Not The Target Market

Words Really Do Mean Something


Not Just Any Words Will Do

Mass isn’t what it once was at our parish. Our pastor is on medical leave and the current stopgap does not read more than the first paragraph of the gospel, drops great chunks out of the Mass prayers and rewrites the remaining ones.

Everyone says, “Oh, that’s just Father X. He’s always been like that…”

So hel-lo: if everyone knows, then why has it continued? Why is he allowed to give scandal to the faithful and lead the clueless down the wrong path? And why has he been allowed to continue teaching the deacons? Let’s multiply the scandal exponentially and call it education. Now that’s a great idea.

I am not one to go parish shopping because I disagree with the priest or don’t like the way he does things. I always consider myself lucky that I can attend Mass – daily, if I want. It is the Mass I am there for – not the priest. However, now that we are merely experiencing an invalid imitation of a Mass, I think it might be best to go to another parish for the interim. My thoughts have been neither calm nor charitable during the current performances I’ve witnessed.

One woman I know and admire, stunned at the form a recent daily Mass took, still managed to be much more charitable that I ever could hope to be. She asked me if Father had arthritis – because he doesn’t elevate the host more than an inch or two.

The next day we had a visitor to the parish. She left in tears, saying she was never, ever coming back. Way to go Father X. Your offhand and breezy delivery is clearly not as welcoming as you think. How many other casualties can we lay at your feet?

If you are inclined to think I am being overly legalistic and picky, and the form of the Mass is no big deal, then think about it this way: You have an integrated business software package that ties all your inventory, jobs, materials, invoices and receipts together nicely. But to get this seamless integration, data has to be entered into specific fields.

Now, say you hire a bookkeeper who doesn’t like your system; she finds it cumbersome or too intricate or something. Perhaps it’s not how she was used to doing things at her last job. Perhaps she thinks she has a better way and insists on bringing it into your office to show you how much better things could be.

In the process, she enters the sales information piecemeal, in places where she wants to, not necessarily where it is designed to fit. Or she doesn’t enter it at all. She produces invoices from notes she jots down on scraps of paper. She keeps track of receipts in a simple spreadsheet that doesn’t tie in to anything. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this isn’t going to work. Your business is going to get tangled up pretty quickly, and most likely you are going fire that bookkeeper and look for someone who will do things properly, giving you the seamless information stream you need. Otherwise you will go out of business.

Or perhaps you are a builder. You consider yourself a bit of an artist and you hate the way structures need to have a deep foundation to support the walls. You think it looks ugly. So you build your foundations only half the normal size. The building inspector looks the other way because he thinks you’re a great guy to have a few beers with and, besides, you certainly don’t mean to hurt anyone. You just want to bring a little beauty to the world. Your intentions are good. Eventually all your buildings start showing huge cracks. Then the inevitable happens – they cave in, killing the people inside.

A Catholic Mass has the structure it does for a reason. The words used in the prayers mean very specific things. They tie into specific theological concepts. When the words are re-arranged or re-written, the meanings change. The emphasis changes. The reference changes. Even an ever so slight change is still a change; something is lost. Little changes add up; the glorious language and theology is lost. It all becomes meaningless and downright ordinary.

From “colloquial” to “what’s the point” is only a short step. There is a reason students wear uniforms to school. The outer dressing reminds them that they are in school for a purpose. Study after study shows that students in uniforms – as opposed to play clothes or “street” clothes – do better. I read recently that the same applies to business: people who are required to dress for the office perform better.

I don’t think it is a stretch to generalize from these studies to the statement that the more formal, stylized language of the Mass not only ties into very specific concepts, but it also reminds us that the Mass is very special. It’s different. It’s not a gathering at a coffee shop where anything goes. It’s a meeting of heaven and earth, and how awesome is that?

When Mass becomes an opportunity to see who in the diocese has the best improv skills, we’re back to a coffee shop, saying all kinds of things. Some of the conversation might be true, some of it might not be.

Obviously the bishops never intended to provide a regular improv night as they have provided all priests with the proper script and stage directions, printed in black and red, in the Sacramentary –the large book the priest uses (or is supposed to use) at Mass. Their thinking was no doubt that using the Sacramentary would keep the Mass both catholic and Catholic. Sadly neither of neither of these adjectives can be used in describing the current Masses at my parish.

1 Comment

  1. Your brother

    Oh, that’s just Father X. He’s always been like that…

    Hmmmmm. I see what you mean!


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