I just left mass early. It was a children’s mass and I hadn’t expected that.
Now I like children, and I like mass, and I approve of children’s masses. But I can’t bring myself to like them. The way I feel it’s supposed to be, mass is somewhat meditative and meditative is one thing the average adorable kid sure isn’t.
So I tend to avoid the children’s masses. Last week was, of course, first communion, so I went to evening mass instead. But this week they have a thanksgiving mass and that caught me by surprise.
The funny thing is, obsessing about the form of the liturgy is one of the things I really dislike about Catholicism in practice. We have people who think the ordinary form is a Freemason plot to destroy the Church and people who think the extraordinary form is a fascist plot to bring back the dark ages. And people on both sides of the for all/for many question thinking this is ever so important. And I stand aside with the smug feeling of an agnostic looking down on both sides. Because really, ritualistic details are not what the mass is about. For the first few centuries there were no missals and the priests just improvised. Then we went for some standardization because we are creatures of habit and that’s fine. But moving those details to the center really misses the point of mass. Which, for Christ’s sake, is Christ. Literally. Right there on the altar.
So you might see the irony of me in mass dismayed that it was done different from what I had expected. I saw it too. Also, I felt a bit guilty, like I was one of the insufferable grumps complaining about kids crying in church. So at first I wanted to stay. Then a few minutes later I decided that evening mass looked a lot more appealing than abstract principles.
On the way home I was thinking about what this says about me. God willing, I might one day be a dad. In which case children’s masses would be kind of an obligation. Would I resent that? Well maybe, because I am sometimes resentful without good reason. But in the end I don’t think it would be a mayor problem. Children’s mass would be a very different experience if I classified it as cute kid stuff rather than solemn meditative stuff. It is actually the context switch that is uncomfortable.
And that actually does accord with my particular weirdness. I’m a natural born reactionary: I don’t like change. When I needed new bedsheets a while ago I spent hours (unsuccessfully) searching the Internet for ones identical to the old ones. And I don’t like people changing their look either, even if it’s an improvement. Surprising change is particularly bad.
While I’m an extreme example, I think other people share this instinct to some extent. There is a reason we got missals eventually. And maybe this explains a lot of liturgical fretting. People are creatures of habit and that isn’t bad anymore than liking some foods over others is bad.
It has a downside though, in corroding community. Traditional and modern mass communities do dislike each other and that shouldn’t be so. And while it is more than that, mass is also a community thing which makes it somewhat strange for me to just leave it. So we should try to look out for that.
Perhaps I should start by attending a children’s mass on purpose. The context switch will be much more bearable if I know it a week in advance.
Considering the Holy Father’s emphasis on the hermeneutic of continuity and the necessity of real liturgical reform, it’s like choosing between modernists and fundamentalists sometimes, isn’t it? On this I can agree. But surely we both sympathize more with men who try to believe than we do with men who try to accommodate the Church to the world.
Real reform will come by way of the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius, who I believe will bridge the FSSP and the best of the Novus Ordo. Good liturgical practice is vital to the real love of Christ in His Real Presence on the altar.
Liturgical agnosticism is as far from enlightened as you can get, friend.
Actually I think “men who try to believe” vs. “men who try to accommodate the Church to the world” is a bit of a false dichotomy. A lot of liturgical innovation both right and misguided is trying to remove obstacles to understanding what’s going on so as to make it easier for the people in the pews who are trying to believe.
I agree that my liturgical agnosticism is not as enlightened as it feels. A large part of this post is about pointing out how it fails me. I do think there is some room for liturgical pluralism though. The patchwork of local ritual variants wasn’t suppressed because there can only be one but because post-reformation nobody had the resources to check them all for heresy seeping in. As long as that’s avoided I don’t see an intrinsic problem with offering different forms. And I actually think the holy see is moving that way. It’s not only the old and the new form, it’s also, for example, the anglican ordinariates. Basically where liturgical differences are seriously the last problem Rome now seems to have a policy of accomodating them. I think that’s good.
I don’t know anything about the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius but I was ton an FSSP mass not too long ago. I think it good that it’s available but for me personally it didn’t resonate. I’ve been in the ordinary form often enough to know most of it by heart and feel at home there. The extraordinary form just felt foreign. (Also the priest warned of satanic rock music in his homily, which feels a bit retro to me.) I bought myself a bilingual old missal and might try again after I studied it a little more. But my first impression is just that it’s very strange.
Very, very few of the traditional Catholics I know would take issue with pretty much any of your points, especially:
Here’s the trouble: Liturgy should draw one closer to God and the Eucharist. Because in the Novus Ordo there is no time for private preparation during Mass for reception of the Eucharist, the whole Mass should be preparation for the Eucharist. But this means that the music must not be gathering songs and honky-tonk singalongs — a characterization I pull from real life — nor shallowly sentimental or emotive. It must be quieter than silence. It must draw from, in the words of Vatican II, the storehouse of chant and sacred polyphony. These must occupy a special place in the worship.
I love the Novus Ordo by the book, read with a hermeneutic of continuity. But only the Canons do that with any regularity. Everywhere else, it’s catch-as-catch-can. Part of the attraction and attachment to the FSSP isn’t that some priests call rock music satanic, a bug and not a feature, but that the FSSP is a known quantity. We know that we can expect beautiful Churches and challenging preaching and liturgy done well, without the priest playing buddy buddy celebrity buddy.
My best traditional Catholic friends could consider their attachment to the Missal of 1962 like an arranged marriage. I say this with forethought: Arranged marriages are happier and last longer.
We aren’t liturgically sensitive. After many years in badly celebrated Novus Ordo Masses, with cotton candy homiletics which never exhort prayer, confession, sin, Hell or therefore Heaven, martyrdom, beauty, or truth, full instead of psychobabble and false irencism or ecumenism, we’re liturgically sore.
I agree with the two of you. I was once very close to the SSPX position on liturgy, and other things, but have gotten over the liturgy fights and just let the clergy handle it all. I don’t really have a problem with children’s masses but the music at Spanish masses drives me up the wall!!