Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The splendour of the new rite?

Last Sunday, XVIIth after Pentecost or in the Novus Ordo calendar the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Melancholicus resumed the practice of fulfilling his Sunday obligation.

This was a consequence of his having been to confession the previous day, whereafter he decided (somewhat grudgingly) to make a clean sweep and obey the precept mandating Mass attendance on Sundays and holy days.

Having consumed a full bottle of wine while watching three episodes of The Wire (season 4) on Saturday night, he was unable to rise in time for the 8am Novus Ordo in the local parish; but this being the site of Judas priest’s denial of the miracle of the loaves and fishes five weeks before, he was not minded to return thither in a hurry.

Last Sunday was also the first Sunday on which choral evensong was offered again in St. Bartholomew’s after the summer hiatus, and driving back to Dublin in the afternoon Melancholicus intended to call into that Anglo-Catholic sanctuary to enjoy its exquisitely beautiful evening office.

And he would have done so, but for a persistent and annoying nagging of conscience which saw him instead stop off, with a sigh, at Sacred Heart church in Donnybrook for evening Mass.

This is a beautiful church; the liturgy, however, was decidedly less so. Mass proceded in much the same manner it has always done. There were no egregious clangers; no formal heresy was preached, no doctrines of the Church were denied, and there were no violations of liturgical norms beyond the institutionalised abuses one invariably finds at even the cleanest celebrations of the new rite. Melancholicus was also able to receive holy communion with a clear conscience. But rather than being relieved that the Mass passed off so well, and being pleased with his relief, Melancholicus was overcome with sadness and heaviness of heart. Sadness that it has come to this; sadness that the public celebration of our holy religion is reduced to the level of the horizontal; sadness that the awesome sacrifice of calvary is obscured, at least in practice, by the atmosphere of a touchy-feely community meet. Nobody seemed to regard the Mass as in any way remarkable, save for a few devout old ladies who still remember the old religion and what this most august and sacred mystery means. Sadness at the sheer unbeauty of it all.

How does Melancholicus presume to judge the attitude of his fellow congregants? Well, as far as exterior demeanour may provide a window onto one’s disposition of soul, the congregation in Donnybrook was typical of congregations all over the western world, wherever conciliar religion has taken hold. There was a great deal of conversational hubbub before Mass began, and again after it had ended. Hardly a soul bent a knee before the tabernacle. Melancholicus was particularly scandalised by a large group of persons who gathered and hob-nobbed in the nave after Mass had ended, talking and laughing volubly as though they were in the lobby of a hotel. The demeanour of not a few for the reception of holy communion is best not discussed; suffice it to say it makes one sad and angry.

The priest nowhere departed from the rubrics, but his adherence to the Cult of Man was so much in evidence it was impossible not to be aware of it. The atmosphere of casual informality was totally out of place; Father spoke like a therapist rather than a priest, warm and fuzzy and with the same disconcerting false friendliness that Melancholicus has observed among store clerks in the United States. One enters a store to buy a pack of cigarettes, or some such; upon which the assistant immediately starts tonguing one’s brown eye with startling vigour (I speak figuratively, of course). Thus, whether consciously or not, Father came across as a man pretending to be everyone’s best friend; he didn’t quite pull it off successfully, however, and the result was vaguely patronising in a certain indefinable manner. What was clear, however, was that the focus of attention was entirely on the interaction between cleric and congregation. God was referred to almost as an aside, when He was mentioned at all. There was a homily after the Gospel; it was bland but otherwise inoffensive. At least this is how Melancholicus used to rate homilies he heard at the Novus Ordo that were not openly heretical, before he woke up to the fact that bland homilies are indeed offensive, though for what they omit rather than what they contain. Last Sunday the lectionary prescribed the reading of Matthew 18:15-20. There is so much that could be said on this text; alone it would have given the apostolic fathers sufficient scope for several dozen sermons. But in church last Sunday we were presented with Jesus as manager, with an analysis of his method of conflict resolution, as though Our Lord were some first-century Judaic Cyrus Vance rather than the Son of the Most High God. While this improbable talk was in delivery, Melancholicus glanced at his watch, aware that he could still make it to St. Bart’s in time for evensong if he left Sacred Heart right away, which led to the bizarre circumstance of his actually hoping that Father would say something heretical so that he could leave. But the excuse never presented itself; the homily was merely the rhetorical equivalent of tinted steam, and Melancholicus ended up staying for the rest of it. After which we had the usual platitudinous bidding prayers—all for justice and world peace and that sort of thing—and announcements of parochial events, wherein we were told that the term of the parish pastoral council had expired and so they were looking for new members.

This is all of a piece with the praxis of the conciliar church, in which the proliferation of a lay-heavy bureaucracy is seen as evidence of growth and vitality. In fact it is nothing of the kind. A tumour in ones lungs may exhibit growth and vitality by trebling its size and spreading to other parts of one’s body, but that is hardly a matter for rejoicing for a person so afflicted. Likewise, Melancholicus cannot find it in himself to approve of the malignant growth that is parish pastoral councils, which do nothing but create busywork and talking shops and divert the most active members of the parish, both clerical and lay, away from the Church’s real mission which is the salvation of souls.

There was nothing especially hateful in the liturgy of the eucharist, but one needed a strong Catholic faith in order to remember what one was doing there. Father read the eucharistic prayer as much to the congregation as to God. After the consecration, we had that improbable hiatus “Let us proclaim in song the mystery of faith” sung to the tune of a ditty. Then followed the extremely tiresome rite of peace in which our Lord’s presence on the altar was forgotten in a miasma of glad-handing and more false friendliness redolent of the store clerk. Finally, though the congregation was not especially large, and as only two extraordinary ministers had come forward, Father informed the congregation that we could do with some help in the distribution of holy communion. Which meant that any person of any faith or none who happened to be present could assume the role of extraordinary minister at their good pleasure. Two persons did so—both women, as might be expected, and they raced up to the sanctuary with unseemly haste; one of them—a young and rather striking blonde—did not even stay until the end of Mass; having enjoyed her few minutes of glory, she took advantage of the opportunity to beat the traffic by rather conspicuously leaving the church before the dismissal. After all was said and done, almost nobody remained to make a thanksgiving for their holy communion; the congregation broke up in a noisy clamour and the doors were choked by fleeing Mass-goers attempting to reach their cars before the rush.

This is the sort of thing that transpires when the church service is all about US instead of being all about God.

It is the Cult of Man with a vengeance.

And so, even though he received Jesus in the most holy sacrament of the altar into his soul in the setting of a tolerably clean liturgy, Melancholicus was saddened, and did indeed wonder if he had done the right thing, or if he ought not to have just gone to evensong in the first place. It is admittedly difficult to discern the notes of the Catholic religion in what goes on in so many churches today, even when no formal heresy is preached and where the abuses are restricted only to those that have become commonplace and accepted.

Melancholicus does not expect the celebration of each and every Mass to be flawless to a perfect degree. But he does expect that the liturgy should evoke a sense of the sacred.

Alas, there was precious little sense of the sacred to be had in Sacred Heart church.

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