Andrew McDowell, ‘The Tie’ counterpart of the Catholic Collar and Tie blog, has written an honest account of his experiences in attending different Novus Ordo Masses in his area. His negative discoveries of a total lack of respect towards the Blessed Sacrament, plenty of banality, and an exaggerated focus on the celebrant instead of Our Lord Jesus Christ will be sadly all too familiar with the majority of Catholics.
Liturgy well done can lift the mind and heart to the contemplation of God, and inspire a deeper prayer life and a more active charitable life outside of Mass. Good and clear proclamation of the word and sound preaching at Mass provide us with tools for evangelisation in our day to day life. Surely Vatican II rightly called the Holy Eucharist the ‘source and summit’ of the Christian life. Sadly, not every celebration of Mass lifts the mind and heart to God, because the priest gets in the way.
Now that we no longer have daily Mass in our parish I have experienced Mass in a dozen different places with a dozen different priests (good and sincere men all of them), but I have to say I have found all but one celebration of the Novus Ordo to be irritating; some more than others, but all primarily because each celebrant seems to think his inflection and gestures are responsible for engaging the congregation in the celebration of Mass. Yet the gestures properly carried out rather than exaggerated, with a simple recitation of the words printed in the Missal would allow me to pray; the exaggerated gestures and inflected modulation demand that I hear the emphasis the celebrant wants me to hear rather the emphasis the Holy Spirit wants me to hear. So what are the things that disturb?
The first is that on entering the Church one is confronted by noise: our places of worship are given no more respect than meeting rooms or bingo halls. One priest defended this with, ‘Well they only see each other at Mass so they like to meet and greet’. But surely they can talk outside? We don’t pray in a club or a bingo hall; why should we chatter in a Church? Another priest’s defence was: ‘We’re a community and this is where the community meets. If I tell them to stop talking they’ll be offended and I’m not going to do that’. Permitting noise is thus more important than passing on spiritual values, reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and respect for those who wish to pray. And these are our priests? If we don’t reverence the Blessed Sacrament and respect others at prayer in Church, where are we going to respect them?
Second, there are irritations during the liturgy itself, where the flouting of liturgical norms is manifold. This means I rarely (if ever) get the New Rite of Mass as the Church intends me to have it. What are some of the norms flouted?
Well, I have seen the lectern (reserved for the proclamation of the Word) used as a podium for appeals, talks and even the long-forbidden eulogies at funerals; I have seen Extraordinary Ministers performing the purifications while the priest sits down; I have seen (presumably so the people don’t feel excluded) every word of the Missal being read aloud, including the priest’s private prayers (‘With humble and contrite Heart…’; ‘Lord wash away my iniquity…’). I have also heard the opening and closing Collects, Eucharistic Prayer, and even the words of consecration, changed.
And there is more. I have seen the Sunday Gospel extended so as to include the line the celebrant wanted to preach on; I have seen the consecration ‘acted out’; the priest extending his hands and offering the gifts to the congregation rather than to the Lord as he waves them from side to side saying ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it’ –as though Mass were a play performed for the congregation.
I have seen priests leave the sanctuary to distribute Holy Communion from the front of the Church. I am told (by Fr Dickson) that this comes from ‘Incarnational Theology’, an emphasis on God coming to earth as man. But did He not come so as to die and rise again and thus draw us to Heaven? Priests leaving the sanctuary to offer the sign of peace is also very irritating: he has already offered it to the whole community at the Pax, by wandering into the congregation he singles some out for special attention –and encourages a flippant Pax wherein the congregation not only stretch over benches but cross from one side of the Church to the other to greet family and friends, thereby using the sign of peace for a purpose for which it is not intended. Meanwhile the Blessed Sacrament is ignored. It is a complete departure from the purpose of the liturgy.
All in all, the clergy are trying to make us feel valued and loved, but in the process have forgotten that we come to Mass to worship God, not to be affirmed. The place for our affirmation is in our team meetings and at social occasions. Our clergy have lost sight of the core purpose of the Mass; they have turned it into a celebration of the community; a time of upliftment and affirmation of man rather than an offering to God in adoration, impetration and propitiation (GIRM #2).
Truly, it is impossible to attend the Mass Paul VI gave us because each celebrant gives the texts and gestures his own emphasis and slant, with norms flouted. They may say they are loyal to, supportive of, and happy with the Novus Ordo, but are they, when they feel the need to constantly ‘improve’ upon it at their own volition? Perhaps what supporters of the Novus Ordo are happy with is the fact that they slant the liturgy to embody their favoured theological ideology.
I have not mentioned the fact that Mass is always said facing the people but I won’t omit to say that this orientation means we are plagued by seeing the priest perform for us, blow his nose, fiddle with his spectacles, lose his place in the Missal and make idiosyncratic facial grimaces.
Sorry Fathers, I have no doubt that each of you has a good heart and are well intentioned; but you truly are a distraction from the Lord as you stage-manage the liturgy to your own taste. How long must we put up with such a priest-centred, man-focused liturgy? Our Bishops are allowing all of this to continue, and must therefore take responsibility for denying us the Mass as the Church gives it to us. The Bishops’ own publication, ‘Celebrating the Mass’ is ignored by all and sundry –even by the Bishops themselves who see such antics as I have described in their parish visitations and do nothing to call a halt to them. Yet should a priest celebrate Mass with Latin for the people’s parts (as Vatican II decreed; Sacrosanctum concilium #36, 116) or facing the altar from the Offertory onwards as the Missal directs (rubrics #127, 132, 133), you can be sure his Bishop will put pressure on him to make the options of the vernacular and facing the people things to be set in stone. The stone is really in the hearts of those who refuse to provide liturgy that is God-centred in order to satisfy the folk who have rejected Vatican II with its insistence upon Latin, and who have rejected the Novus Ordo’s directive to face the altar. I think we no longer have a Novus Ordo Mass but a Novus Ordo Mess.