Wednesday, 2 September 2009
The Mystery of the Liturgy...and Liturgical Misery!
At the weekend I drove up and picked up my Polish ladyfriend from West London. With her family we attended Mass at a nearby parish. We arrived late and I was visibly irritated that we had arrived after the Gospel, insisting (apparently incorrectly) that we had in fact missed Mass. I can be known to exaggerate when I am pissed off. When we arrived, the Priest was giving the homily. I believe that at the time when we walked in, the Priest was talking about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. An important theme, one that Priests need to proclaim 'in season and out of season'.
I was surprised, therefore, that having heard from the pulpit, the Priest's correct assertion that God is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, that the liturgy seemed to reflect this so poorly. The liturgy reminded me of old Baptist services which I attended prior to my conversion to the One True Faith. Baptists do their thing, I guess, because they don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Yet we are still doing their thing even though we do...or at least profess that we do.
I know that often I take it for granted that we are lucky at St Mary Magdalen's to have a Priest who really makes an effort to ensure that the liturgy reflects the great Mystery of the Mass. The Latin which we sing at Mass, the reverence which he treats the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the effort he goes to in order to preach that the Mass is the holiest thing this side of Heaven, are all about directing his parishioners to a deeper understanding of Who is present every time Mass is offered. It is meant to be Heavenly. Literally!
Yet at the parish Church I attended on Sunday in London, even though the Priest had reflected on the Real Presence, the liturgy seemed to undermine the entire Mass. From the guitar strumming, mic'd up man singing 'Give Me Joy in My Heart', to the two lay Eucharistic Ministers, one man, one a young lady who distributed Communion (not just the Chalice, but the Host also), to the end of the Mass when the Priest thanked the congregation for 'joining in during our Mass', appeared to demystify the entire Mass. "There are three of us giving Communion," said the Priest, "it doesn't matter which one of us you receive it from". This was an unfortunate turn of phrase because again it cheapens and demystifies Who is truly present in Holy Communion. In other words, "It doesn't matter who you receive Communion from because..." The inference is that Communion is not what he had in his homily said it was. If he truly believed that Holy Communion was the Body and Blood, Soul, Divinity and Humanity of Christ then he would know that the Priest has been ordained to consecrate and administer Holy Communion and apart, perhaps, from exceptional circumstances it is the Priest who does it. The other inference is that either the dignity of the Priesthood has been cheapened or there are in fact three Priests on the Sanctuary.
Not only did it demystify the Mass, but looking around wearily at the parishioners singing 'Give Me Joy in My Heart', it infantilised the Mass, forcing grown adults to sing what essentially is a children's song. I don't know. I know that this is a story across the country and that many people are in fact happy with the trends, which we all know started long ago, but which continue. Later, over the course of the weekend, I heard on Radio 4 a wonderful programme called Soul Music on the composition, 'Miserere Mei' by Allegri, about how the Vatican tried desperately to keep the piece within the walls of the Holy See, because it is almost miraculous in its beauty and transendence. It was their gem. It was only because a 12-year-old Mozart memorised it and wrote it down later on a piece of paper that it ever got out of the walls of the Eternal City.
Music that reflects the liturgy. That is what Popes down the ages have yearned for and when they have discovered it, they themselves have championed it. Beauty and transcendence are what those Priests faithful to the Benedictine 'reform of the reform' project wish to see in the Mass. They seek to ensure that the Mass is all about Him, rather than all about us. Again, it would appear that various clergy, for the Laity can hardly be blamed for this trend, are more interested in 'our Mass' than the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Believe me, it was woeful and I hope and pray you never have to sit through it. Thank God for the Priests who truly believe in the Real Presence!
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