Monday, August 9, 2010

Patronising twaddle

Fact. There have always been minor and really unimportant cultural variants in the way Holy Mass is celebrated. I do wish some cultural imperialists, at all ends of the spectrum, could get this into their thick heads. Now I am not a student of 'lye-terr-jee' (as one friend insists). I know a little about the traditional rites and less about the reformed rites. But I can spot rather sniffy cultural imperialism when it smacks me in the face. The following 'gem' of a comment appeared on the Pray Tell  blog recently;

I ducked into a daily Mass. The presider led us quickly and tonelessly through vespers, then flowed seamlessly into an expressionless Eucharistic prayer. Never once made eye contact with anyone in the tiny, mostly elderly, almost all female congregation. Didn’t bother to preach, of course–that might have revealed engagement with what was going on. At the sign of peace, didn’t deign to greet anyone, and got going again as quick as he could. While he went on with the prayer, a little girl, about 6 or 7, walked around the entire chapel, shaking hands and smiling at every person in the place, maybe a dozen of us. God bless her–she was grace that day. The priest dispensed Eucharist mechanically, then dashed to the sacristy without a personal word. No wonder so few bother to attend. Might as well deconsecrate the joint and sell it to someone who cares about it, even if only for the art and the history, instead of pretending it’s a living church.
Now I have no doubt that the contributor meant well. I rather enjoy the Pray Tell blog for the occasional gem of a moment when some ageing trendy opining from an armchair in the home counties decides to start pontificating and gets a fairly good slapping by the other comments. With this offering however there seemed to be the following problems;

(1) The Presider. I do trust it was a priest. Can't be too sure from the rest of the paragraph. At the very outset I detect a disconnection with Church tradition
(2) Quickly and tonelessly. It was a daily Masspers with, presumably, some time constraints. I doubt choral Vespers would have been pastorally appropriate. Music is not everything when it comes to worship. (A decidedly protestant notion).
(3) Expressionless Eucharistic Prayer. Not everybody is capable, physically or emotionally, of 'meaningful' histrionics. It's not a beauty pageant nor a cooking class for that matter. It's the Mass.
(4) Eye contact. Some  people in some cultures are not comfortable with invasive eye contact. It has a rather bad history in popular culture.
(5) Didn't bother to preach. Good. You don't have to. In most weekday  homilies I've heard recently the salvation of the faithful would be more likely to be advanced if the priest kept his mouth shut at that point and let the Mass speak for itself.

I'm going to leave the little girl be. Bless her for going to Mass. Sounds like a vocation of charity in the making. Three Aves for her intentions.

(6) Didn’t deign to greet anyone. Well done. Probably took some spine on the priest's part. He's not supposed to go wandering off with the exception of a few very specific circumstances. Of course there could be some sort of derogation from the norm applicable in the USA. In that case I'm being culturally insensitive. Mea culpa!
(7) Dispensed Eucharist mechanically. Note the strange use of the word 'eucharist'. Surely at least 'The Eucharist'. There seems to be a fear of saying Blessed Sacrament or even the more neutral communion.
(8) Without a personal word. Poor fellow was probably making a dash to say another Mass, hear a confession, see to the dying, put in some time at his other 40 hour job at the chancery. How nasty of him not to pander to some mad tourist taking notes on their I-Pad at the back of the Church
(9) Might as well deconsecrate the joint....pretending it’s a living church. Now this final sentence is really rich. 'If it's not up to my cultural expectations and what my culture thinks is right then it ought to be closed down'. This attitude has got a certain country into a lot of bother over many years. The patronising idiocy is breathtaking and gives no credit to, or sensitivity for, that elderly congregation for whom this simple celebration may be a daily life line.

If poor Father, whoever in wherever he is, might be reading this take heart. The bottom line is this. We always try to do the best we can for God using the resources he has given us. This does mean paying attention to the cultural tradition where we are working. This does not mean paying any attention to however well intended, but ill conceived, opinions from ignorant 'dominant culture'  bullies who  seem more intent on reaffirming their smug, probably wannabe, middle class aspirations at the annual 'lye-terr-jee-carl' convention, rather than helping ensure the sacraments are available to all the faithful no matter what their creed, colour, or cultural history.


  1. When I read comments like this I am inclined to quote: “What did you come out to see?” Or to put it in more direct terms: “Why are you here…?”

    The reaction of the commenter is the result of 40+ years of the Mass as meal, as performance, as social occasion, as interaction between the presider and the audience, er, congregation – all of which decried by the Holy Father in The Spirit of the Liturgy.

    In my local parish our PP is a decent enough sort who preaches well most of the time (though I could do without the gesticulations and the peripatetic mode of delivery…) but is still steeped in the Mass as a community gathering. Some time ago the carpeting in the church needed replacing. The church itself is an old-style rural American church – rectangular, with two rows of seats, center and side aisles.

    But as part of the carpet replacement Father decided to re-position the seats at an angle towards the center – “…the better for people to see one another.” Wha…? Which comes back to my quotes above. Why are we here? To see and be seen - or to give honor and praise to God?

    We are in dire need of re-orientation – in more ways than one!

  2. Father,
    You have pointed out what happens when an individual is not choosing the common good. The comment on 'Pray Tell' is a clear example of putting individualistic desire above the good of others. We are shocked at the statement, "Might as well deconsecrate the joint and sell it to someone who cares about it".

  3. I was at the LMS training conference at Downside this week learning to serve the Extraordinary Form (Low Mass, one server), these minor things were mentioned by our teacher. I for one will not be getting my cassock in a twist over such minor things as the third confiteor.


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