouth, etc)

E Sermon (plus or minus fifteen points available)

1. Voice understandable (accent not too thick, doesn't mutter, uses mike appropriately etc) - three points
2.  No faux engagement /attempts at audience interaction with congregation (minus points as appropriate)
3.  Orthodoxy - plus or minus five points
5. How memorable is it - rate how interesting/engaging/stimulating - up to five points
6.  Practical application - extent to which it provides something concrete to do or change in our lives - two points
7.  Minus a point for each minute over ten minutes....

So my Mass last night was a minus eleven....


Mac said...

You -11 would be very generous here in Qld Kate!

Kate said...

I feel your pain Mac - and this Sunday's was actually relatively good compared to what I often get, in as much as the sermon was ok and there were no really awful jarring moments.

My point is that we should be getting masses that are always on the positive side of the scale, with good things outweighing the problems!

So sad tht this rarely occurs here in Oz...

Joshua said...

And people wonder why I drive 200 km to Hobart once a month for a Latin Mass...

Kate, why don't you just go to the EF in Canberra? I'd give my eyeteeth, almost, to be able to attend the Traditional Mass every Sunday.

Surely that would deliver you from liturgical nonsense - and if (as can happen) you don't like the sermon, just bring a sermon book! I know a choir member in a certain traddie group who does...

BB said...

On the topic of sermons I often just download one. has great sermons, is usually quite good,
I recently came across website which although doesn't contain sermons it has talks on a variety of topics by some notable speakers.