So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Awkward Transitions — A Brief Rant on Inappropriate Additions to the Mass

We've all heard some kind of awkward improvisation at the beginning of Mass. A well intentioned priest makes an attempt to be jocular or "relevant" at a moment we are supposed to be simmering down after the procession into a sober reflection on our sinful behaviour. By improvising a mini-homily rather than keeping to a brief comment on the identity of the Liturgy of the day, which is permitted by the rubrics but is probably one of the most abused permissions in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the priest then searches for a phrase to pivot to the following words of the Mass:
Brethren [brothers and sisters], let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
A word of advise to priests: let the Mass speak for itself. If the Introit and other propers (Offertory and Communion chants) are sung—and there are now excellent vernacular settings which fit the bill, e.g., the Simple English Propers, for one—the identity of a particular Mass will be made known to the people so they can enter into the character of that Mass. The Proper chants and proper prayers prescribed by Holy Mother Church are the necessary biographical attributes of Christ in His Liturgy. It is His Liturgy after all, not ours to invent or impose ourselves upon.

Another all too common awkward moment comes at the very beginning of the Liturgy. A priest eager to set people at ease, for example, adds to the greeting of the Mass (Sign of the Cross; The Lord be with you.) some version of 'good morning' that reduces an encounter with Christ in the Penitential Act to a trite greeting at a local coffee shop among patrons deprived of or jacked up on caffeine and sugary doughnuts. If "sugar" is what people crave, then they should wait until "fellowship time" in the parish hall after Mass. Usually there's plenty of syrup to go around during the after-mass.

Get the lead out.

Dear priests and bishops, just give us the Mass, no less, no more. Not all of you are gifted orators, but you can be faithful without all the flash. Jesus speaks through the humblest of words of His priests. Even if you are a Bishop Sheen or Father Robert Barron, less is often more. Learn from the Extraordinary Form. Resist drawing attention to yourselves. Resist the temptation to be relevant or topical by tossing lather and blather over the beautiful prayers of the Mass. Avoid the temptation to trivialize the silence in the Mass by filling it with needless pulp that only serves to hinder the accelerando and crescendo toward the Consecration and Holy Communion. A well celebrated Liturgy is like a virtuosic performance of a symphonic work. The conductor of the symphony knows that his gestures must be precise if the music is to be realized in a way that is faithful to the musical score and intent of the composer. (Thankfully, even when a conductor's gesturing is less than artful, the glory of a great work can still shine through. More than a few orchestral performers I have known, myself included, have ignored the bizarre gesticulations of an inept "frontman" in order to faithfully serve the music.) The Mass, which is a symphony of contrition, divine teaching and encounter with the Risen Lord, needs no embellishment, especially if the embellishment amounts to covering over the gold of the Divine Liturgy with the lead of trivial banter.

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