Sunday, August 07, 2005

Contrasts in small town Kansas

We drove through a small town in Kansas on Saturday evening and stopped to assist at the vigil Mass in anticipation of Sunday there (something I, being traditionally inclined, rarely do).

To be frank, I dread traveling anywhere over a Saturday night because that travel usually means that I give up my quiet, prayerful 7:30 a.m. Sunday low Mass in the old rite and instead choose between committing a mortal sin by skipping Mass or enduring a sloppy (or at least partially illicit) new Mass with a happy-clappy (or heterodox) homily. I'm not saying that most priests don't try to offer the new Mass reverently, but they don't seem to be be saying Mass where I happen to be travelling. So far, I've always chosen take my penance and go anyways.

In this case, the Mass offered by the priest was solid (although his homily was a little light). There was no doubt that the priest understood why he was offering the sacrifice for us, and that he truly believed in Real Presence. He didn't just avoid the typical liturgical abuses—he chose the traditional option over the shorter or more common one whenever the Missal allowed it. It was the first time in years that I heard the full Roman Canon at a novus ordo Mass, including the "unimportant" parts in brackets (although I admit we don't hear the whole Canon at our old rite Mass, either). It was also the first time I'd seen the celebrant at a novus ordo Mass follow all the rubrics so carefully and even keep his thumb and forefinger together after he'd confected the Blessed Sacrament with them. The fellow even performed the ablutions (or I guess it's just a "purification" in the new Missal) in a way that made it clear he were intent on doing things right for the glory of God and not just for his own ego or the congregation's entertainment.

In contrast, the other stuff going on in the church around him was impossible (i.e., the banal, nauseating guitar hymns, the new-fangled altar server costumes and processional cross, the dozens of folks who left directly from communion, and the way so many of those who remained talked loudly in the nave after Mass notwithstanding his instruction to (gasp) make a thanksgiving before going down to the parish social). Music was all Glory and Praise and the like. The last song they sang could have been from Jethro Tull unplugged. Something about dancing in the forest and playing in the fields. I'd never heard it before, or perhaps had but blocked it out. I couldn't help imagining Ian Anderson jumping around with his flute worshipping trees or something. Unfortunately also, the church (while having escaped the 1970s with its high altar and side altars intact) had recently been attached by the renovation monster. The statutes and stations had been garishly repainted. I wondered if the "restoration" of the images had been an art project for the grade school.

The aforementioned priest has only been there a couple of weeks and he has an incredible amount of work ahead of him in that pastorate. However, the people seemed to be genuinely nice and perhaps more teachable than folks one would find at certain "big city" parishes I know of, and a couple of parishioners that we met after Mass (while we were feeding our kids at Dairy Queen) seem very positive about his arrival.

The coup de grace came when we were driving on to our destination and we say the bulletin, which included a Q & A about Friday abstinence (which is no news to us, but it is the first time we'd seen or heard the discipline accurately explained by a priest who wasn't a traditionalist or an octogenarian. It's great to see the young priest catechizing people on it. Maybe with more men like him in collars, his bishop and others can both eventually shore up that particular discipline in our dioceses. After all, nothing reinforces ones' Catholic identity quite like missing a barbeque or eating an awful "Filet-o-Fish" for lunch on Friday.

Seeing a priest who is obviously younger than I am exercise his office with such care and such obedience gives me some hope for the future of the Church. For what it's worth, (from an outsider whom you may never meet and who prefers "mumbling to himself in Latin"), I admire his sense of duty, sincerity, focus and patience, and have to pray for him (although I'll probably wait until the parish has an organist and a new repertoire of hymns until I plan my next visit).

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