I ask you.
This fellow recounts his usual Old Mass experience in detail.
“And then I go to Sunday Mass,” he says, where the New Order prevails. It’s what he calls “the Novus Quodlibet: the New Whatever.”
I kneel and try to pray before Mass. I’m trying to say those preparatory prayers that used to be in the old missal, but seem to have been banished, certainly from the experience of the churchgoers, because the place is usually abuzz with conversation. Mainly I hear whispers from old ladies. It would tend to be old ladies, as their demographic opposites, young men, seem to have been wiped out in a massacre, and are nowhere to be found.
A woman ascends the pulpit. She says her name, then welcomes everybody. I do not want to know her name, and I am trying to pray. She announces the names of the readers, the Eucharistic ministers, and the altar servers. She announces the name of the priest. At one church, I am urged to get up (if I can; they make allowances for people with disabilities) and greet the people around me by name. I do not want to do this. I find it false. I do not remember the names of strangers, and I do not like to give my name out to strangers, either. It’s an act of aggressive etiquette, parading as bonhomie. I do not go to church for bonhomie. If I ever wanted it, I would go to a bar and order gin and tonic.
The choir, milling about up front, finally puts themselves in order. Then comes the hymn.
Here I am three and four times cursed.
I have read and taught poetry all my adult life. This is one curse. I know English grammar. That is a second curse. My family and I are versed in the long tradition of Christian hymnody; we collect hymnals from all traditions, and we have sung one or two thousand of them, sometimes in languages other than English. This is a third and most terrible curse. And we know our Scripture. Cursed a fourth time, cursed and damned to writhe in eternal pain. Well, not eternal. The pain is transient but real—pain mingled with frustration and disappointment, that well-meaning people should give their talents and energies to stuff that is so worthless, and sometimes worse than worthless. For sometimes it is flat-out heresy.
Well, I won’t sing heresy, and I won’t sing chloroform for the brain, and this means that I hardly ever sing at such Masses. (I say a quiet prayer of gratitude for the goodwill of the singers instead.) No need here to bring up, like ill-digested onions, the specifics. What strikes me, though, is the general liturgical lassitude. I don’t mean that there is not often a lot of energy, with drums, verses projected on the wall, and sometimes applause. I mean that there’s no plan to it, no aim. You are as likely to sing the peculiarly awful “Gather Us In”—well, that’s an onion, sorry—during Advent as in the middle of the summer, and if the choristers, or the lady at the piano, or the tenor at the organ likes it, you may be singing it twenty times a year. The hymns are chosen by the musicians for the same reason as the cartoon-like banners on the wall. Somebody who has wangled his way into the works likes them.
If you go to Mass every Sunday and every holy day during the year, and if four hymns are sung at each Mass, this gives you the opportunity to sing over two hundred different hymns. Need I say that, outside of the Christmas carols and three or four old Easter hymns, the typical Novus Quodlibet church boasts a repertoire of eight or nine? The same, the same, the same, like the drip, drip, drip of cold rain, without meaning, without artistic coherence, and without any feint toward the whole of the liturgical year and the history of salvation.
Many of them are narcissistic, rather like “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. “Let us build the City of God,” really? I cannot build the City of God. I can be made, by God, into a stone for the building of that spiritual city, but the action is his, not mine. “We have been sung throughout all of history”? I haven’t been sung even once in my whole life, and if I ever were to be, I would surely want to slug the singer. “Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord?” Why, who ever would have thought!
But as the music, so the rest.
Often the priest will, after the entrance hymn, arrogate attention to himself, and say hello to the people, and crack a joke, and there’s nothing evil about that, no. It’s all friendly, in a pleasant and shallow way, and it gives you the sure sense that you are there for this reason or that reason, whatever floats your boat. Sometimes the altar servers have nothing to do but stand by and look pretty, while lay people potter about. Everybody gets involved, right, except the churches aren’t full.
In Canada, we have been instructed not to kneel, no, except for the first part of the Eucharistic prayer. We do not kneel after the Agnus Dei. We are not supposed to kneel after communion, but are to remain standing, in solidarity with the other people in line at Tim Horton’s—I mean, in line for communion; and then when everyone has received, why, naturally, everyone sits down. There is no sense to this, no art of prayer. [boldface added]
I have registered such complaints and read others’. But he’s pretty good, isn’t he?
via Crisis Magazine