Yesterday was the beginning of CCD for our parish. We have a wonderful program that draws not only from the parish families, but from the Catholic homeschool community as well. The tradition has been that the first class is short and the children all attend mass together.
DS4 and I sat at the back of the church while DS8 and DD6 were sitting with their classes. The homily was really interesting. Fr spoke about St Januarius’ blood in Naples and how the miraculous liquefaction was such an important thing to the people of that city. While we (just about anyone who isn’t Neapolitan) might view it as superstition and tut-tut it to them it is faith enhancing and faith promoting. He used a very interesting term to describe it “Tribal”. I think it is a very good term and it brought to mind several of the descriptions of faith in the later Dune books. That faith, human faith, is a powerful thing.
There is something about Catholicism that seems much more real than many other forms of Christianity (ok yes I see my own bias here… but at the moment I don’t care I am emoting) We are a faith of blood and flesh. We worship a god, a sacrifice. “Lord God, Lamb of God: You take away the sins of the world.” It is this essential aspect to Catholic worship that makes a Catholic mass very different from other Christian Worship services.
The non-Catholic worship services I have been at have usually been very uplifting types of event. I mean absolutely no disrespect in this. To gather to praise and worship God is a wholly good thing, a holy thing. And I have certainly enjoyed the protestant events I have attended. But they aren’t mass.
I have heard too many Catholics complain, and too many non-Catholic visitors wonder, at the rather subdued nature of the mass. In fact we are only slowly recovering from the “mass should be more entertaining” post-Vatican II debacle of the past three decades. Mass isn’t supposed to be entertaining. This isn’t about going and sitting in a pew and having church functionaries get up and put on a show for you. Mass is about going and re-becoming part of the sacrificial meal, the Eucharistic event, the moment in time that is for all time, the offering of the Lamb of God. That is mass.
We have surrounded that moment at the alter with ritual that has become rite. We read, we sing, we light candles and incense and most of all we pray. We do things in a certain order and with tradition and meaning to nearly ever gesture, to every item, to the colors we use and songs we sing and the art work on the walls. It all matters.
I think it is somehow sad when I walk into the bigger suburban parishes that have attempted to modernism the mass. While their motive are good and genuine the results are disaster. In wanting to appeal to a population seeped in a culture of entertainment, where if something doesn’t grab their attention in five minutes they become bored and disconnected the obvious answer seems to be to change the mass. Make it more fun, liven it up a bit… bring in dancers and a lazar show (I wish I was kidding there I really do). This hasn’t worked, it can’t the nature of the mass forbids it. They inevitably have lost the very nature of Catholic identity and as a consequence unhitched themselves from the universal Catholic experience. While universal the Church is also primordial and tribal, the rite is primal and tribal. While it might vary slightly from place to place it doesn’t depart far from its origins and rite without also losing its authenticity. It is exactly that authenticity that become so very important in a world where the superficial is so important in every other sphere. People turn to faith to reconnect to the primal, the tribal, the Real. When that is removed or decentralized in an attempt to entertain the mass looses all relevance.
The nature of the mass is sacrifice. One can not take the offering of Jesus, His death and His resurrection the connection with our Creator in the intimate way of partaking of His Body and His Blood and turn it into something light and fluffy. No matter how many whiz-bang ideas you try to superimpose on the mass you aren’t going to make it fun. God, become flesh offering His very self for our sins and the sins of the world to reconcile our fallen natures to His perfect love is not “fun”. It is important serious and real.
Mass can be the best experience of the day or week. It can lift us up, give us hope, take away our pains and fears, give us the opportunity to leave our sins at the foot of the cross and the chance to wait quietly in the special and real presence of our Savior. It sends us out into the world renewed and prepared to make a difference if we are willing to go there. We have to be wanting to make a difference in ourselves we have to actively participate in the mass with our hearts, minds and prayers.