The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Winters of My Discontent Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 31 December 2012

Editor’s Note: As we come to the end of 2012, I want publicly to thank our staff – Brad Miner, Hannah Russo, and Maria Hungerford – and our regular and irregular writers for making this an orderly place where Catholicity can be presented and discussed. And you too, gentle readers. Deep thanks to all of you who turn to this page daily and tell us of your appreciation. We are engaged in important work here – timely and eternal work. And everyone has a role to play in this effort. Please help us to maintain and to grow this labor. Tell your family and friends about what they can find here. And please, those of you who can do so, make a contribution to The Catholic Thing so that we continue to be here, fighting the good fight, in 2013. – Robert Royal

 

I shall set the scene:

Every year on Christmas Eve our family gathers with two other families who have children the same ages as ours – they grew up together – and we exchange gifts and eat filet mignon and seared tuna, and enjoy ourselves altogether too much. In vino veritas!

Most Christmas mornings I fall out of bed and drive two towns over to Mass, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone during the kiss of peace, and later my wife and sons and I drive up to my sister-in-law’s place in Connecticut to open family presents.

But this year I decided to go to the nearest church – not the one to which I belong – to attend the 5:00 Vigil Mass, the better to make my life a little easier on Christmas Day.

I made this decision with some trepidation, however. I consider this neighborhood church notorious for its liturgical laxity, which is why I rarely go there, despite the fact that it’s three hundred yards from my front door.

“In April, 1966,” the church’s website informs us, “construction of the new church with seating for 850 began, guided by the norms of the Second Vatican Council.” I admit I don’t know if this refers to architectural norms or just to the novus ordo, but I’ve attended several Masses there and always come away slightly stunned.

But it was Christmas Eve, and I figured: How bad can it be? Here’s how bad:

To begin with, there were easily a thousand folks crammed into the church: not only was it standing-room-only inside the sanctuary, the vestibule was three or four rows deep with parishioners, and there were plenty of people outside on the church steps too, although a bunch of them were smokers.

Now, as it was later explained to me, this Christmas Eve Mass is considered a children’s service, which may explain the thinking behind what I’m about to describe, although it does not justify it. The lectors were all kids in their early teens, and the choir was composed of a half dozen pre-teen kids, who spent a lot of time waving to grandparents, who were not shy about taking cellphone photos of the little ones and immediately posting them to Facebook.

The celebrant gave an impromptu greeting before the sign of the cross that elsewhere would have qualified as a full-length homily, and he joked about the size of the crowd (which it must be said was impressive, fire laws notwithstanding), and said it was gratifying to see so many familiar faces and so many guests, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, blah-blah and blah.

The priest made short work of the Penitential Act, and then came the lectors and the actual homily, and that’s where it got just a little bit weird.

He wanted, he said, to talk about the spirit of Christmas. And when we speak of that spirit, he explained, we’re really speaking about the Holy Spirit, but in the midst of holiday cheer, gift buying, and the commercialization of the holiday, we may loose sight of who the Spirit really is.

I’m thinking, Well, I do wish this church had a pulpit and the priest, with his wireless mike, wouldn’t pace about like a Veg-o-Matic salesman, but so far the homily makes sense . . .

But then he said:

“And I can illustrate this best by bringing out some guests who are here with us tonight. Hold on a moment while I go get them.”

He walked around to the back of the oval chancel, took hold of something, and then came around to the front of the altar. He was dragging three inflatable plastic snowmen: mother, father, and child.

“These are the Winters,” he said.

Now he had some sort of control device that allowed him to inflate and deflate the “Winter” family, thus to illustrate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the . . . well, I’m not sure what: the leakage of the Spirit? And the congregants laughed and applauded as he pumped up the snowmen and then collapsed them and pumped them up again . . .

At the party later on, our hostess, who was at the Mass, said she thought the priest was just doing his best to reach the kiddies. No doubt that’s true, but I pointed out that the Mass isn’t a skit with shtick, and kids will never be proper Catholics if they conflate plastic snowmen with real saints.

Perhaps it’s because I’d had lunch the week before with The Catholic Thing contributor and my dear friend, Karen Walter Goodwin, who was a partner in bringing Les Misérables, the musical, to the English-speaking world and because one of the young women at our gathering, a classmate of my older son, had performed in the high-school production of Les Mis, but I was feeling very much like Inspector Javert, thinking I ought to make the equivalent of a citizen’s arrest of the priest and drag him (and his inflatable pals) before whatever passes for the Inquisition in the Archdiocese of New York.

Instead, I had another shot of Birkir Snaps, a 100-proof liquor brought back from Iceland by one of our number as a gift for yours truly.

I proposed a toast:

“Peace on earth and goodwill towards snowmen.”

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

 

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (19)Add Comment
0
...
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, December 31, 2012
Here's an idea: the next time anyone visits one of those faux parishes where 'priest as performer' is the order of the day, hand out marketing material for the neighboring orthodox parish that "says the black; does the red."

With crowds such as appear on major feasts as Christmas and Easter, active recruiting for the the closest 'really Catholic' parish takes advantage of a great opportunity.
0
...
written by Manfred, December 31, 2012
Les Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. Frankly, Brad, I am surprised you did not walk out. My wife and I drive twenty miles each way to our FSSP chapel each week no matter what the circumstances. She went to school in your area (New Rochelle College, '62) so she and I were trained to spot Counterfeit Catholicism by the time we were in our early twenties.
Happy and Healthy New Year to you, your family, to all the staff at TCT and to the readers as well!
0
...
written by Mack Hall, December 31, 2012
I suppose there is some thin comfort in knowing that The Three Snowpersons were incapable of playing guitars, tambourines, and drums.
0
...
written by Nancy de Flon, December 31, 2012
No doubt these inflatable figures were ugly as well, or at least garish. Not much room for beauty anymore in many churches. And they wonder why the numbers are down.
0
...
written by Brad Miner, December 31, 2012
Ms. de Flon: The figures were exactly the ones pictured in the column.
0
...
written by Jim Morgan, December 31, 2012
God save us from "childrens' masses," "teen masses," and all other such three ring circuses. Where is the Inquisition when we really need it?

0
...
written by DS, December 31, 2012
I appreciate your column and the sentiment. My wife would tell you that I am a stickler for sound liturgy. When I encounter something really off (eg, last Easter the rural church we attended sang "Were You There" during Communion....Really? On Easter? Isn't that for Good Friday?), she will tell you that I can't just let it go.

Christmas re-orients my liturgical instincts. The world did not welcome Jesus, yet he arrived in the most offensive of human circumstances. He did this because we totally fouled up God's creation.

The same is true with liturgy. Even when we totally foul it up and get it wrong and don't follow XVII century rites with precision, the result is certainly not counterfeit as Manfred suggests. Quite the opposite. Our Lord was present at your Christmas Mass, Mr. Miner, amidst the snowmen just as he was present last Easter when the choir sang (rather poorly) "Were Your There."

Perhaps the children understand all of this better than we do.
0
...
written by Howard Kainz, December 31, 2012
At the Midnight (10:30 P.M.) vigil I attended, we were also entertained with a skit for the crowd. The priest, who is noted for giving maximum 5-minute homilies with self-deprecating jokes, walked up the aisle and asked if there was a 7-year old girl who would like to assist him. Coincidentally, I had my 7-year old granddaughter with me, but she is not a Catholic, and she had never been at an Xmas Mass before. Anyway, a 10-year old girl near the aisle volunteered, and the priest accompanied her up to the sanctuary and had her sit in the celebrant's chair. He asked her about what she wants to do when she grows up, and talked about his hope that someone like her could sit in that chair. Then he escorted her back and made a few brief comments about the necessity for continuing to hope.
0
...
written by Seanachie, December 31, 2012
Snarky, snarky, Brad...seems you went to the nearby parish looking for "trouble" and found it (really no surprise that). Wonder if the parents and children who attended this "children's" Mass sensed the same chagrin as you? Did you see yourself as a guest or visitor at this Mass or as an "inspector"? God works in mysterious ways...a full church, especially with children and family members, would in my judgment be visible testimony to His and His peoples mutual love and respect.
0
...
written by Louise, December 31, 2012
Wise move, Brad, you know how Inspector Javert turned out...I fear i am either becoming desensitized or lenient as I am not finding the spectacle as horrible as I might have a few years ago. Children have a way of seeing to the heart of things and it probably is an image they will never forget of how lifeless we are without the Holy Spirit. I confess that i don't know what is permissable during homilies for children. All that being said, had i been there in person I suspect i would have been quite aggravated.

Perhaps the idea of assisting at your canonically assigned parish came from the Holy Spirit and it is something He wants you to consider doing going forward; sort of a "bloom where you are planted" idea? Who knows? What i am certain though, is that Seanacie is off base in his interpretation.

But Howard, I think you might have an obligation to see that efforts to rectify the situation you experienced are made by the bishop and the priest, as the priest committed a grave act of scandal, made even worse by timing it to influence people whose faith is probably weak (those sometimes referred to as the C&E Catholics). The priest also sounds like he could be in an irregular situation re his communion with the Church if he does not accept the teaching on Holy Orders. I suspect that the priest thought he was doing something that would attract these people home; what a grave mistaken notion that is.

on a happy note, I very much enjoyed the recent film version of Les Mis and encourage others to go if you have not. Karen, thank you for your efforts in that regard.

Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year. May God bless us all.
0
...
written by Manfred, December 31, 2012
@DS: Did I read my name in vain? (Just kidding). In the Roman Rite we have something called RUBRICS which, in effect, control how the Mass is properly said. Their purpose is to homogenize, if you will, the Mass in order to avoid excesses on the part of the celebrant or the congregants. Having read Brad's piece and the opinions of some of the commenters, I believe the Chuch needs Trent II as well as Vatican III. The present situation is deplorable and shows no sign of ending. The Novus Ordo Mass is focused on MAN as the above demonstrates, rather than on GOD. There is a reason why the N.O. Mass is called Ordinary (hoi polloi?) and the TLM is called Extraordinary. The priest in the N.O. is a confused Presider, as no Alter Christus would ever bring a young girl into the sanctuary to the celebrant's chair which directly contravenes the rubrics. Frankly, I wonder if you nice people are even satisfying your Mass obligations! We are all obliged to pursue Truth no matter where the quest takes us. Pace
0
...
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, December 31, 2012
Let's never forget: the Mass belongs to the faithful. It does NOT belong to the celebrant. He is not there to put on a show or to do anything impromptu. He 'says what's written in black print and does only what it says in the red print.' No more; no less. If Father wants skits for the kids or for those of my generation from the 60's, why not take a Friday night and Father can dress up as a clown or whatever he so chooses.
0
...
written by David, December 31, 2012
Bravo for another excellent year of The Catholic Thing! I have similar feelings about the Christmas Eve mass but I have gone to the same Christmas Eve "Children's Mass" with my parents and tradition largely necessitates that I continue to do so. I typically go to the Midnight Mass later by myself additionally as it allows me to focus more as there is usually less hoopla.
Not this year; the Midnight Mass is what made the blood boil. The priest thought it was fitting to have a protestant woman priest deliver an additional blessing at the end of mess (Not the final blessing but still not much better) where she informed the congregation that there is really no difference between the different denominations of Christianity. The priest also gave a blanket invitation for the reception of communion. Perhaps, he told the guest before hand the regulations for proper reception of communion but even if that is the case it is an incredibly dangerous thing to do especially on Christmas Mass. It is very saddening that for whichever reasons, Christmas seems to bring out the worst of the liturgy.
0
...
written by Howard Kainz, December 31, 2012
@Louise: "But Howard, I think you might have an obligation to see that efforts to rectify the situation you experienced are made by the bishop and the priest, as the priest committed a grave act of scandal, made even worse by timing it to influence people whose faith is probably weak (those sometimes referred to as the C&E Catholics)." This is Milwaukee. The priest in question is a Salvatorian who helps with Masses occasionally. My pastor in a homily once mentioned that he is a member of Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful. Need I say any more? The parishes in our "Cluster" are quite liberal. The last time I complained to the Archbishop (Dolan, at the time) was about 4 presentations for the parish by CAIR defending Islam. I was referred to the Assistant Bishop, Bishop Sklba, whose emails indicated that I should be more understanding of differences.
0
...
written by Charles E Flynn, December 31, 2012
@Mack,

You have raised some truly terrifying possibilities, before the end of the year deadline, to which I would add that The Three Snowpersons probably do not own and would probably be incapable of operating any large pseudo-puppets of the kind favored by liturgy abusers.
0
...
written by Patrick, January 01, 2013
Hmmm... I also went to a Vigil "Children's Mass." The priest didn't have any inflatable snowmen during the homily. He did, however, bring all the children up to the crèche, and have them sing a song with him. Ok, fine, it's cute, and then he went into a more normal "adult" sermon. But... just when I thought he was done... he goes back behind the altar... and pulls out a guitar. Sits down and starts playing and singing. I was just.... wow.

The rest of the Mass proceeded more or less normally, except at the end, instead of (or in addition to) the proscribed blessing, he started babbling. I understand he was recently installed as pastor of the church, and apparently wanted to appear friendly and approachable. But he just went on and on, until I heard "Go White Sox! Go Bears!" and I turned to my fiancée and asked, "Is he drunk?"
0
...
written by Louise, January 01, 2013
Howard, that's why I said "might" since I don't know your circumstances.

If you feel that this will not receive a hearing from the bishop you could write directly to the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and cc the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

What you have described is truly awful. The fact that the priest would use a child in such a scandalous action just makes me sick to my stomach.

The priest, pastor and bishop owe an apology to the child, her parents, and all who were there. And while they are at it they could apologize to the Church at large.

I'm so sorry this happened to you and your granddaughter. I will say some prayers in reparation and I will pray for your precious granddaughter.

We aren't responsible for results but we should do what is in our power when terrible things like this happen. I would also throw in the pastor's comments about belonging to CTA.

Personally, I would give the bishop a chance first, to rectify, and if he fails to do so, then i would go to Rome. Thirty days is sufficient to wait after contacting him. You might even want to contact that St. Joseph Foundation to consult with them on how this should be approached.
0
...
written by Matt, January 02, 2013
I went to the midnight Christmas Mass with my children which consists of 2 college age adults, 2 teenagers and a 11 year old. The Mass was heavily attended with many children, young adults and young families. The priest offered the sacrifice with reverence, the choir sang wonderfully and the laity silently prayed with the priest. No shock and all AWE every Mass.
0
...
written by from JRF, January 03, 2013
One would think, that after reflecting on Jesus' reprimand of Peter, (get thee behind me Satan, you think like man, not like God)Catholics would stop -- thinking like man. Speaking for God as we rationalize our behavior,i.e. "God doesn't care how you dress when you go to church just so ..., God doesn't care what clown priests do, just so they ....., "God wants us to meet them where they are so it is ok to ..." is yielding to the same promtings that Peter did. It always seems to be about us!!! Why don't we just give God the glory, respect and honor He deserves by dressing, acting, obeying and loving him as Jesus taught.

We have tried experimenting with the mass for the last 40 years and the data would suggest it hasn't worked. Weekly attendence was about 50-60 percent when we started and now about 25 percent.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Other Articles By This Author

CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner