Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Precision of Abuse - Liturgical and Otherwise

Yesterday, on the road again, my actress and I attended a Vigil Mass somewhere in America.  It was definitely America, though it may not have been a Mass.

The priest was a 70-something soft-spoken slow moving effeminate fellow, and the music was all the Bad Stuff, about a dozen of the worst "hymns" played over and over again on piano before Mass even started, kind of like an episode of The Twilight Zone where you're trapped in an elevator with horrible "muzak" and nobody else trapped with you seems to mind or even notice.

The priest assured us in the homily that when Moses lifted his arms and God's staff before the Israelites battling Amalek (Ex. 17:8-13), he was "giving them instructions on the battle," showing them where to attack and where to draw back, and so forth.  Far from being miraculous (which the text implies, the strength of Israel growing when the staff of God was raised and faltering when it was lowered), this was merely a natural event.  Moses' arms being held up in a cruciform manner by Aaron and Hur was not a foreshadowing of Christ (as I've heard) but just an example of people helping people, which is why we're all here at Mass.  Oh, and don't forget to pray.

He talked a lot about prayer, eviscerating the rather shocking parable of the Importunate Widow and domesticating it so that we all understood the message: "Pray.  And come to Mass to be with one another."

Then, when the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, he not only improvised the "Pray, brothers and sisters" part (#29 here), but made up something that was wildly and strangely unrelated to anything I'd ever heard from the altar.  No mention of "sacrifice" of course, but a totally ad-libbed thing that made no sense.  So I figured I'd better follow along in the missal.  And here's what I noticed.

His liturgical abuse was not accidental and merely an expression of a kind of misplaced enthusiasm, but it was, like the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, very deliberate, specific and precise.

For despite his homily's mundane emphasis on the need for prayer, every time the words "we pray" came up in the text, he deliberately skipped them.  Every time Jesus was called the Son, he refused to say "son" and either skipped the words or made up something of his own.  There were other patterns I noticed, and each was the result of a kind of careful forethought and deliberate planning: for he skipped only certain words and said only certain others.  This man was no simple fool, carried away with a kind of "Spirit of Vatican II" sense of innovation.  Soft spoken, harmless and dull as this priest seemed to be, he had an agenda and was exercising it.

Then we came to the words of consecration, almost nothing that came from his lips matched what was printed on the page.

He did manage to say "This is my body", and he said "This is the cup of my blood" (given up for all) - so I suppose this was indeed a Mass, but he improvised more surrounding the consecration than at any other point in the Mass.  And it was all "feel good" stuff, but again I was left wondering, "Why skip we pray or similar phrases?  Why object to the Son?"


Here James Kalb writes that we should be hopeful, realizing that our descent into cultural nihilism cannot last forever.  He notes (rightly) that

Man isn’t the measure, and ultimate reality comes first.

He encourages us to return to great writers and thinkers and to attain personal sanctity, and of course all of that is right.

But if a priest in a small town in rural America has been celebrating the Mass this way for forty years or more, without restraint or correction from his parishioners or from his bishops, and if a priest unopposed blithely but quite deliberately asserts his own queer but indefinable theology against the Church that sustains him, then what are we to think except

Man is the measure, and ultimate reality comes last.

There is an intent behind the things that are wrong in our Church and in our culture, and we are fools if we don't realize the deliberate and focused nature of what we are faced with.


o said...

Bad, BUT, look at you - you know what he was pulling so you saw through it and knew where to find Jesus. That's the main thing. Possible infestation didn't defeat you.

True, how many others were able to rather than just get dumbed and numbed down.

My diocese's previous bishop asked everyone to remain standing after the "Lamb of God" and perhaps to not jerk the people around, the next bishop continues such. For the sake of my argument, assume that's awful. We must be obedient, yet my homeschooled boys must know how to be (and lead) in the pews everywhere else in this country's Catholic Masses (because let's face it, as a cradle Catholic, only a few years ago did I figure out when to kneel/stand instead of depending on others around me or the saddened priest's instruction to us). So, I must instruct them to be obedient, drop the kneeler, drop the head in reverence to Christ at least initially, and remain standing without turning and bunching up like waiting ticket buyers to exit the pew. They need to know what's universal to the Mass, to the Faith. The poor Germans too!

They have to know what the Church does universally, but they have obey or put up with what the bishop or priest does locally.

Obviously, a priest is not in the same authority, but equally obviously, the bishop will not change the priest's behavior any more than his (the bishop's) own decision.

Restoration said...

No one has to "put up" with liturgical abuse by any priest. Report him to the bishop and write to the apostolic nuncio and the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome if need be.

My homeschool boys will not be scandalized by these antics that are 40 years out of date. They have never seen an altar girl or cantoress. We attend the Traditional Latin Mass and bypass this nonsense. If no TLM is available find a Byzantine rite. We drive outside the boundaries of our diocese to find reverent, joyful liturgy. We have a right to this as Catholics. If more Catholics voted with their feet and donations 40 years ago, we'd be in better shape. One should be obedient to Rome before a modernist local bishop. Similar to the wide-spread nature of the Arian heresy, Catholics do not owe obedience to bishops in error who contradict the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM).

Anonymous said...

Please take heart. The young ones are coming along and they are often more orthodox. And there are bright spots everywhere - yesterday I went to my mid-sized parish where our 60-something priest celebrated ad orientem, singing the preface, and preaching on the need for prayer and _confidence_ in Christ, even as the culture grows darker.

And here's an article on a large batch of seminarians in Virginia. I am a little acquainted with two of them (not the ones mentioned in the article), and believe they are solid and will make excellent priests:

-FJ in Va.

Anne Costa said...

Amen to's stunning that we fail to notice or care about the blatant hubris and personal axe grinding that these priests engage in. KIt's a cohort that is at least dying off and retiring to Florida in our Diocese. Good riddance.

Losing Hope said...

While not surprising, this is most disheartening. I would give my right arm to attend the TLM each week. Unfortunately we live in a rural area and the nearest one I know of is a four hour drive away. As a cradle Catholic who came of age in the fifties, I know what things should be like, but that doesn't change the status quo. God help us.

John C. Hathaway said...

I'd have left at the homily, and definitely at the "consecration" (which wasn't, if he didn't use the valid text).
I always point out that one of the first clips in the VIRTUS training video is of a young girl receiving the precious blood from a glass cup--liturgical abuse--and the only predatory priest they talk about in a video that focuses on teachers and skating rink managers was "Such a nice priest who wasn't all stuffy and didn't care about all those silly rules the Church imposes on us," with that presented as a contrast even while the video presented that as precisely the MO of a sexual predator.