Saturday, May 29, 2004

Speaking of Roman churches

I went to a local Latin parish this morning, a place that I usually hate going to because I don't like the church or the liturgies. I go sometimes because they have confessions after the Saturday morning Mass.

So, I was standing there listening to the priest mangle the Eucharistic prayer, very much in line with Screwtape's line about loving humanity but hating my fellow man, when it hit me: how strange a thing it is that people say "I like Fr. Tom's Masses" or "I like Fr. Smith's Masses." We play favorites.

Don't you think it is strange? How could you not like the way a priest prays the Mass? It's the same Mass throughout the Roman rite, is it not? I could see someone saying "I like Fr. Tom's homilies" or "Fr. Smith has a nice singing voice," but to prefer one Mass to another seems inappropriate, somehow.

To like one Mass more than another seems like liking one dollar bill more than another. Shouldn't they be the same? They are all the same thing, ultimately, an unbloody representation of the one sacrifice of Christ. Shouldn't there be some similarity?

But there isn't. Fr. X will adlib the prayers one way, Fr. Y will adlib them another, and Fr. Z will do something else. Immediately, given this variety, the people start to compare Fr. X to Fr. Y, and Fr. Y to Fr. Z. This is unhealthy. As Paul said, "Is Christ divided?" But this division is a fruit of liturgical experimentation. There are so many different flavors that everyone can find something perfectly to his taste.

Finding something to your taste is fine, except when it comes about at the expense of the unity of the Church. Rather than one people sharing in one sacrifice, we become a bunch of armed camps, divided along the lines of who has the polka Mass, or who lets the kids come up front, or who doesn't use "him" to refer to God, or who always uses Eucharistic Prayer II so we can get out of there faster.

It is to avoid just such situations that there are rules. There is one Mass, and one way to say it (with licit variations), within any particular rite of the Church. Certainly different music can be used, and different buildings can be used, and all sorts of other cultural differences can play a part in the externals of the Mass, but the Mass itself should be the same--the same prayers, the same actions, and the same symbolism.

Priests should remember that whenever they improvise, they are causing some to hate them and some to love them, and consequently some to hate each other. That shouldn't happen. Stick to the text!

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