A small statue of Virgin Mary, Sawyer St., Chicago (2020)
Not too long ago the catholic mass carried gravitas, the flavor of true substance. Masses used to be said in Latin and priests would chant their way thru the ceremony. You had to know a few Latin words and phrases to follow the mass and to be able to respond to the priest’s prompts. Women wore veils that covered their heads and men wore suits. The smell of incense filled churches, signaling the congregation that this was a truly powerful and sacred moment. The faithful had to fast for hours before participating in communion. The beautiful, deep sounds of a church organ would mark transitional moments and resound with infinite echoes in everybody’s hearts. By the time mass was finished and you went out of the door, you had undergone a transformational spiritual experience.
In the last fifty years, the catholic mass has been trivialized to an unbelievable extent. Nowadays, well meant kids and amateurs provide some sort of musical entertainment during the ceremony. Attendees don’t give much anymore about how they dress themselves. Flip flops and shorts are the order of the day. In some congregations, it’s customary to sing rather than recite the “Lord’s Prayer ”. Where does this unfortunate idea of singing come from? It’s as if someone, sometime, had the intention of making the “Our Father” more palatable to modern audiences but, in doing so, alas, didn’t realize that music distracts and robs power from the words themselves. Then there is this holding of hands business….. for the love of god! Crown all that with the never ending and seldom relevant sermons delivered by bored priests and you will think it twice before wanting to go to church again.
Poor Catholic Church. It has been in a tough spot all these years . It has been losing members. It has been losing territory to a myriad of half-cooked churches, one worse than the other. It has been losing its sense of purpose and even atheism appears now attractive, in comparison, to undecided voters. The competition is fierce and thus the Catholic Church will do anything to please the crowds. But should Catholics give way to the pressures of trivialization? Understandably, the gravitas of the past doesn’t sell well these days Yet, pomp and circumstance can not just be overlooked. In the right context, practically any content will shine, even the catholic dogmas. Thus, context (or form) matters and it matters a lot. When people go to church every Sunday, they seek a religious experience and Catholics are just barely providing it.
Relax where needed and tighten up where required. Why not dig deeper and come up with a true revolution? Why not to put an end to the celibacy of male priests while reviving selected elements of the old ceremonies? Why not to allow women to be officiating Ministers while elevating the quality of the sermons? Why not to give those chorus kids a break and dust off that church organ? Why not to challenge the crowds and demand fasting as a prerequisite to communion? This is the type of radical evolution that would perhaps make a difference in catholic membership. True change -the type that makes institutions evolve and be sustainable overtime- will never come by watering down the Lord’s prayer. Stop the sentimental, cheap singing, please! Yikes! Just a suggestion, from a non-religious bystander*