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By Stephanie Gordon
During this Lenten season, an antique photograph capturing a scene of a muddy village road made its rounds across Facebook. The photograph wasn't visually striking because of the dreary scene of a simpler, poorer age long ago, but for the posture of the villagers depicted therein. In it, a young priest sludges down a muddy path, his eyes lowered, and in his hands a Host. Also in the photo — and this is key — were people kneeling, in the mud, humbling themselves before Our Blessed Lord. The villagers appeared to have knelt unflinchingly, in haste, even though their arms were laden with the effects of early morning errands, and their humble garments were thrust into inches of mud. They stopped everything they were doing and got on their knees. You can see their gaze in the picture is fixed on the Sacred Host.
It's a beautiful photograph.
Reverence like this is almost nonexistent among 2018 Catholics. Look around during Sunday Mass, and you'll see a plethora of uninterested Catholics doing just about everything else, other than adoring the Host, during the Consecration.
What you'll see during a 2018 Mass include people checking their phones, getting up for bathroom breaks, having conversations, playing on iPads, pretending some article of profanity (listed below) is profound — you name it. Roundly speaking, no one there appears to believe that our Lord is truly present.
It gets worse. Liturgical abuses are normalized in parishes across the country — a far graver matter. As a personal example, I was denied my Catholic right to receive the Host on my tongue a few Sundays ago. The priest, literally, told me "no" after I stood for what seemed like 10 minutes with my tongue held out. It was embarrassing. After speaking with several other parishioners, I learned that this was standard procedure during his Masses, and everyone had just gone along with it.
Our churches are awash with cringe-worthy music, show-boat homilies, wild clapping, dozens of collections (funding questionable, at best, causes), the handling of the Host with filthy hands. Reverence is long-lost. And we wonder why our youth are leaving the Church in droves. If we don't take the Mass seriously, why would they? But here's the question — with such liturgical profanity all around, how could we? Remember the millennia-old axiom: lex orandi, lex credendi. The secret opponents of and within the Church know it well.
Militant pacifism delivered us here. Confrontation seems to be dead on arrival. Do Catholics even know it's their duty to confront their pastor should they witness liturgical abuse? Are they even aware what constitutes a liturgical abuse? Judging by the state of affairs in the Church — nope.
Since the art of confrontation is dead, long live liturgical abuses! My husband, whose mission is to bring confrontation back into vogue, approached the priest I mentioned above out of filial piety and was told to "go to another church if you don't like it." And so, the gauntlet was thrown. My husband doubled down and replied, "No, I will not go somewhere else. Instead, I will return to your line next Sunday with my wife, and you will give us what is owed." And what happened that next Sunday? The priest gave us Communion the proper way because he knew the issue would be pressed.
Catholics, you must start waging battles where you stand, even if it means priggish persistence. You must educate yourselves as to your rights as Roman Catholics. Reverence must be reclaimed in our parishes!
To guide you along your way, I compiled a short, intentionally lighthearted, list of abuses to look out for. For, there is a time for all things. If you don't laugh, you cry, as they say. The time for seriousness is during Mass, yet the time to poke fun at the madness happening during Mass, is now:
1. Horrible music. Seriously, I feel like a hostage.
This may actually be the most prominent, while not the most important, reason people are fleeing the Catholic Church. I have five kids, and they're always composing and singing little impromptu, out-of-tune songs. It's cute in my house, from my kids, and only there.
In his book, Spirit of the Liturgy, Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger declares that popular music does not belong at Mass. The thing is, though, the music at Mass aspires to be popular. That dreck is "popular" only in the strict sense that it is not "sacred." Popular music, while irreverent, has "hooks." Popular music is "in tune." Popular music is, generally, performed by people who "know more than three chords on the guitar."
I cringe every time a cantor raises his hand to invite the masses to lend their voices to an already unenjoyable performance. Honestly, the music is so bad it borders on the farcical. All Saturday Night Live would have to do would be to show up and roll cameras. Now, before one of you starts insisting the music at your parish is good, I'm going to stop you right there — it's not. Your parish's music is bad. Unless it has Gregorian Chant, of course, and then you're right, and I owe you an apology. But that apology will cover very few of you.
2. Changing pronouns in Scripture to accommodate elements of feminism
So, it turns out the Nicene Creed is purposely being said incorrectly to incorporate feminism, just what the world and the Church need more of, right? If you're hearing "for us and our salvation" during the Nicene Creed, it's an abuse. It's supposed to read "for us men and our salvation." As a matter of fact, does your parish forego the use of male pronouns entirely (especially when referring to God)? If you find your parish is guilty of these abuses, show your priest this and ask him to rectify the situation: "Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. Therefore, no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority." (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 22) And this: "Deviations from the Order are illicit, and when done intentionally they're a grave offense both against the Church and the faithful who have a right to authentic liturgy. (Inaestimabile Domum, CSDW, April 3, 1980)
3. Posture Police
Are priests and ushers all up in your business demanding that you not kneel (many churches are, illicitly, trying to do away with kneelers)? It turns out that your posture during the Mass is carefully regulated by Church law, and odds are your church isn't following the mandate correctly.
For example, it is still required for everyone to kneel during the Consecration until the Great Amen, even if there aren't any kneelers (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 21: appendix to the General Instruction 21)!
Before you start quibbling, recall those villagers kneeling in the mud. Be thankful for concrete, a kinder substrate than mud. You are required to kneel (or bow) during the words "by the power of the Holy Spirit" in the Creed (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 98). You are required to kneel before the Holy Eucharist if you should pass in front of it (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 233; CB 71).
Further, does your church resemble a 1970s Marie Callendars, with the Tabernacle hidden somewhere between Marie's pie kitchen and salad bar? Thought so. More's the pity, this constitutes abuse as well: the Tabernacle should be "placed in a part of the church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer (CIC 938). That is to say somewhere in the visible, dining portion of the restaurant.
4. No homily, boring stories and bad jokes
Do you start reflexively protecting your pocketbook when a guest speaker approaches the lectern? Does your parish usurp time allocated for the homily to advertise upcoming events or make pleas for the dreaded building fund? Abuses! No one, other than a priest, deacon or a bishop can deliver the homily during Mass. In other words, if you're not ordained, you are not permitted to speak during the time a homily is to be delivered (CIC 766–768).
Incidentally, are you weekly suffering through a tortured, third-rate comedy routine instead of enjoying a proper homily? Nope to that, too. The homily should relate the readings to one another and exegete the Gospel and indicate how their total message can be applied directly to the lives of parishioners — just read Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntianidi; Inter Oecumenici.
The priest is not supposed to be the star of the show. Jesus is. (Shout out to Fr. Joe Baca, a priest and friend, whose homilies rock the house because they're, imagine this, informative! My head exploded when he began his first homily at my parish with the words "today's Gospel from the Book of ... , means ... ." What a concept!)
5. Putting the Lord in your filthy hands (yes, even if you washed them)
It may surprise you that the practice of taking the Host in the hand is not the preferred method of the Church and Pope John Paul II disapproved of it. It is newly licit to use your hands to handle the Lord's precious body, but my question is why would you?
Contrarily, you are always allowed to receive the Host on the tongue (I wish I could have fireworks blazing out of this last sentence). Absolutely no priest (or extraordinary minister, if your Mass is occupied by thousands, see number ten) may refuse to administer Holy Communion on the tongue (General Instruction of the Roman Missal; Appendix for the United States, 240b). And yes, that also means during flu season, common byplay used by tactician-priests and bishops who abhor the better, more reverent old way.
"Mouths are filthy, too," you might retort. First off, Our Lord asked to be consumed. Take it up with Him; secondly, true, mouths are dirty, so why would you add your dirty hands into the equation?
6. Who wants to hold hands with a sweaty stranger for several awkward minutes?
Are you the unfortunate human bridging the gap in the main aisle during a sung, erratic version of the Our Father (why does every parish have their own sung rendition of this)? Or perhaps, you're the woman who always manages to sit beside the guy with inordinately sweaty palms (me)? Friends and germophobes, today, is your lucky day because holding hands during the Our Father is also an illicit addition to the liturgy.
Just adopt traditional "prayer hands," and everyone around you will assume you're just ill and happily leave you alone. You're welcome. Should you sit next to an insistent hand-holder just tell them to check out the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Notitiae (11 [1975) 226), where it says the grubby practice "must be repudiated."
Your hand-holding policy can now be reserved exclusively for significant others of the opposite sex or anyone else you're licitly comfortable exchanging universal gestures of affection with.
Oh, this also goes for the "salute-a-ma-do" hand raising thing during the "for Thine is the kingdom, the power" part of the Mass — prayer hands.
7. Rhythmic bodily demonstrations
You know what's one of the most ridiculous things ever? Dancing, like, two people in the history of the world have been any good at it. If you see dancing near the altar, in the pews or the parking lot, switch parishes immediately. This isn't "Footloose." We're bringing back the sheriff who prosecutes dancing criminally. It "reduces the liturgy to mere entertainment" ("Notitiae 11"  202–205). Again, like in number two, most dancing merely aspires to be entertaining, anyway, except ironically.
It should be obvious that this kind of free-spirited tomfoolery is wildly inappropriate during a sacred event. Imagine asking a non-pregnant woman how far along she is and then multiply that untoward sensation by a hundred — that's how inappropriate it is to dance during Mass or, for that matter, anywhere). It's uncivilized.
8. Clapping: Just don't do it.
It's bad taste. As in "wearing a garish, promotional beer tank top to a wedding" degree of bad taste (true story, my wedding). But if your parish priest requires evidence more solid before he'll agree to proscribe clapping, send him to Cdl. Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy:
Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. Such attraction fades quickly, it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation.
Chest bumping, giant novelty foam fingers, slapping high fives and fist pumping are all to be most austerely discouraged. As is the American classic "Whoop whoop!" No beer helmets, either. If the itch to do any of this should overwhelm you, you may be the only parishioner, ever, to beg to differ, regarding numbers four and seven on this list.
9. Jesus, may I interrupt You for a second for this important fundraising announcement?
Have you ever seen a parishioner interrupt Mass to announce they'll begin accepting donations to help cover their monthly expenses? Me neither, but I've seen priests do it. There is an appropriate time to make such announcements and that's after the Mass has been completed, during the church announcements. (Check out Oecumenici; Inaestimabile Donum)
I once attended a parish where the priest (who had an earring) allowed his dog to attend (read: defile) the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I still can't believe the words "is that dog supposed to be running around the altar" left my lips. What's even crazier was the usher's response: "Oh yeah, that's William. Isn't he cute?"
William was cute, but his behavior certainly lacked the decorum requisite for an altar boy — that guy took orders from no one. Incidentally, the confidence with which William strutted around the church told me that this was a regular, baffling occurrence.
10. Seven extraordinary ministers, three parishioners, distribution of Communion completed in three seconds
Extraordinary: adjective 1. Very unusual or remarkable. As in, not to be used for every regular-sized congregation. I'm no linguist, but if something is habitually used in regular situations, we describe it as "ordinary." Must we go further?
So how did your parish do? Guilty of every item on the list? Yeah, mine too. If I missed any, please feel free to leave your addition in the comments section below. The good news is that the lay faithful can help our parish priests to reclaim the reverence lost during the Mass. This is not irrevocable. After all, your parish priest, unlike William, does have to follow orders from a higher authority.