I’ve written about this before, but a couple of articles brought it back to mind. A few months ago my daughter and I happened upon a church in the diocese just south of our home diocese. We walked into a wide open auditorium room with folding chairs. There were no kneelers. Of note, this is not a temporary arrangement but the final configuration of the sanctuary. We entered through the central main entrance and found no holy water. There were no saints, no stations of the cross, no crucifix, and no visible tabernacle. In other words, it was completely void of any traditional Catholic imagery. The gathering congregation was quite noisy as they all chatted in the sanctuary. Suddenly the lights blinked twice. The room quieted and the entrance hymn and processional began. To my surprise, a digital screen behind the altar began to display “inspiring” landscapes. These views changed throughout the Mass. The Eucharist used “home baked bread” for the Blessed Sacrament. At the end of communion, the remnants were whisked away uncovered on a big pottery platter. There was no sense of reverence or awe. It reminded me of someone clearing the dishes after dinner. The words of the liturgy had been tampered with as well. The creed was some sort of modified Baptismal vows. All in all, it felt like a very Protestant rendition of the Mass.
I was so uncomfortable with the Mass I wrote a letter to the Bishop. I described the events and offered my prayers for the parish. This bishop is new to the diocese and I knew he had inherited a real mixed bag of liturgical heterodoxy. The bishop was very gracious and forwarded my concerns to the pastor. The pastor’s response included the following:
They do have a tabernacle. It is in a lovely little chapel somewhere else in the building. In that chapel they have the stations of the cross and an icon of Mary.
They have holy water at the side entrances and it is refreshed weekly.
They gather in the worship space with conversation and view this fellowship as the actual beginning of the liturgy.
He then closed with the following statement: “I do not seek to convert them to our way of celebrating and invite them to look for a Church that meets their expectations”.
This came to mind because I read Cardinal Arinze’s address from April 3, 2006 given to a conference on the liturgy. Please read the whole address, however, pay special attention to the following quotes:
Those who refuse to adore God must not decorate themselves with the apparently nice title of liberal intellectuals.
If we are to call a spade a spade, we shall inform such people that they are unreasonable, ignorant and blind to most obvious facts. A child who refuses to recognise his parents is not a liberal. He is a brat. Would it be wrong to call him stupid, and unaware of common sense, and even of his own best interest? And God is to us much more than parents are to their children. On the other hand, God is not a rival to us human beings. He is not a threat. He is not a killjoy.…
Everyone can thus see why the tabernacle of the Most Blessed Sacrament is located in a central or at least prominent place in our churches. It is the centre of our attention and prayer. The October 2005 Synod of Bishops emphasised this point (cf Prop., 6, 28, 34). In some of our churches some misguided person has relegated the tabernacle to an obscure section of the church. Sometimes it is even so difficult for a visitor to locate where the tabernacle is, that the visitor can say with truth with St Mary Magdalene: "They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they laid him" (Jn 20:13).
May I say a further word on the importance of silence in our churches and chapels. Moments of silence help us to prepare for the celebration of Mass. During Mass, a few minutes of silence help us to meditate on the lessons, the Gospel and the homily just heard. Silence after receiving Jesus Holy Communion is a time for personal prayer to Our Lord. At the end of Mass and at all other times in church, silence is a mark of reverence for God's house and especially for Jesus present in the tabernacle.
and finally this
It follows that individuals, whether they be priests or lay faithful, are not free to add or subtract any details in the approved rites of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22). A do-it-yourself mentality, an attitude of nobody-will-tell-me-what-to-do, or a defiant sting of if-you-do-not-like-my-Mass-you-can-go-to-another-parish, is not only against sound theology and ecclesiology, but also offends against common sense. Unfortunately, sometimes common sense is not very common, when we see a priest ignoring liturgical rules and installing creativity in his case personal idiosyncracy as the guide to the celebration of Holy Mass. Our faith guides us and our love of Jesus and of his Church safeguards us from taking such unwholesome liberties. Aware that we are only ministers, not masters of the mysteries of Christ (cf I Cor 4:1), we follow the approved liturgical books so that the people of God are respected and their faith nourished, and so that God is honoured and the Church is gradually being built up.
Let me tell you, I felt a great big “I told you so!” welling up within me. Of course then I also read an insightful piece on Jimmy Akin’s blog. One particular quote jumped out at me:
Don't make the mistake of turning over your happiness before God to someone else. You don't have to do that. You may tell yourself, 'I just can't stand the way this Mass is being celebrated,' but you're wrong. People say that they can't stand something when they know full well that they can. They're simply trying to rationalize a decision they want to make by telling themselves that they don't have any choice.
You do have a choice. You have a choice how you will react to what someone else is doing. You can choose to react in a way that mourns whatever offense has been committed yet leaves your spiritual peace intact. Or you may choose to react in a way that poisons your spiritual life and robs of you of the peace God wants you to have. But it's still your choice.
You can't control what another person is going to do. But you can control how you choose to react.
I realized my attendance at Mass in this neighboring diocese had turned into an exercise in “hidden pictures”. I go to Mass and concentrate on finding the liturgical abuses. Granted, these liturgical abuses are usually not very hidden. I am fortunate to have a wonderful home parish with a reverent and inspiring celebration of the Mass. So when I am traveling I don’t need to get myself tied into knots over the practices of these churches. I am not sorry I pointed out questionable liturgical practices in the church I visited. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to instruct the ignorant and prayerful, loving catechesis is not condemnation. Perhaps the pastor will give my concerns a second thought. However, the bottom line is I am attending Mass, even when traveling, because I need to meet my Lord in the Eucharist. He is most assuredly there whether or not the Tabernacle is visible.