I took my family to an off-Broadway show on Saturday night complete with audience participation, dancing girls, women in leopard-skin shirts or shirts with one sleeve, catchy tunes, off-stage water shows, lighted candles and a warehouse theatre.
You Broadway experts don't recognize it? And what was I doing taking my family to the theatre when we should have been at the Easter Vigil? Oh, sorry -- forgot to explain. That was the Easter Vigil.
In any given year, you can find my family at the magnificent Cathedral of St. Paul for the Easter Vigil. However, this year we went to another church (which shall remain nameless and locationless to protect the innocent) because a family member was being baptized, confirmed and communed. Now this family member came into the Church partly because of marriage, partly because of her own initiative. The parish is but a half-mile from her home, so it made sense for her to go there.
Unfortunately for her and others, the priest has willingly abdicated most of his authority thus allowing a circus atmosphere to reign. This family member knows no better having been raised churchless and in a culture that had no true thoughts about beauty and order. So what I am about to tell you has no reflection on her whatsoever.
I write this somewhat amazed. I know there are liturgical abuses going on all over the place. However, I was completely unaware that they were of such number and so rank. We have been keeping ourselves to places where we knew we could find at least somewhat orthodox priests, so I was blissfully content in the thought that things were getting better, liturgically speaking. How wrong I was.
When I said it was in a warehouse theater, I meant that almost literally. It's a modernist building in the suburbs amid all the other modernist buildings that store the worker bees during the day. It's made of brick, with one wall that is monolithically brick -- no decoration whatsoever. I could not help but think how bored the bricklayers must have been when they were building it.
Along this blank wall to the right are three large black structures which I took to be either speakers for the organ or the pipe boxes, though no pipes were showing. There was no crucifix to be found at all, only a cross. Eminating from this cross were yards of pastel colored cloth in ray-like fashion. And, of course, the tabernacle was nowhere in sight, shoved off over the left in a chapel-like niche.
Not a statue or stained glass window is to be found anywhere in the place, not even the simple crosses to mark the Stations that some churches have . Wait a minute! Did I say no stained glass windows? I meant no windows. The only statues are two in the rather wide atrium -- one of Mary, and the other of I don't know whom (both of them white, of course).
I've not read Michael Rose's books on architecture and he has probably already beat me to this observation -- the blank modernist style does not lend itself in any manner whatsoever to anything of beauty. So there is no sense to having chant or polyphony or organ music -- it does not fit there. With the blank character of the architecture, one is free to do as one pleases, and what pleases these people is Broadway.
I should stress that nothing was done to make the celebration of the Mass invalid. Its liceity, however, well that's another story. How was the liturgy abused? Let me count the ways:
- No albs on anyone except the pastor and his concelebrant, so we had a young girl sitting next to the priest in street clothes who played the part of server, an obviously wealthy woman who carried in the censer, and various other "ministers" who did one thing or another in their less-than-Easter-best.
- Inclusivity was the watchword here. So at the fraction rite during the Agnus Dei, each of the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist were given their cups or ciboria and came down from the sanctuary area in a highly choreographed fashion with four leaving there at the start of each new invocation of the litany. Then when the priest elevated the host and cup at the general invitation to Communion, so did the ministers.
- After the third reading of the Crossing of the Red Sea, the lector read, "Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song" and suddenly the music blared, two singers (one in leopard-skin shirt) from the back of the chorus strutted up to the lectern hands held high and the Psalm Response began. But the lector stayed put. Then at the end of that performance, the lector said, "The Word of the Lord."
- Two liturgical dancers (who, in technical terms, were really bad) brought forward two clear pitchers of water to pour into the baptismal font.
- The music was, of course, all from the Haugen/Haas/Joncas school, with some Schutte thrown in for good measure -- except for the closing hymn which was "Jesus Christ is Risen Today."
The HHJ school has little respect for the words of the liturgy or the truth of the Gospel.
- The two baptisms were by full immersion. I have no problem with that, nor does the Church. What I did have a problem with is that neither candidate was individually asked the necessary questions (Do you reject Satan? Do you believe in God?). Instead, it was the whole "community."
- Since it was Easter and we now were redeemed, we were instructed in the program to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. I was left wondering from what we had been redeemed -- sin or common sense?
- At the Pater Noster, the whole congregation held hands, even across aisles. The woman who was the family member's sponsor told my 15-year-old daughter to hold her hand. My daughter politely refused. But the sponsor insisted. Again, my daughter refused and the sponsor backed down.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Who knows if the local bishop is aware or even cares? There should be no wonder in anyone's mind that the world gives such little notice to the Church today. We've become so like it that the two at times are hardly distinguishable.