Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We've Got "The Cookies"

First Published: Monday, January 22, 2007

I was emailing with a friend recently, who, like me, returned to the Church after many years absent, and a life of spiritual inquiry. He said he felt that many religions had value, but that Catholicism - Roman Catholicism - was for him because it had "the cookies." That is, The Eucharist.

I actually didn't even really react to that. When I was a child, had I heard someone refer to Holy Communion as "the cookies," I would have been horrified. We were even afraid, as children, to let our teeth touch the communion wafer, as we feared harming the body of Christ. We crossed ourselves when we passed a church, knowing that Jesus was physically present in there. Now, it's "the cookies." And sad to say, it may even BE cookies.

Anyway, we were going back and forth about the NO vs. Traditional Mass, until he cut the conversation short as no longer of any real value. He was happy with "his" version of the Mass. He acknowledged that all Masses are not the same any longer, and that many abuses occur, many NO masses are pretty irreverent, even goofy, but that has no effect on him, because the NO mass at his particular parish is reverent enough, and includes some traditional gestures.

Again, so trained am I to accept such statements that I didn't react to that, either. But the more I thought about it, and the more I considered the many posts I find on various forums discussing the state of the liturgy in the Church, the more I realized that what he was, in effect, saying, is exactly why I object to the changes in the church.

As a child - my last real extended experience with the Church - I attended Mass in several places. My home parish, a little Carmelite chapel near my home, at a church near my mom's birthplace, and a few others. One church may have been more elaborate than the next, one priest a little more formal, or a little louder. By the time I came up in Catholicism, some organic changes to make the Mass more accessible had already been made - the congregation said many of the responses out loud, in Latin. We also sang much of the responses, such as the Agnus Dei, the Gloria, the Credo, the Kyrie. We certainly knew what was going on, and we participated fully (that is the topic of another post!). The main thing is, Mass, no matter where it was held, was the same Mass. I always knew where I was (at a Catholic church); I always knew what was going on (the Mass); I always knew where I was in the Mass; and I always understood the ground rules for being there and being Catholic (that I could not receive Communion, for example, unless I was free from mortal sin, and had fasted for three hours).

Now, you get what you get. "Mass" can be a relatively benign affair, with some hint of the old Catholic ceremony. Or, it can be like the service at my current "home" parish (though that is not where I attend), a basically Protestant service, with a crowd of performers on the altar in jeans and sneakers, and often as not, a slide show for a sermon.

I realized, however, with my friend's comment, that his mass was ok, and therefore, he saw no reason to be concerned over the whole NO vs. Traditional discussion, that is the heart of the problem.

In the old Church, the Mass was the Mass - the same for all. Wherever you went, you had access to the real, true, nearly changeless Mass. If you traveled to Germany, it was still the Mass - and there were plenty of churches, and plenty of Masses for the faithful. Now, Masses are a relatively rare commodity, and some can be downright painful to attend - perhaps even leading one into the occasion of sin with their lack of piety, and offensiveness.

If I were lucky, I might be in a parish like my mom's, where the priest, though openly gay, is reverent, and can conduct a good ceremony. While the Mass is not my idea of a Mass, still, I could probably bear it and be, as many NO Catholics insist we must be, "obedient" to the Holy See. But I don't have access to that gentle a Mass where I live. I can only choose between bad and worse.

But that's not the point. I shouldn't HAVE to. The very fact that the service conducted can be so completely different from one place to another - benign at best, outrageous at worst - is testimony to the failing of the changes inspired by Vatican II. Surely no one ever intended that I would not be able to find a Mass that didn't hurt me to attend - literally bring tears to my eyes, or cause terrible anger and frustration. Surely they never meant to turn the Mass - however much some of them may have felt it was "old-fashioned" and inaccessible - into a sideshow, or bad high school play. (Have you seen the "Punk Priest," seen his get up and listened to his "sermons? Do that before you judge.)

And one Catholic should not be dismissing the pain of another because he's got "the cookies," and the other does not. The pain felt by Traditional Catholics at the destruction of a Mass beloved to them, and that endured for 1500 years, should not be dismissed because it "doesn't effect" another Catholic. Just as the church of 1950 did need to examine the life led by its faithful, and take into consideration the word they were forced to live in when defining some of its alterable rules, and to be sympathetic with their pain, to do a better job of educating them and thereby helping them understand the Mass, the Church today should not be ignoring and making light of what the Traditional faithful are experiencing.

At least, that's not the Catholic behavior I was taught as a child. Has the church changed SO much?

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