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.