I received the following eMail from a friend. His point is well taken. And I suggest that all of us, bishops, priests, religious and laity take a serious look at who we are and what we are about. Does the way we “practice” our faith convent the truth that we believe, or are we in the entertainment business? Are we conveying our sacred tradition, our Lord Jesus Christ, or are we preaching ourselves? Our Pope Emeritus wrote that there is a danger “we become a circle closed in on itself.” I changed the name(s) to protect the anonymity of my friend, but I left most of the story intact. My highlights in bold, my comments in red.
At Christmas Eve dinner we invited our neighbor friends (a beautiful act of kindness in a family celebration) to share in our Christmas Eve celebration. Our invited family included the mother and two daughters (all practicing Catholics) and the father (a born and raised non-believer). As we engaged in our conversation, we learned that Tom (the non-believer) attended Mass once a year at Christmas, to demonstrate some family unity and to show some outward support for his wife and children as they practice their faith and celebrate this great feast of the Nativity ( a very kind and generous man). Tom has been consistently attending the Christmas Mass for numerous years. (A great opportunity to evangelize and show what we Catholics are all about!)
Despite some openness and willingness to learn more about the Catholic Church, he informed us that he was “consistently disappointed” in the preaching and the manner in which the liturgy was conducted (As Fr. Z says, the how we worship is essential to the New Evangelization). Invariably, the homily would commence with a series of jokes, eliciting guffaws (probably contrived) from the “audience.” This confused Tom because he though this was a special and solemn feast (Is our Liturgy “special”, something sacred or isn’t it?). Tom commented that the priest seemed to enjoy his role as a standup comedian (and a poor one at that, he noted). Additionally, he added that the uninspired music (Sacred Music MAKES A DIFFERENCE), slovenly servers (albs and sneakers), poor preaching seemed so dreadfully “banal.” (This man came to Mass with high expectations and left with the feeling that we are not serious about our worship!) He also noted that it seemed to be the priest’s “tradition” (If that priest only gave the Church’s Tradition such an important place) to mention how full the church was on Christmas and not so the rest of the year. This comment alone seemed to irritate Tom.
His wife also commented that this Mass was especially distracting because of the periods of applause (“Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.” Benedict XVI) for the respective “performing” children’s and adult choirs. She noted the interruption of prayer and the focus on the performers…not God. It all ended with the traditional rush to the cars parked in the lot to avoid the “mass exodus.” Obligation fulfilled…time to leave.
What is truly sad is that Tom was there and was at least receptive to learning a bit more about his family’s faith. (Another lost opportunity at!) This did not happen. Because of the priest’s need to “innovate” and add “flavor” to the Mass, the whole point of the Mass was missing to Tom. The Holy Mass can be our greatest tool for evangelization. However, if we turn it into something it is not, this opportunity will be lost. Mass is not a standup comedy routine or a concert performance. As Tom noted, if it was, he would rather pay the price of an admission and see the “real thing done by real professionals.” How sad that the church has at its highest form of prayer the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven” and it is squandered by mundane and profane antics;lost in large part to the worldly “innovations” and frivolities of this priest. How sad indeed…
My friend did a good job making the point. We priests can shape the Mass with innovation, or we can get out of the way and let Mass shape us.