The Catholic Thing
Mass with 'Nowhere Man' Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Wednesday, 21 October 2009

An ex-student e-mailed me from Ireland. What he reported could have happened in many places, in many lands. His account follows: “I was walking down the street this Sunday in one of Dublin’s suburbs. I passed by a parish, whose name I liked. Mass was just starting, so I popped inside.” So far, so good. A time was when what went on inside was pretty much the same all over. It was a comforting thought that we could be at home almost anywhere.

“It was a beautiful looking church,” the student went on, “that is, until the annoying folk-group started playing some unrecognizable hippie song as the entrance hymn. That was followed by a downright Marxist sermon on the “easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” Gospel reading. The priest also lamented that there are not more female doctors of the Church, a rather obscure and irrelevant complaint, I thought. It is depressing that our modern obsession with quotas and ‘gender equality’ has made it this far.” Well, we know lots of things have made it to Ireland of late. We would only be surprised if they did not make it.

“The icing on the cake,” the young man concluded, “was ‘Nowhere Man’ by the Beatles as the Communion Hymn. I can’t remember walking out of a church so forlorn, aside from funerals, I suppose.” Had it been Schall, I think I probably would have said, “including funerals.”

The word “forlorn” struck me. It was the perfect word to describe a sane young man’s reaction to such a “performance.” I wondered if any of the local parishioners were equally “forlorn” – or the bishop.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a conference in Baltimore at which Father Joseph Fessio officiated at the Saturday-evening-Sunday Mass. Before Mass, there was a group of about twenty; he brought out the priestly vestments. As he put each on, he explained what it was, its significance in the Mass or life of the priest. He then explained that at Benedict’s private Masses, communion was now only given when the people kneel and on the tongue.

Father Fessio next said that the pope preferred at least some Latin at Mass. We could sing the Sanctus, Agnus Dei, or Salve Regina. When these well-known chants are sung, everyone joins in. Next, since the readings and homily are directed to the congregation, the priest faced them. But when it came to the Canon, the priest and congregation were to face the same direction, to the East, to the worship of the Father. The Canon was said in Novus Ordo Latin. I do not think there was any forlornness here. “Nowhere Man” was nowhere to be found.

“Nowhere Man,” I suppose, could symbolize a lost soul or a sheep. Christ was once said to have had “nowhere to lay His head.” The very logic of our being is that we find no rest in anything less than God Himself. But we are each somewhere and He is seeking us.

The Catholic is better described as a “Somewhere Man.” One might say that Christ, in Nazareth, was conceived in the “middle of nowhere.” Certainly it was not a popular tourist spot for visiting Romans or Greeks. But it was a place on the divine map, located easily enough by the Angel Gabriel.

Nor does it seem to be an accident that Christ was subsequently born in the time of Caesar Augustus in Bethlehem. We believe in the transcendent destiny of each human person. He will reach it whether we believe it or not. We are all born, or in the case of the aborted, killed, in specific, known towns, cities, and places.

I like to remind myself of what the Mass is. It is not a community celebration or buffet. It is not a place where we hear the latest ideology dressed up in Christian terms. Rather, it is where ideology hears what is revealed.

Only one Mass is ever celebrated in the history of the world. The Mass is in the now-time of the risen Christ. He told us to do this supper-leading-to-the-Cross in memory of Him. Golgotha was indeed a forlorn place. But we now look upon it at Mass making present the broken Body and the Blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. The Mass is the worship of the Father.

Again I think of the young man’s word on exiting the Dublin church. This is the last feeling that the Mass should leave in our souls. But if the Mass appears more like a folk picnic or warmed over ideology set to the latest tunes, to describe the reaction it leaves in our hearts, we can probably think of no better word than, yes, “forlorn.”

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is
The Mind That Is Catholic.

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Comments (21)Add Comment
written by Liz, October 22, 2009
Where I have been attending Mass lately I feel more at a Methodist service than a Catholic Mass. We rarely sing Catholic hymns. We have a 65-yr-old priest who complains about the new liturgy, the old songs and celibacy - he is lonely. We have a nun who is director of religious ed and whines about not being able to be a priest. The church is run by women. The only man on staff is the janitor. And, this is the norm for Central Florida. Hand waivers & hand holders rule. Sorry state
Where sin abounds ...
written by Richard A, October 22, 2009
grace abounds the more.
Central Florida Catholic
written by Sandy O'Seay, October 22, 2009
I am sorry that Liz has had such a bad experience and sympathize with her. However, I also attend Mass in Central Florida, where we have a deeply fulfilling spiritual experience each Sunday, with a traditional priest, with good homilies. Yes, a nun runs the educational program, but she is traditional, orthodox and excellent.
written by Frankly, October 22, 2009
What's a Catholic doing at Georgetown?
written by Bradley, October 22, 2009
The genius of Benedict was on display this week with the Anglican announcement. Despite his apparent personal preference for Latin, his vision of the liturgy is not limited to a single rite or language. Hence, Anglican hymns and a fully Catholic liturgy with the Elizabethan English of Cranmer will now join the Latin Tridentine Rite, the Novus Ordo in the vernacular, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in Old Slovanic, etc. None are forlorn, all are Catholic. May Jesus Christ be praised!
written by John McCarthy, October 22, 2009
Happily, my experience at St. Mary's in Waltham, MA resembles Sandy's more than that of Liz. Leadership is so vital, and prayer becomes more important than ever... Fr. Schall reports an experience that, alas, is all too common.
O Tempora Mores
written by joseph, October 22, 2009
The Mass of today bears little resemblance to my boyhood 50+ years ago when the Latin liturgy filled parishioners with the awe of the Mysteries of Christ. Which is I why don't go to Mass regularly any more. These days many Catholic churches are home to bingo games and folk concerts, downgrading the sacred in favor of the profane and modern.
It's a shame that the Church has succumbed to modernism.

"The Mass is the temporalization in our time and localization in space of Calvary." -- Bishop Sheen
written by Teresa, October 22, 2009
Modern Ideologies and Movements have definitely replaced sound teaching and common sense in homilies. The most effective move that the dissenters of Vatican II pulled was hijacking the music at the liturgy. Modern folk hymns are anything but natural and easy harmonies. Long held notes, multiple sharps and flats and wide ranges make it impossible for anyone without a training in music to participate. Whereas music once awakened the soul at mass, it now distracts and flattens it.
Hijacking Vatican II
written by w, October 22, 2009
Forlorn, meaning desolate and unhappy, is the perfect word for that production you described. It seems that since Vatican II the soteriological aspect of the Mass has been downplayed to a communal celebration- no Sacrifice of the Mass anymore. I guess this is to please the Reformers. Its a shame one has to be submitted to some of the liturgical pop music of the day. It's a shame if one wants to hear classical Catholic hymns or Gregorian Chant, he has to go to a record store. Kyrie eleison.
After the hootenanny....
written by William, October 22, 2009
Forlorn? How about all those teeth marks on my car's steering wheel?
Get used to it.
written by Bob G, October 22, 2009
We've read hundreds of complaints like this. Time to move on. I loath the "reformed" post-council liturgies but just try to focus on what's really happening and it works— except, I confess, that, like Theresa, I just cannot abide those horrible hymns ("come dance in the forest, come play in the fields!"--you dance! you play! you moron) the Catholic music directors prefer. The music is ghastly! But we'll just wait it out and sooner or later the perps will die off, and we may outlive a few.
Record store?
written by W., October 22, 2009
"It's a shame if one wants to hear classical Catholic hymns or Gregorian Chant, he has to go to a record store."

What's a record store?
Worshiping in Florida
written by B, October 22, 2009
Sorry about your bad luck Liz. I reside in West Central Fla. There is much to praise God for here. Not the least of is Ave Maria College and I believe Fr. Fessio is a part of that community. While it is beneficial to experience a liturgy that is focused on worship of Our Lord, & not ourselves, let's pray for the priests and communities that are "forlorn". Especially in this year of priests. Regardless of his experience in Ireland the man left mass with the pearl of great price...Jesus.
Latin - why the appeal?
written by Dave, October 22, 2009
While I am in complete agreement with most of the comments, I cannot understand the fascination with Latin. Would Jesus want the Truth told to us in a foreign language? The Mysteries are beautiful in English; why add mystery to them?
I Agree... 90%
written by Michael Hebert, October 22, 2009
I agree that "Nowhere Man" is inappropriate for the Mass, and that many Catholic services have liberalized it too much. But I can't go along with the implication that we must go back to the Latin Rite. I don't understand Latin, and thus wouldn't understand the Mass any more. Jesus didn't preach in Latin, and neither did any of the Apostles. Paul preached in Greek and Aramaic. I also don't think facing the congregation is such a big deal. Not all of the Novus Ordo is bad.
What did Jesus say?
written by debby, October 22, 2009
Let not your heart be troubled.....
it is my "bent" to be forlorn many times at Mass, as you noted, the music is a distraction, we endure the most banal talks instead of learning what God has to say, let alone expect to be inspired! of late, i have been trying to present myself to our Lady, a dirty shepherd, a poor bride out of wine, knowing She will present me to Him, & He will make all things new.
but keeping our chin up IS TOUGH!
written by Elizabeth, October 23, 2009
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the title of article. My husband and I attended a deacon retreat where a rogue guitarist insisted that Nowhere Man be sung at Communion. Most of us just stared in astonishment thinking, "What in the world?" Apparently this wasn't an isolated incident. Go figure.
From The Thorn Bush
written by Paul Zerovnik, October 23, 2009
I read your article, and am left wondering do you just have trouble with a fresh move of Gods Holy Spirit& or do you think that the traditional Irish Catholic experience is the only experience? Because the traditional Eucharistic experience was liturgical yet does not match in any way the first century believers or even match well with our modren African catholics. Yes nowhere man disturbs me and can be construed as well a Apostolic need for some priestly pruning. We all were not there.
written by Mrs. Rene O, October 24, 2009
At my son's graduation Mass the music for the song chosen to help us meditate on the fact we had just received the Body,Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist was John Lennon's "Imagine" - imagine there's no Heaven, it's easy if you try!!! And that is just one example - it's happening all the time. And after Mass when I close my eyes for thanksgiving - one would think it was a Bing Hall! Hopefully B16 will bring the reverence back to our Mass. Oh I'm Irish by the way. - Rene
the big deal with Latin
written by Jennifer, October 24, 2009
Latin is the language of the Church in much the same way that Hebrew is the language of the Synagogue. The primary difference is that the practicing Jewish community still teaches Hebrew to their children. While I would not want the entire Mass in Latin, I do think there is much to recommend learning prayers and many of the chants that are in Latin. It gives the universal church a universal common language.
Nowhere Man
written by Sabirna, December 23, 2009
Now I love folk masses and have actually played guitar at quite a few in my time, but the song "Nowhere Man"? That's probably not the best choice, based on either a Scriptural or Catholic dogma perspective. As for the sermon, what is wrong with that one? Calling a Bible verse "Marxist?" There should less emphasis on materialism/capitalism which have their roots in greed and selfishness, both of which are sins. As for women doctors of the church, why not? The Church is made of men AND women.

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