The Mass is Not Entertainment

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Earlier this week an American bishop made the news when he played his ukulele and sang “This Little Light of Mine” during his homily at a Confirmation Mass in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

This past Christmas a priest in the Philippines made worldwide headlines when he rode a hoverboard up and down the aisles of his parish, serenading the faithful.

Many have no doubt seen video of Ireland’s “singing priest” who turns wedding Masses into his own personal audition for Britain’s Got Talent, crooning to bride and groom.

In Mexico, there is a parish priest made famous for wearing super hero vestments and shooting his parishioners with holy water from a super soaker toy.

While these four examples are thankfully extreme exceptions, they do highlight a significant problem with the post-conciliar liturgy:  the priest as performer. 

Unfortunately, the very defining features of the typical parish Mass are often fostering such narcissistic behavior.

The standard practice of offering the Mass versus populum creates an environment which too often seems to feed the ego instead of subjugating it.

Near total use of the vernacular within the Ordinary Form of the Mass often fosters a sense of informality, which can lead to improvisation, casual humor, and innovation.

Additionally, the blurring of the lines between sanctuary and nave, architecturally and liturgically, might also be a contributing factor.  The priest as performer is joined by a supporting cast of clericalized laity. As noted by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Sacra Liturgia conference in 2013:

“The priest here becomes the main actor playing out a drama, with other actors on the altar and the more dramatic and sensational they all become, the more they feel that they are performing well.  The central role of Christ fades away in such a scenario.”

Regardless of the cause(s), we have seen the effect over decades.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass becomes personality driven.  Anthropocentric liturgies result from this narcissistic behavior.

It is this environment that has lead many to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.  As I’ve written about before, the traditional liturgy imposes a structure on both celebrant and faithful alike.  This structure, far from confining, actually provides a sense of freedom.  Consequently, all involved recognize that there is no need for entertainment to further the action of this supernatural drama.  In fact, it is unfathomable that a priest would even make such an imposition into the Mass, even during the homily.

Unfortunately, discussing this topic can be difficult.  Those who only attend the Novus Ordo often see nothing wrong with such behavior, arguing that if people are engaged (entertained?), such methods are forgivable, even if a bit over the top. This view is no doubt facilitated by a manner of worship that is much more vocal, interactive, and almost performance driven (readers, EMHC’s, ushers, choir upfront, altar rails removed). 

The Traditional Mass, on the other hand, with its emphasis on prayer, silence, and interior participation, fosters an environment that has little to no place for the priest as performer.  This mindset typically carries over to the sermon as well.  The idea of any priest or bishop breaking out a guitar or super soaker at the TLM is frankly unimaginable.

In the end we are left evaluating what it is that is happening at each and every Mass.  We are left contemplating the supernatural dimension of the Mass, and our role in this supreme prayer of the Church.  Checking our ego at the door, entering into the liturgy with humility and charity, may we remind ourselves always that the Holy Mass is NOT entertainment.

Posted on May 20, 2016, in liturgy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I have seen plenty of narcissistic priests in the Novus Ordo Mass. The worst example was at a US Army chapel in 1981 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I was a music minor in college at that time and the organist asked me to lead the singing. After Mass the priest complained that he did not want any competition in the sanctuary and that the Mass was all about him. That ended my singing career at this church.

  2. Getting to two usus antiquior Masses each week – Wednesday and Saturday – has truly immersed me in the faith in a way that doesn’t happen in the Sunday Novus Ordo Mass. Helped of course by all that wonderful supplementary material to read, down the margins of my 1962 Missal. So God has been able to root me fast in the Church, into which I long-jumped from a Pentecostal background 3 years ago …

  3. Our priest (he’s a monsignor) doesn’t do any of this but he will chat with the altar servers when they approach for the Ablution. Their smiles tell me whatever he is saying has nothing to do with sacredness.

    • Doesn’t need to be something big like the priest breaking into song. The little things, like what you point out, or Father commenting on the game last night or making a joke before beginning the Mass, or the congregation applauding after the recessional hymn aren’t big, but still can destroy at least some of the sacred character that should surround the Mass.

  4. I left the Ordinary Form just before Holy Week this year. I attend the local Ordinariate daily and Sunday Masses. The Mass is beautiful, reverent, theologically rich (the Roman Canon is prayed every day!), and the priests are excellent homilists.

    A local Extraordinary Form Sunday Mass is beautiful, too, and well attended.

    I would love to attend a reverent Latin Ordinary Form Mass, but in our Diocese there is no will for that to happen.

  5. Fr. Michael Tad Parks, SSC

    Oh Yes!!! As an old fashioned Anglican (ECUSA) trained in the 60’s at Nashotah House, I continue to say Mass the way I was taught. I must give the Bishop headaches, but it is about Jesus, and not about me. While I am constrained by the architecture to celebrate Mass versus populum, I remember that what I do at that Altar and how I do it, says everything about what I believe is happening there (as one seminary priest once told us). We are doing a sacred act, we are the alter Christus. I hate Mass Commentators. Thankfully, ECUSA had never picked up that bad habit. Maybe we have been fortunate in that we never lost the notion that a congregation could sing decent service music and hymns. I will NEVER start the Mass with “Good Morning everyone”, nor will you ever see any power point crud in a parish that I serve. That is all distracting from where the focus should be: On the Altar. Thank you for your comments; it is good to hear that I am not alone in my battles.

  6. I wonder if the distraction of facing the congregation doesn’t in some way put pressure on the priest to interact with them.

  7. Mary Ann Andersen

    Ruth: Yes, it does… And has to have this effect on a priest: “What am I going to come up with for next Sunday’s homily??? hmmmm…”

  8. this makes me as uncomfortable and sad as any of the above mentioned scenarios. Greeting people in the pews before mass, “stand up and say hello to the person next to you”. Then just before the final blessing the Father publicly thanks everyone for attending, the servers, readers, the choir right down to the church mice. please no no no no no no

  9. Belloc's Second Cousin

    After nearly 30 years of suffering, I can longer tolerate the liturgical abuses which are legion in the N.O. I believe the N.O. is almost impossible to not have abuses because of its man-centered structure. The N.O. is killing real Catholicism (and there is evidence to suggest that was intentional).

  10. A major inflection point was when pew sitters began to applaud at the end of mass and the bishop failed to put a stop to this.

    Often when I attend mass at another parish I’ll ask one of the applauders after mass, “I’m new here, why do people at this parish applaud at the end of mass?” The answers are instructive. If the person replies, “It’s for the choir”, I ask why there was no applause for what’s much more important than the choir: the priest, the reading of the Word, or when–most of all–Jesus arrived in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity as the Sacrament was confected. (Yeah, at that point my interlocutor probably thinks I’m a kook.)

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