Friday, December 27, 2013

Should Personal Taste Influence the Liturgy?

Have you ever been talking to someone about the Mass, about the differences between the traditional Latin Mass and the common experience of the vernacular Mass as celebrated in most American parishes, and the other person (who typically prefers secular sounding music, felt banners, and hymns about 'the people') brushes the whole thing off as a matter of taste - of mere personal preference?

I'd suggest that if a person's liturgical theology is based on personal preferences then it is already wrong no matter what conclusions follow. That goes for an introvert going to the Latin Mass to avoid people as much as for an extrovert going to the "English Mass" in order to socialize, for the chant-lover who attends the TLM to hear the music he loves and for the parishioner of a certain age heading to a folk Mass for his love of acoustic guitar .

guitar player

The Mass simply isn't about us at all. In fact it is so little about us that a priest, by himself, can say a Mass worth every bit as much as a Papal World Youth Day Mass with a million in attendance. Likewise, a football stadium full of lay Catholics can sing, shake hands, and "create community" all day long, but without a priest no Mass will ever come of it. The Mass is what it is regardless of us, our culture, or what we like. It can be hard for us to realize that, but the Mass is more important than us, it's bigger than us. We have to submit ourselves to the Mass, allowing it to change us, rather than trying to force the Mass to accommodate us, our cultures, and our prideful vanity.

Can our personality type shape the way we see the Mass? It can, indeed it is very hard for it not to, but when it comes to formulating a liturgical theology, it simply mustn't.

I'm not anti-social or opposed to the building up of Christian brotherhood. I recognize the importance of creating a network of faithful Catholics who can support each other as we all struggle to live a devout life. To that end, I strive to make and maintain good Catholic friendships, which is why I strongly support social outreach. I attend theology on tap, doughnut socials after Mass, Knights of Columbus breakfast buffets, teach CCD, attend Men's Retreats and Bible studies, etc in order to make those friends, but I understand that the Mass simply isn't the time or the place to focus on we the people. The Mass is one of those times in which we are called to transcend ourselves, our petty likes and dislikes, our personality types, and enter into the worship of the all holy God. We are to focus, not on our neighbor (though we are sent to do that with the Ite, Missa est and empowered to do that by the Eucharist) but on God, on Christ.

Therefore, what happens at Mass can only be judged on whether it aids or distracts from the worship of the Almighty, from the knowledge that we stand on hallowed ground, at the very foot of the Cross on Calvary. Anything that takes away from that needs to go. Does the music we hear make us realize we have left the secular behind? If not, it must go. Do the sacred furnishings elevate our minds to the things above? If not, they must be replaced. Does the architecture of the church building dispose the soul for worship? Does it make us realize we are, in a real sense, entering into a foretaste of the Heavenly liturgy? Or does it make us feel like we are in a community center, playhouse, or school auditorium? Is the language sacral? Do the gestures of the priest speak to us of a sacrifice? Does the altar look like something a sacrifice could even be offered on or does it remind us of our dining room table? These are the kinds of questions we must ask.

Catholic Mass

This is how we naturally judge things all the time. It's only because the reform of the liturgy has become a flash point in larger issues that people have trouble doing the same with the Mass. To illustrate this, let's put the liturgy to a side and imagine we are instead heading to a Broadway play. Suppose I'm an extrovert who loves socializing. I decide to get up, walk around the theater, introduce myself to and talk to other people in the audience and even, when I discover someone whose husband has taken her to see the show as a birthday gift, break into a rendition of Happy Birthday. Is this appropriate behavior? Is it justified because I'm an extrovert? Because I prefer emphasizing the "social / communal" dimension of seeing a play? Because I dislike tradition? Of course the answer is no because a Broadway show isn't the appropriate place to socialize thus. In fact my behavior is rude and distracting to the people who came to watch the show (the whole point after all of going).

We need to be able to ask the same question of the Mass - is this action Appropriate or Inappropriate for the Mass because of what the Mass is. Answering this will enable the "reform of the reform" to continue at full speed, which will fuel the engines of the New Evangelization, which, in turn, will (God willing) transform our culture, and save many souls. Glorifying God and saving souls, that is, after all, what it is all about.

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