Thursday, April 16, 2009

The 'Mass presenter'

Driving back to Dublin one recent Sunday evening, I chanced to pass through the place where I grew up, a coastal town in north county Wicklow.

Not yet having satisfied my Sunday obligation, I intended to hear Mass in the parish church before continuing my journey. This would be something of a homecoming for me, since this was the church with which my earliest memories of the Catholic religion are associated, the stained glass windows of which have always captivated me, in which I had made my first confession, received my first holy communion and had been confirmed. It is also the church in which, in 1997, I resumed the practice of my religion after my youthful dalliance with secularism.

When I reached the church I was startled to find it shut. On the main door was posted a notice informing the public that the eucharist would instead be celebrated in such and such a place, at such and such a time.

Somewhat out of sorts, I made my way to the appointed place, namely a room in a nearby municipal building, which looked nothing like a suitable setting for a religious service, never mind the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The place was nothing more than a glorified schoolroom, with rows of chairs of the kind normally associated with modern education. There was a plain tiled floor, a tiled ceiling with hissing fluorescent lights, a beige curtain hanging along the length of one wall, and bare brick everywhere else. Think of the interior of any modern public edifice and in your mind’s eye you will see this scene exactly as I encountered it. Naturally there was no sanctuary—and no tabernacle—but in a corner of the room there was a dais on which was set one of those odious little Cranmer tables that are so much in vogue nowadays. Although the table was spread with a white cloth and flanked by the inevitable potted plants, neither candles nor crucifix were anywhere to be seen, nor was there any sign of shrines, statuary, stations of the cross or any other of the usual appointments one expects to see when one goes to attend a Catholic service. Not even the ubiquitous felt banners—so beloved of the Novus Ordinarians and correspondingly detested by Trads—put in any appearance here. The only indication in this room that Mass was about to be celebrated were two bowls on the table, piled high with what were clearly hosts. I say bowls, but they were really only plates, commonplace utensils of the sort from which one would eat one’s toast for breakfast at one’s kitchen table. There was also a carafe, or rather a large glass jug, filled with a pale reddish liquid, presumably some sort of wine.

My dismay in the face of this unpromising prospect was both heartfelt and immediate. At first I was thrown by the sight of the hosts, not knowing in this highly unusual setting whether they were already consecrated or whether they were to be so consecrated in the Mass that was about to begin. But I hesistated to make any sign of reverence, feeling distinctly that there was something very fishy, and indeed unholy, in what was going on here. A few yards down the road there was a perfectly good and indeed beautiful church, where Mass ought to have been celebrated with due solemnity, but this church was closed for no discernibly good reason, and the liturgy transferred instead to a decidedly secular and profane setting. It seems that the majority of the parishioners had already decided that, since they could not attend Mass in the parish church, they would not attend it at all, for as I glanced around the room I saw that there were only a half dozen other persons in attendance, seated in the front row of schoolroom chairs, with what looked like a programme or missalette in their hands. Aside from one elderly man, I was the only male present. The women in attendance were all in their fifties and sixties. The old man never once looked in my direction, but the women all smiled beamingly at me with a syrupy sickliness, reminding me of the facade of false friendliness I have encountered among store clerks, waiting staff and other service personnel in my travels in the United States. Although my senses were now screaming at me to shun this place and leave as quickly as I could, I took a seat a couple of rows back from the others, uneasy, yet curious to see what sort of liturgical atrocity would be played out in front of me.

Mass was about to begin!

Suddenly, from behind the beige curtain, a woman appeared. She was in her forties, short-haired, with hands clasped in an attitude of religiosity. What was most immediately shocking about her appearance was her dress. Although she was clad in one of those full-length, off-white, alb-like smocks tied at the waist with a cincture, it was not that which shocked me. Around her neck, over the alb and passing down beneath the cincture was a long strip of white cloth, camouflaged somewhat by its colour against the background of the alb but clearly visible nonetheless. I did a double take.

It was a stole.

A stole!

It is common in these days of increasing liturgical laicism for the conciliar church to kit out its extraordinary womenesses in those alb-like smocks and even cinctures during the celebration of holy Mass. This may be regarded pushing the envelope, but as it does not trespass egregiously against what pertains to the priesthood, it can be let slide.

But a stole is an entirely different matter. The stole is a uniquely priestly vestment. Not even a deacon may wear his stole in the inverted U-shape with both ends hanging down the front as this woman was doing right before my eyes. Needless to say, no-one who is not in sacred orders (with the singular exception of a mitred abbess) may wear a stole at any time for any reason whatsoever.

I was so shocked I neither moved nor spoke. The woman then proceeded to the dais, stood behind the Cranmer table and addressed the ‘congregation’. She informed us that “Father H. cannot be here this evening, so he has asked me to lead you all in prayer. My name is Barbara, and I am your Mass presenter.”

I remained rooted, immobile. Barbara, our ‘Mass presenter’, began to speak, an overflowing torrent of words, beaming smiles and waving hand gestures, but such was my stupefaction I heard nothing of what she said. When my intelligence began, slowly, to return to me, I noticed there was no book on the table in front of her. Whatever ‘service’ was being performed in front of me, it was wholly extemporised and bore hardly a tittle of resemblance even to the loosest interpretation of the Novus Ordo, at least as I knew it. At a certain point, I think the ‘Mass presenter’ may have read from the Gospel; I am sure I heard her say “The Lord be with you” and my fellow congregants responding enthusiastically. She also preached—naturally—and it seemed that more emphasis was laid on her homily than on anything else thus far, though I cannot quite recall what she preached about. When she finished her histrionics she returned to the Cranmer table—the Creed was not recited—and began elevating the plates of hosts and the jug of wine in what I can only describe as some sort of counterfeit offertory. At this point my senses returned to me completely and I realised with clarity that this was NOT a Mass, it was (at least if the elements on the table had been consecrated beforehand) a mere communion service, that I had no obligation to attend such a thing, and that if the elements on the table were not yet consecrated and the ‘Mass presenter’ were to attempt to ‘consecrate’ them herself, her ‘eucharist’ would actually be an invalid and sacrilegious simulation of a sacrament, and that I should leave immediately.

That is what I did. Rising purposefully from my seat I made a beeline for the exit, so I have no idea what sacrilegious antics the ‘Mass presenter’ got up to in my absence. As I left the building I realised I had forgotten to switch off my cellphone for at that moment I received a noisy text message from my fiancée, which woke me with a start.

The good news is that all of the above was only a dream, a dream which I had just last night.

The bad news is that all of the above has doubtless happened for real in some God-forsaken hell-hole of a parish in the wasteland of the conciliar church.

Incidentally, the ‘Father H.’ referred to by the ‘Mass presenter’ above is a real person. He no longer serves at the parish in question (Deo gratias) but he was a source of much annoyance to the orthodox during his ministry there, and prescinding from the celebration of Mass so a lay woman could have her turn playing priest at the altar is just the sort of thing he would do if he thought he could get away with it. A few years ago I dreamed of him celebrating Mass—in alb and stole, sans chasuble—elevating the host and chalice at the Per ipsum, flanked by women in albs, six on each side, with their hands extended, as though concelebrating. A nightmare, actually.

It was a night of strange dreams. I also dreamed that the university at which I work incarcerated me in my office for three days and nights, not allowing me to leave. This at the behest of an unidentified religious superior of somewhat conciliar inclinations who, having stumbled upon Infelix Ego, did not like what he found there. Whereat I woke up.

Then there was another dream in which I was walking along a street in an unidentified town in rural Ireland. There was a column of monastics from a decidedly ‘progressive’ community processing down the street in the opposite direction. Some of them were in the habit of their order, others in shirts and ragged denims. One particularly obnoxious soul, a mufti-clad middle-aged man with curly black hair was speaking into a tanoy, such that his voice could be heard throughout the village. With brazen arrogance he denied one Catholic doctrine after another—the Virginity of Our Lady, the Divinity of Christ, the Redemption, the Resurrection, Transubstantiation and Holy Orders. His language was the language of a marxist; when not denouncing the faith of our holy mother the Church he spoke of building the earthly utopia of which every socialist dreams. None of his brethren batted an eyelid. I swore at him, denouncing his monologue as “heretical shite”. He ignored me completely, but his voice grew louder as he continued his diatribe. Whereat I woke up.

There were other dreams, but I shall not tax the patience of my readers by recounting them all... what a wondrous thing is the unconscious imagination, which can generate pictures of not only such oddity but clarity and vividness—much more vivid sometimes than that of which one’s waking imagination is capable.

I know there are books and websites which specialise in the interpretation of dreams, and can inform one what it means if one dreams of flying, falling, death, etc.

But is there any such source which can interpret dreams of heretical monks, stealth priestesses and liturgical abuse?


Mulier Fortis said...

At a rough guess, I'd say that you've been reading The Suppository just before going to bed. That would be enough to give anyone nightmares!!


Melancholicus said...

Dear Mac, I never read The Suppository at all, save for those juicy bits of it I find excerpted and fisked on the blogs of the saints.

I'm actually reading the first volume of Ian Kershaw's two-part biography of Adolf Hitler. The evil dreams that have proceeded therefrom hardly bear recounting.... and so far I've only progressed as far as 1934. I guess the moral of the story is that one shouldn't read such things last thing at night.