Friday 29 July 2011

Absence of Faith

Who is the focus of worship at this altar?

Over at St Joseph's Vanguard I was interested to read about the Holy Father's words in his interview book, "Light of the World" on the number of those in the the Church who are "inwardly absent". Quoting St Augustine he says that, "There are many outside who seem to be inside, and there are many inside who seem to be outside."

It reminded me of something I've said in church to the congregation on more than one occasion. I have a sad suspicion that many Catholics come to Mass and join in outwardly, saying the responses and standing up and sitting down, coming up to Holy Communion but have not once interiorly raised the heart and mind to God in prayer in any real or conscious sense. Now there might be times when, for one reason or another, this happens to all of us and part of the point of habitual attendance is that when we can't pray because we're tired, distracted or depressed the outward ritual itself keeps us going. But I mean that week after week (or fortnight after fortnight etc, depending on how often people actually attend Mass these days) this has become the constant habit. I'm sure it was always possible but I do wonder if all the activity of the new Mass has a stronger tendency to allow this to develop than in the past. In the Traditional Mass, even when there it sung or solemn, there comes a time when nothing else is going on (in the sense that there is nothing to watch or hear or join in with at that particular moment) and the question is obvious - "What is supposed to be going on now, nothing seems to be happening up there, it's all quiet." Answer: I'm meant to be praying.

I have a worry that the great activity experienced in the new Mass does not give the space to pray. Obviously, I'm not saying it's impossible to pray in the new Mass but for those not deeply immersed in spirituality, theology or the life of the Church, perhaps the majority in an average pew, they are not inwardly there - that is with the saints and the angels adoring the Almighty in the Mass.

A further development is that all the activity, particularly when Mass becomes solely focused on children (as I've experienced in some places) it become a children's activity rather than the worship of the Church. People can come, be very active, have a jolly time interacting with others, chat away to one another, hear that Jesus loves them just as they are and have left without interior prayer or without giving any assent to the Catholic Faith - perhaps because the sermon and music never draws their attention to any challenge that is there in the very words and actions of the Mass. The words are said and Holy Communion is given out but if the meaning and great challenge of the Faith is never taught, in fact ignored - then these people are not really Catholics. It's a frightening thought but one that I fear may be all too true.


Participation Yes, Activity No. said...

"Who is the focus of worship at this altar?"

It would appear to be Disney.

you are correct, Father, about too much activity associated with the new Mass. Whereas in the 'old' Low daily Mass you either knelt or sat - except for the Gospel - and prayed from your missal. Now, in the 'new' Mass you stand (entrance), kneel (foot prayers), sit (readings), stand (Gospel), sit (Bidding prayers and Offertory), stand (Preface), kneel (Eucharistic Prayer), stand (Our Father), jump around (sign of peace), kneel (before Communion), queue (Communion procession), sit (after Communion), stand (postcommunion prayers), kneel (blessing), and finally stand (exit). People are so busy keeping track on what is coming next, and preparing to stand, kneel, jump up or sit down as the case may be, that prayer is the last thing on people's minds. People automatically pick up, or are handed, a Mass leaflet as they arrive but most are discarded on the seat and never picked up until it is time to go. It must be particularly dispiriting for any
conscientious priest to have to look at the congregation and see the vacant, uninterested blank faces looking in his direction. The grand plan of 1970 has failed miserably. It is about time that those in power admitted this and abandoned it.

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree that the new Mass is not conducive to prayer nor are the designs of the new churches. They have been constructed for one thing - community. Your focus is on each other, not on Our Lord.

It must be very distracting for a priest to say the new Mass. One priest I know told me that he often keeps his eyes down so some of the buffoonery of the faithful doesn't disturb his peace.

Also, maybe a priest can answer this for me. I have noticed that one of our priests always has to say the Mass in a dramatic tone with inflections on words. I find it distracting and unnecessary. Does anyone know why some priests do this? Is it something taught in the seminary?


Pete said...

>>>***nothing seems to be happening up there, it's all quiet." Answer: I'm meant to be praying.

A brilliant statement.

One can indeed go through a whole modern Mass without once praying but much more unlikely in the stillness of the Old Mass.

Felix said...

Very true and apt comments.

And there's also the fact that laity, when faced with anomalous liturgies or homelies, sometimes ask, "Does our priest really believe the Catholic faith?"

Annie Elizabeth said...

The problem with gearing Mass towards children is that it becomes childish in the worst sense, and eventually the children grow up and feel that the Faith is something that they can put away, along with other childish things -- as they are now adults. The flipside is that the adults who accompany the children feel foolish doing "childish things" like kneeling, praying, abandoning themselves to Our Lord.

And yet ... if we are to embrace Our Lord fully we need to become as a little child. But somewhere along the way this got confused with being childish. To feel genuine humility before the sacrifice at Calvary, to receive the Blessed Sacrament on the tongue while kneeling, to open ourselves to the possibilities of God's love -- that is being like a child, without guile, without barriers. How did this get turned into clown Masses and teddy-bear's picnic masses?

A top tip sometimes given to new mothers who are often exhausted to the point of being frighteningly incapable of feeling emotion, is to ACT as though you love your baby, even if you're unable to actually FEEL anything. The loving actions become a self-fulfilling prophesy. I think that a similar technique (although used mentally rather than in physical action) is helpful during distracted or spiritually barren periods in life or at Mass (as you describe) -- internally gearing your thoughts in the same way that you do when your connection to God seems an overflowing wellspring, will eventually bring back that connection, that lushness of Faith. It's like watering a garden while you can't see the seeds, or perhaps simply keeping the door open, even when there seems little point in doing so.