Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Jenga" Mass

Update: See "Jenga" Mass, part 2 for the letter I wrote to the priest who celebrated Mass for us.

You know the game Jenga. You pull out a wooden brick from the tower and place it on the top, trying to prevent the tower from crashing (either during the removal or addition of the block).

If the tower doesn't fall, you've still got a problem. You've got a tower with bricks missing in the middle and extra bricks teetering precariously on the top; that would be an "illicit" building: it's still a tower, but you can tell something's not right about it. It would probably generate scandal (over the construction of such a tower), confusion (as to what is a tower), and uncertainty (over whether the tower can actually be lived in). If the tower falls, crashing down in a pile of confusion, you could say it was rendered "invalid": it would no longer be a tower, it would be a pile of rubble. It would not serve the purpose for which it was intended (because it has changed so drastically).

Well, now imagine that tower is the Liturgy of the Mass, and the individual wooden bricks are red... they're red-bricks, ruber-bricks, rubr-icks... rubrics!

Now imagine that a priest celebrates the Mass by seeing how many rubrics he can remove from the liturgy, and how many rubrics of his own invention he can add to the liturgy, without making the liturgy crumble apart into a pile of rubric-rubble. We could call that the "Jenga" Mass: how much can you abuse the liturgy, how far can you reconstruct the liturgy to your own liking, never overstepping the fine line between illicit and invalid?

Well, I attended one such Mass very recently. Before I go on, I'd like to state, for the record, that I do not attend any Mass expecting -- or, God forbid, hoping -- to find, nor looking for, liturgical abuses, but, because I have read the GIRM and other documents on the liturgy, I recognize abuses when I see them, because I pay attention to the Mass. What follows is my blunt account of what happened. I basically point out each of the changes to the proper liturgy that I recognized. Trust me, they weren't veiled or hidden, they were blunt. The priest didn't "forget", he did things deliberately in his way.
Has anyone here read "Why Catholics Can't Sing" by Thomas Day? Chapter 5 is entitled "Ego Renewal", and it talks (among other things) about the increase in priest-performers, who interject themselves and their whole personality into their "performance" of the Mass. Keep that in mind.

I attended Mass last night with a small group of young adults (Catholics in our mid-20's to early 30's). It took place at a chapel (dedicated to the Miraculous Medal) at a seminary, so one of the priests in residence said Mass for us. The chapel is old enough that the seating is antiphonal -- that is, the pews are arranged along the sides of the church facing each other. (Examples: here and here) There were only five of us (plus the priest), so we all (including the priest) sat in a group, in the pews up on the level of the sanctuary.

I was to read the First Reading (from Romans 14), and I was curious where I would read from -- there was a podium at the opposite end of the chapel, and I had suggested moving it up near the sanctuary. This wouldn't be necessary, I was told by "Bill" (name changed). Bill -- that is, Fr. Bill -- said I could read it from where I was. Bill had asked, before Mass, whether he should put on his vestments. Thankfully, he did. Before Mass, he told us that since we were such a small group, we should feel free to relax, and to interrupt him to ask questions at any point, and that he would probably be interjecting at times to explain what he was doing (I suppose as the "commentator" of GIRM 105b). Throughout the rest of this post, [bracketed text in bold red] are things I wanted to ask, but held back because of charity.

Mass began seated, not standing [GIRM 43, 124], in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. [Why don't we stand, Fr. Bill?] The altar was not kissed [GIRM 123] -- Bill hadn't approached it. [Why didn't you kiss the altar, Fr. Bill?] Bill told us about the readings we would hear (which is acceptable, since it's following GIRM 31). The Act of Penitence [GIRM 51, 125] was skipped (we went directly to the Kyrie, without doing A, B, or C of the Act of Penitence). Then the opening prayer. Then I read the First Reading, sitting in my chair (rather than (standing?) at the ambo [GIRM 58]). Then I passed the Lectionary behind me to the woman who read the Responsorial Psalm from her chair (not the ambo, nor would I consider where we were a "suitable place" [GIRM 61])... she wasn't very comfortable with the whole thing either, I might add.

When she finished, I turned around to receive the Lectionary back from her and hand it to Bill who was sitting next to me. Instead, he told her to give it to whomever she wished (such as the man sitting on the other side of Bill) to read the Gospel. [Why don't you read the Gospel, Fr. Bill?] So a layman [GIRM 58], sitting (as we all were) [GIRM 60, 131], read the Gospel. [Why don't we stand, Fr. Bill?] The Lectionary was not blessed with the sign of the cross [GIRM 134], it was not kissed [GIRM 134], and I highly doubt the layman (or Bill, for that matter) said the prescribed prayers before [GIRM 132, 175] and after [GIRM 134] reading it.

At this point, after the Gospel, I really wanted to turn to Bill and ask So who shall we choose to give the homily? But he gave it (or did he give in?). And when he was done, he asked for our input to add. Only one person offered. Then we prayed the general intercessions.

And then Bill invited us up to stand at the altar [Notitiae 17:61]. [Why are we standing at the altar, Fr. Bill?] He asked me to bring the paten with the bread to the altar, and I did; he then started talking about what would we would be doing, how Jesus is present in the Eucharist, and that we acting communally make him present. I'm not sure exactly what he said. I was bringing the chalice to the altar, and then I stood to the side with the water and wine. Bill said, "Oh, an altar boy", and told me I could leave them on the altar, because we were about to do something.

He explained he would pass the bread around to each one of us so we could pray quietly over it to ask God to let us partake of it and be part of it. [Why... just, why, Fr. Bill?] He handed me the paten, and I prayed privately "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world" three times (from the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, for reparation for sins committed against the Most Blessed Sacrament), and passed the paten to the woman who read the Psalm. (She told me later that she didn't do anything, because she was so uncomfortable.) After Bill said (silently, which is fine) the prescribed prayers ("Blessed are you...") over the bread, he noticed there was no purificator. After one was finally found, he prayed over the wine, and then asked me to help him wash his hands, which I did.

When it came time for the Orate, fratres ("Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice..."), I seem to recall him changing the words slightly, and speaking the response with us. Now, I'm pretty sure the response is proper to the assembly, not to the priest (since we say "May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands..."); I know he said it, though, because he introduced inclusive language by replacing the word "His" with "God's". This leads me to think the change I noticed earlier to be something like "... to Almighty God", instead of the words "... to God, the Almighty Father".

So there we were, standing around the altar. After "Holy Holy Holy", I knelt. I grimaced when he said "Let us proclaim our faith" after the consecration of the wine -- changing the words of the liturgy is strictly forbidden, and I wonder if his failure to say "mystery" is the gravest abuse of all that happened at that Mass. [Why did you say it that way, Fr. Bill?] I stood up again for the "Our Father". He truncated the "Deliver us, Lord..." prayer. [Why didn't you say all of the Libera nos, Fr. Bill?] I was pleasantly surprised to see him looking down at the Host and Chalice when he prayed the "Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your Apostles...". I knelt again after the "Lamb of God". Bill said his own preface at this point, instead of "This is the Lamb of God...", so of course (as is always the case when these words get changed), he had to let us know when he was done by "intoning" the response: "Lord..." after which we completed: "I am not worthy..." He communicated, then we did (with an EMHC for the Chalice). (I was very grateful he did not have us receive at the same time as he did, as concelebrants would. I would have absolutely lost it.) He waited until after Mass to purify the vessels, which is ok, but I really don't understand why priests wait (or why some priests have other people do it). [Why not purify the vessels now, Fr. Bill?] Then we all sat down again, and he said the closing prayer (seated, like us [GIRM 43]), the blessing, and dismissal. No one had interrupted him to ask him questions.

Then he said, "Oh, you know what we forgot?" I was thinking, "What else could he possibly have omitted?" He said, "We didn't have a collection! I'll need to check the books, to make sure this was still a valid Mass." [Why on earth would you wonder that, Fr. Bill?] I could not help but think that was directed at me. See, I was visibly anxious throughout the Mass; I'd been curious about where the readings would happen, I was formal with Fr. Bill (calling him "Father"), I had my hands folded, my head bowed most of the time, I was the only one who knelt at the Eucharistic Prayer, etc.

Please pray for Fr. Bill (God will know who you're talking about) and the other priests of his order (we'd already had one Mass with another... the tattered cuffs of his jeans peaking out beneath his alb and stole (sans chasuble), seated prayer, "communal" homily, etc.). Also pray for me, if you could, because my charity's at an all-time low right now.
Now, here is what Redemptionis Sacramentum (henceforth RS) has to say about abuses to the liturgy (emphases in bold red):

[169.] Whenever an abuse is committed in the celebration of the sacred Liturgy, it is to be seen as a real falsification of Catholic Liturgy. St Thomas wrote, “the vice of falsehood is perpetrated by anyone who offers worship to God on behalf of the Church in a manner contrary to that which is established by the Church with divine authority, and to which the Church is accustomed”.

[170.] In order that a remedy may be applied to such abuses, “there is a pressing need for the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful”, so that the Church’s faith and discipline concerning the sacred Liturgy may be accurately presented and understood. Where abuses persist, however, proceedings should be undertaken for safeguarding the spiritual patrimony and rights of the Church in accordance with the law, employing all legitimate means.

[171.] Among the various abuses there are some which are objectively graviora delicta or otherwise constitute grave matters, as well as others which are nonetheless to be carefully avoided and corrected. Bearing in mind everything that is treated especially in Chapter I of this Instruction, attention should be paid to what follows.

1. Graviora delicta

[172.] Graviora delicta against the sanctity of the Most August Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist are to be handled in accordance with the ‘Norms concerning graviora delicta reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’, namely:

a) taking away or retaining the consecrated species for sacrilegious ends, or the throwing them away;

b) the attempted celebration of the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice or the simulation of the same;

c) the forbidden concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with ministers of Ecclesial Communities that do not have the apostolic succession nor acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly Ordination;

d) the consecration for sacrilegious ends of one matter without the other in the celebration of the Eucharist or even of both outside the celebration of the Eucharist.

2. Grave Matters

[173.] Although the gravity of a matter is to be judged in accordance with the common teaching of the Church and the norms established by her, objectively to be considered among grave matters is anything that puts at risk the validity and dignity of the Most Holy Eucharist: namely, anything that contravenes what is set out above in nn. 48-52, 56, 76-77, 79, 91-92, 94, 96, 101-102, 104, 106, 109, 111, 115, 117, 126, 131-133, 138, 153 and 168. Moreover, attention should be given to the other prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law, and especially what is laid down by canons 1364, 1369, 1373, 1376, 1380, 1384, 1385, 1386, and 1398.

3. Other Abuses

[174.] Furthermore, those actions that are brought about which are contrary to the other matters treated elsewhere in this Instruction or in the norms established by law are not to be considered of little account, but are to be numbered among the other abuses to be carefully avoided and corrected.

[175.] The things set forth in this Instruction obviously do not encompass all the violations against the Church and its discipline that are defined in the canons, in the liturgical laws and in other norms of the Church for the sake of the teaching of the Magisterium or sound tradition. Where something wrong has been committed, it is to be corrected according to the norm of law.

4. The Diocesan Bishop

[176.] The diocesan Bishop, “since he is the principal dispenser of the mysteries of God, is to strive constantly so that Christ’s faithful entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments, and that they may know and live the Paschal Mystery”. It is his responsibility, “within the limits of his competence, to issue norms on liturgical matters by which all are bound”.

[177.] “Since he must safeguard the unity of the universal Church, the Bishop is bound to promote the discipline common to the entire Church and therefore to insist upon the observance of all ecclesiastical laws. He is to be watchful lest abuses encroach upon ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and the veneration of the Saints”.

[178.] Hence whenever a local Ordinary or the Ordinary of a religious Institute or of a Society of apostolic life receives at least a plausible notice of a delict or abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist, let him carefully investigate, either personally or by means of another worthy cleric, concerning the facts and the circumstances as well as the imputability.

[179.] Delicts against the faith as well as graviora delicta committed in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments are to be referred without delay to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which “examines [them] and, if necessary, proceeds to the declaration or imposition of canonical sanctions according to the norm of common or proper law”.

[180.] Otherwise the Ordinary should proceed according the norms of the sacred canons, imposing canonical penalties if necessary, and bearing in mind in particular that which is laid down by canon 1326. If the matter is serious, let him inform the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

5. The Apostolic See

[181.] Whenever the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments receives at least a plausible notice of a delict or an abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist, it informs the Ordinary so that he may investigate the matter. When the matter turns out to be serious, the Ordinary should send to the same Dicastery as quickly as possible a copy of the acts of the inquiry that has been undertaken, and where necessary, the penalty imposed.

[182.] In more difficult cases the Ordinary, for the sake of the good of the universal Church in the care for which he too has a part by virtue of his sacred Ordination, should not fail to handle the matter, having previously taken advice from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. For its part, this Congregation, on the strength of the faculties given to it by the Roman Pontiff, according to the nature of the case, will assist the Ordinary, granting him the necessary dispensations or giving him instructions or prescriptions, which he is to follow diligently.

6. Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.
It also says I have certain rights, including these four (found in nos. 11-12):
  1. The right "to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church’s life in accordance with her tradition and discipline"
  2. The right "that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms"
  3. The right "that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church’s Magisterium", and
  4. The right "that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factions in the Church"
So then, where do we stand?

I know the priest used a different Eucharistic Prayer, although I believe it is "legitimately approved by the Apostolic see" (RS 51), but because I believe it to be approved, I cannot believe its translation of mysterium fidei is "let us proclaim our faith", which is what the priest said. (I am really unsure about the validity of the Mass because of his failure to say the approved translation of mysterium fidei, although I understand they are not technically words of consecration. I'm not a big fan of "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith" either, but that's what the Rome-approved translation from the ICEL says.)

He considering saying Mass without vestments on (RS 126)... but decided against it, thank God.

He placed a layman (or two, if you count the comments by a layman after the homily) in a difficult situation by having him read the Gospel, which I believe constitutes "assum[ing] the role ... of a Priest" (RS 153) since the Gospel and homily are to be proclaimed and given by a Priest or Deacon only, never a layperson (excluding the reading of the Passion of Our Lord).

I bring these three items up because they fall into the category of "grave abuses" mentioned above (RS 173). The first (RS 51) might simply be relegated to RS 59, which reads (emphasis mine): "The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy." The second (RS 126) was avoided, but considered (seriously, as far as I can tell). The third (RS 153), if I have interpreted it correctly, certainly occurred; although no priestly vestments were worn by anyone apart from the priest, one or two laymen fulfilled roles designated for the priest.

I will certainly figure out the most charitable way to handle the reporting of these abuses; I will not be hasty or vindictive, but I want to make sure that no one is put in such a position again.

One last note... before Mass, the priest asked the five of us that were at the Mass what our jobs were. This was after I had already come across (I think) as a liturgically-minded person. I wonder, should I have said: "Why, I'm an intern at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments!"


Gretchen said...

Japhy, thanks for sharing this painful experience. With the issues I'm having with RCIA, I can see the vital importance of being an educated Catholic.

japhy said...

Thanks, Gretchen. I've written a letter (with a far less inflammatory tone) to the priest in question and dropped it off at his residence this afternoon. Hopefully, good things will come from this.