Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mass on vacation—you never know what you’re going to get

We recently took a family vacation to a small Midwest town with only one Catholic church. We would be there for two weekends, so we knew we would be hearing Mass—and that non-Catholic family might be coming with us.

That first Sunday morning we pulled into a packed parking lot. There was a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the pathway to the church and a sign pointing to the Adoration Chapel. Entering the church, the sanctuary was filled with stained glass windows depicting saints, and there was a large crucifix above the altar. There were also statues flanked by candles, holy water fonts, well-worn kneelers in the pews—in short, all the Catholic stuff. And the church building itself wasn’t half bad to look at, either.


But things took a decided turn as soon as the liturgy began.


The music was trite at best, with a random flutist piping up occasionally from the balcony. I found myself distracted by the Eucharistic minister wearing a strapless sundress, and the deacon who popped the consecrated Host into his mouth and chomped on it like a tortilla chip while he shared a chuckle with the priest. There was a lot of clapping, hands in the air, and a mass exodus following communion. Our Protestant guest described it well: “That was...noisy.”


Indeed it was. And nothing like our parish back home, which family has also visited.


One parish feels like church camp for ten-year-olds, complete with guitars, clapping, and catchy pop songs. Another is imbued with solemnity, silence, and a line out the door for confession.


It’s hard to reconcile as a Catholic, and even more challenging to explain to a Protestant.


Put simply, it's frustrating. It’s always nice to have some idea what you’re in for. You return to a restaurant because the food is great. You are loyal to a brand because of the quality of their products. You pull out your great-grandmother’s apple pie recipe every Thanksgiving because it’s familiar, fantastic, and reminds you of holidays growing up. There are no surprises: there is comfort in a lack of surprise, in tradition.


The Mass of St. Gregory by Adriaen Isenbrandt (first half of 16th century)
Like that passed-down family recipe, I find myself craving some continuity between parishes. Because while parishes might look different, and Mass might be said in a different language, the solemnity and reverence for the divine should remain. Instead I am left with the odd feeling that maybe I’ve entered the wrong building. It did say “Catholic” on the sign outside, right?

Because if it is a Catholic church, then there is the sacrifice of the Mass: and there is the Real Presence. The Curé of Ars said, “All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice
of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.”

If we believe this awesome reality, there should be a corresponding gravitas to the Mass—any Mass, no matter where we are. We should not be forced to explain striking dissimilarities between parishes that are different in every respect—indeed, in their degree of respect. Because the noise, the immodesty, the smartphones, the banter at the altar, are all a diversion and distraction from the glory due to God. And they proclaim loud and clear that we don't actually believe in the Real Presence.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the Host. Be assiduous in the prayer of adoration and teach it to the faithful. It is a source of comfort and light, particularly to those who are suffering.”


And which of us is not suffering in the midst of noise, in need of comfort and light?