I've never been to a Mass wherein the (visiting) priest, who in this instance was senior in years, during Holy Communion, announced that he was going to play a "hymn" (which, was in fact, like all of the songs he played a kind of modern Christian 'pop' anthem about the Lord Jesus and how much he loves him).
The emotive device was also used at the beginning of Mass to serve as some kind of 'introit'. Whatever you think of modern Christian 'worship music', it really didn't flow well at all as the priest pressed a loud 'click' just 10 seconds into the 'second song'.
Followed by silence. It just doesn't work and what youths were there looked distinctly unmoved. Finally, at the end of the Mass, the exit 'hymn' was another modern 'vocals, guitar, drums, bass' Christian 'anthem'. The stereo device and its sound, its 'relevance', I think the priest thought 'added value' to the Mass. 'Click!'
However, all this modern musical innovation which I assume the priest thought added value to the worship of Almighty God, to the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or to our 'experience' took a backseat in my mind during the homily, in which the said priest gave the congregation the distinct impression that 50 years ago the Catholic Church taught that if you were not baptised then you wouldn't be able to enter Heaven, but now... '(insert your vague belief here-_______________').
The Mass took place on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord - a fine opportunity to remind us of our Baptismal promises and the Lord's command to His Apostles to go forth making adopted children of God of those who remain in the darkness of error and in slavery to Darkness's very own Prince.
For the first time in my Mass-attending existence, I approached the priest afterwards to politely, but reasonably firmly, ask whether he had basically told us the Church no longer believed Baptism was necessary for Salvation, as She once did. I covered the expected territory:
- This teaching on Baptism is of the Lord. Christ said it. I repeated His view on the matter.
- That no angel came had down from Heaven to tell the Church the teaching had changed.
- That Baptism of desire was already a possibility to those who sought Salvation but did not have the opportunity to receive it physically from a priest and that the Church already taught that.
But the more we talked, the less Catholic teaching as I understand it seemed to matter. It was simply 'vacuumed up' when raised. There had been, in his mind at least, a 'great unveiling' of hidden truth five decades ago. He assured me that his moral theology was impeccable and that he was re-iterating Church teaching. On Baptism of desire, he agreed that the Church already believed it, but that the Church had not taught it openly but had 'hidden it'. But fifty or sixty years ago, it 'all came out', I guess was his point of view. No, he said that, I am sure. He seemed to think that (I assume he was referring to the Second Vatican Council), that fifty years ago things were revealed in the Church that changed everything, even our view of the necessity of Baptism.
He cited the days Scripture reading as the reason why this should be the case:
Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.
‘It is true, God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace was brought by Jesus Christ – but Jesus Christ is Lord of all men. You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil.’
He treated this text as if St Peter was saying to Cornelius and his household (who I think were indeed baptised):
'The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not care whether people believe in Christ or whether they are baptised or not, just as long as the unbelievers and pagans follow their own religions and consciences as best they can'. It'll all be okay.
The priest believed that God accepts the Hindu who follows his path and who tries to be a good Hindu, the Muslim who does the same, the Jew and the unbaptised pagans. Conversion to any faith in Jesus Christ is not required. The priest really believed this. Of course, Christ never said this, but never mind. Let's not the Lord get in the way of a 70s zeitgeist perpetuating itself into 2016 and beyond.
Oh - and he also suggested - no, said explicitly to me, that Pope Francis is the one who is 'lifting the lid' on all these hidden realities of the Church helping us all to 'see things as they really are'. This really is the dawn of the new age of the Church according to his mind, a new age that extends its love and mercy to the divorced and remarried also, who despite being, according to the words of Jesus Christ, adulterers, are simply now in "a tricky situation".
What was truly frightening in all this - oh and don't worry, we still ended the conversation with a 'Thank you, Father' handshake as one does at the end of Mass - was the way in which Christ our Lord and His actual words had been forced to so well and truly step aside. Nothing Our Lord actually said or did seemed any longer to have relevance any more. Where Liturgy was once able - or could be able - to speak of Christ's beauty and love, he had stepped in. We were not even allowed to communicate in silence.
Speaking with him, it became clear that relativism had truly come to reign while he taught me his doctrine that each person is judged not on what is objectively right and true, wrong and false, but on what a person thought was right and true, wrong and false - even if they were wrong. Extended to its logical conclusion, if the Hell Christ taught about existed, there would be very few people who would go there, rather than (in Our Lord's words) the 'many [who] go down that road', because sins and offenses only become real sins and real offenses to God when the person actually believes they are. That'll be a free pass for the unrepentant abortionist, I guess. Following his logic, every sin can become not just not a sin, but a virtue in the free exercising of conscience.
Over all, in terms of the homily, I sensed real contempt in the priest's voice for what the Church gave to Her children 60 years ago. Perhaps the message that went out to the pews on Baptism was sure and not so nuanced, but then Christ Himself didn't offer such nuance and at least the people 60 years ago knew what the mission of the Church was. No wonder people are left wondering what the mission of the Church is with homilies like the one I heard.
Yes, if you ask me, Pope Francis and this priest are singing from the same hymn sheet. The Church will only be 'relevant' in their view if She adapts to the mores and movements of the age, the 'beats of our time'. The priest was adamant that in terms of the Presence of Christ in the Church (he and I both remonstrated and pointed towards the Tabernacle) its primacy was in 'us', the body of Christ, rather than in the Tabernacle, in which is housed the very Body of Christ. In terms of 'Presence', and in terms of 'Christ', His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament appeared to be very, very secondary. One wonders, therefore, who is more worthy of worship? Us or the Lord Jesus?
For some reason, David Bowie - and all he represented or meant to music and our culture - has produced an industry of commentators within Catholicism since his death. Personally, I will always remember him as the guy who introduced us to 'The Snowman'. However, let us not miss an opportunity to reflect on what the artist sang and just how much he and the Church in modern times, agree....Makes you wonder whether the Church influences the culture or the culture influences the Church? Who is mirroring whom?