From a recent Mass titled 2020 Pentecost Mass for all Cultures — what could possibly go wrong with a Mass of that title? — a video was produced of a woman preparing the altar for the consecration, while Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego sat and watched approvingly. Anger from faithful Catholics ensued — and I don’t think the anger was because Bishop McElroy made a woman “set the table.” Rather, the irritation was in response to yet another needless assault on the Mass and the nature of the priesthood.
It brought back vivid memories of past liturgical abuses in my home province. I thought of priests throwing bubble gum into the pews, starting lawnmowers during a homily, and changing words of every part of the Mass including the consecration, and of teenage girls liturgical dancing — if you categorize pretending to ride a horse in the sanctuary as liturgical dancing. These actions surely cry to Heaven for vengeance, yet I do not consider them the most jarring I have seen.
That honor goes to one priest who decided to sit in the pews with the rest of the (sparse) congregation during Mass. It’s not that this was the most egregious thing I’ve ever seen, but it certainly was telling. The church had already been sacked, with the altar removed, and a table placed in the middle. The tabernacle was naturally out of sight, and the most prominent feature in the building was the “presider’s chair.” In this church, every last breath of Catholicism had been attacked, all to place the priest in literal center stage. Yet, as this was old news — we get numbed to seeing a priest at the center of attention — the priest at this Mass decided to sit with the people. It was jarring. Attention-seeking knows no bounds. It also made me realize that the Novus Ordo Mass is not intended to be static.
Before going farther, a bit of context. Consider the plight of the Church in the late 1960s. Altars were demolished, statues destroyed, paintings whitewashed, and vestments burnt. I am reading Robert Hugh Benson’s By What Authority right now. As he vividly describes the sacking of the Catholic churches in England in the 1500s, the only difference in his historical description from Bugnini’s post-conciliar liturgical reign of terror is that, in Benson’s story, it was Protestants inflicting the destruction. In the 1960s, it was the Catholic hierarchy self-mutilating the Church.
How was this post-conciliar Catholic upheaval possible? For one, timing. The sacking of Catholic churches and the changes in the Mass were concurrent with societal revolution and unrest. When hippies, communism, moral decay, and a plethora of other factors collide, the result is a populace ripe for monumental change. And so, in the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the Novus Ordo Mass was birthed. I do not say it is an invalid Mass, or that it cannot be said beautifully, but I am saying it came about in the late 1960s for a reason.
Now to the question: Is the Novus Ordo Mass finished in its evolution? It is tempting to think so. Perhaps the average Novus Ordo Mass looks quite similar to that of, say, 30 years ago. Dan Schutte ditties might be replaced by Hillsong ballads, but overall, the Mass appears quite similar to what I experienced growing up. More white hairs, yes, but similar. It would seem that the Mass has both leveled in its pursuit of change and, to the chagrin of George Weigel, leveled to any hope of a liturgical reform of the reform. However, all it takes is another uprising in society to provide the opportunity for another revolution with the Mass. It happened once. It is foolish to think it won’t happen again.
Enter these days of COVID-19 and rioting. Now is the prime opportunity for liberals in the Church to inflict more grandiose change, particularly in Church praxis. I immediately think of three contributing factors: fear, feminism, and unfettered technology.
Fear is a powerful weapon. Our society is largely shut down right now due to fear of a virus. Fear also brings many opportunities for the hierarchy of the Church to recommit to the liturgical revolution. To name but a few possibilities: will altar boys, and even girl altar boys, be deemed unsafe due to COVID-19? Will the need for brevity at Mass induce bishops to ban the ancient Roman Canon? Will all priestly vestments be disposed? I can’t imagine that grubby chasubles are washed very often. And can one really clean a kneeler properly? Best to forbid kneeling at Mass. Likewise, little children are not to crawl on the floor. Maybe they need to be excluded from Mass as well, for their own sake. As for Communion on the tongue, of course this will need to go. Perhaps Communion on the hand, too, will require innovation. Pre-packaged individual hosts and wine are not unthinkable. Safety first. Blame COVID-19.
Churches are mandating strict social distancing guidelines. Where I live, this means 30 people per Mass, or 30% of the pews filled, whichever is least. Many Catholics will be unable to go to Mass. Now, the Church has already nearly destroyed its farm system for producing priests. The priests we do have often administer two or more parishes, with some priests even tending six parishes. In other words, there are not nearly enough priests to say Mass for churches with only 30% capacity. How shall Catholics get Communion — that’s what we’re told Mass is about — without enough priests? This is not simply a pan-Amazonian problem, but a global Catholic crisis. The answer will be simple: formally employ women to be custodians of Holy Communion — preferably with a created Communion service. They will become deaconesses by default. How easy this would be.
The rise of live-streamed Masses has hastened the unfettered movement toward technology in the Church. In the Novus Ordo Mass, it may be here to stay. I imagine the thought process as such: hymnals are too germ-infected; overhead screens must be mandated. Or maybe there should be no singing at all? Perhaps pump out music through speakers, like at a hockey game. The handheld pocket missalettes too will need to be removed. Everyone, take out your smartphone and read along to the Gospel using the parish app. As a bonus, Google will translate the Gospel to any language you want. Just wear headphones…and no Latin, please. Collection time — keep your phone out to e-transfer money for the bishop’s appeal. And sign up to be a parish social justice minister while you’re at it. Now back to the Mass. Actually, why not watch the Mass on your phone while sitting in your vehicle in the parking lot? Or better yet, at home with a Zoom group chat? Susan from the Parish Council will stop by later with Holy Communion. She’ll leave it on your front porch and text you when it’s there. Remember, you have to fast one whole hour before consuming. Yes, you can finish eating your burger first, just hold on to the Host until it’s time.
The technological possibilities, and sacrileges, are endless. If you think I am spouting nonsense, I end by asking you to consider the initial Pentecost Mass for all Cultures mentioned involving Bishop McElroy and the woman preparing the altar. Please browse some of the pictures here.
What do you see? You see regulated fear that has kept the congregation at home. You see the bishop “interacting” via a social media meeting app, as though the people were actually present. I wonder how many think they actually had participated in the Mass. You see a deacon reading the prayers of the faithful from a remote location. You see women everywhere throughout the sanctuary, even at the altar — truly a small step away from holding their own Communion service. You see a band serving as accompanying entertainment (or is that penance?). You see a bishop incensing, and later blessing, his projector screen. You see a man reaching his hands so far out for Holy Communion, for fear of COVID-19, that the next logical step will be to innovate a “safer” practice. In short, you see the beginnings of every banal and sacrilegious change I have suggested above. The next liturgical revolution is already beginning.
Undoubtedly, the attack on, and subsequent changes to, the Mass will be bleak. The only refuge will continue to be the traditional Latin Mass. But even this Mass will likely be abandoned as “unsafe” and relegated to the catacombs, with substantial punishment for those who dare attend it. Perhaps one day the chastisement will reach the levels of late 16th-century Catholicism in English, as described by Benson. In short, we must take the sacrament of Confirmation seriously, and be prepared to suffer for the Faith. A brave new liturgical world is coming.
Image: Diocese of San Diego via YouTube.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of four. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.