Above: an official promotional graphic of the Vatican’s Synod on Synodality (posted at their Facebook page here).
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.
-CIC, can. 1247.
It is Saturday evening, and I am trying to endure another “Sunday” Mass in my hometown. A snowstorm, as well as the sheer cost of hotels and driving, has forced our family to stay at home this weekend, away from our usual Sunday Mass out of town.
The church building seems to shake from the wind and snow hammering its side. On the inside, the unforgiving winds of Vatican II’s spirit continue to batter around the “People of God,” or what’s left of them.
The new priest has put his stamp on the parish in just a few short months. The best way to describe him is he’s the parish priest’s image of Pope Francis. The small, white-haired congregation commonly gets lectured on how we are living in the times of Vatican II, not Vatican I (I’m not sure what that means) and that tradition was stifling the Church prior to Vatican II (again, I’m not sure what that means). Active participation is required now in the parish, particularly through singing Happy Birthday to others at the end of Mass. Meanwhile, we are told that the value of the Mass comes solely from people being in attendance. How ironic, considering how the congregation has diminished since Vatican II. As for Mass being Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary? I guess that’s so Vatican I.
I look up during this Mass and see an altar boy in the sanctuary playing an air guitar while his brothers beside him laugh. It is a far cry from a few months ago when it was my two oldest boys who served. They were good at what they did, I must say. However, they quit. The new priest forbade them to genuflect when entering the sanctuary. No compromise. Better to play a fake guitar than genuflect to Christ.
As the one altar boy slashes out a fake guitar solo, I decide to temporarily bail out of this Mass. Having young children is a blessing. If need be, I can take our baby to the basement of the church, and no one questions why. Just a little pinch, and I’m gone…
In the basement I pray my rosary, while holding our dear, but fussy, little Benedict. It is the only way to pray at such a Mass. Yet even this is disturbed. I hear the echoes of a Broadway musical permeate into the basement. “Alleluia… for the glory… and the honor… are Yours… Alleluia!” I thought I turned down the microphone’s volume last week? They’re on to me. As “and the glory…” powers through again, I picture Hell as a place filled with church microphones–a good incentive to live in the state of grace.
I walk around with Benedict, but soon feelings of shame well within me. My wife and oldest children are upstairs, and I’m downstairs hiding. Is that what St. Joseph would do? Just what would he do in our circumstance? Flee to Egypt? Turn over banners and Glory & Praise hymnals while stringing together a whip? I am not St. Joseph. I go upstairs and timidly hand our baby to my wife. She promptly scrambles downstairs with him. Tag, I’m it. I glance over at our other children. They have a look of extreme pain and suffering. They do not like it here anymore. They have told me so. Each one asked beforehand if we could drive the two plus hours to the traditional Latin Mass at 5am the next morning instead. Snowstorm or no snowstorm. But we cannot. It is not safe. We live where we are, and we can’t afford to live closer to a TLM. Not yet, anyway. Though if readers here were to buy my latest youth fiction novel…
Now the altar boys are giggling away. They are copying the priest’s actions during the Our Father. Not as my three-year-old son does for his hero-priest at the TLM, but as ones who thinks the entire “celebration” is a joke. Arms up. Arms down. Sway here. Motion there. Active participation indeed. It is a game of Simon Says, and I don’t mean Simon Peter. But again, at least the altar boys didn’t genuflect when entering the sanctuary.
After a final rendition of Happy Birthday, the Mass mercifully ends. Our Sunday obligation–heavy emphasis on obligation–is fulfilled. The priest finds me afterwards and starts questioning me on why my boys stopped serving. Maybe he did notice the air guitar after all? Within seconds of my mentioning the genuflecting, we both are throwing verbal-haymakers at each other. I’m in no mood to take a beating from him. I start going in for the metaphorical kill. He promptly says he must go. That’s fine. So do I. We both know there will be–can be–no agreement or compromise. My wife and I take our kids home and we put them to bed.
I remain awake most of the night. The wind is howling. The sky seems light as day from the falling snow. All I think about is how to survive next week’s Mass. No, we can’t drive to a TLM every week. It’s too expensive and tiring. But we can’t keep showing up every week for a spiritual beating. Can we? I kick around the idea of arriving for Mass as late as “legally” possible, of praying a rosary with the entire family in the basement, and then of leaving as soon as “legally” possible. We’ll get the Sacraments elsewhere, whenever we can. But the idea doesn’t quite sit right with me. And so, I stay up another two hours searching for another solution.
Is this Catholicism? Is this the glorious Catholic Church which conquered the hearts of nations? To hide in the basement while Mass stumbles along upstairs? To be obliged to receive spiritual abuse, under pain of mortal sin and eternal damnation?
I know many will say things as: Just move–as though adequate paying jobs are as plentiful as modern synods. Just talk to the bishop–as though most bishops care to listen. Just find the SSPX–as though a mere 700 priests can reach the entire world any given Sunday. Just suffer anything because Jesus is there–as though the Mass is merely a Communion service, and little children are not formed by how they worship.
Regardless, all such comments miss the point. The current state of the Catholic Church is a mess. Worse still, the mess is growing. It seems every week a bishop or two pulls the rug out from under a TLM community, or even suspends a devout Novus Ordo priest. Faithful Catholics, many of whom already moved to a new town for a reverent Mass, are left with a similar situation to ours. It is a great spiritual trial. More than this, it is dangerous to the upbringing of their children.
The Catechism of Trent says that Catholics are obliged “to go to church, and there, with heartfelt piety and devotion, to assist at the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” As far as I know, the Catechism of Trent does not discuss air guitars and singing Happy Birthday. To take it a step further, it does not discuss clown Masses, rock-n-roll rites, liturgies inspired by James Martin, nor Masses with every abuse and heresy under the post-conciliar sun.
To all of this, then, I ask an open question: How can Catholics be bound to attend such a Mass? How can Catholics be obliged to be spiritually abused? Are there no limits to what a Catholic would be obliged to attend?
I have heard arguments from both sides. Some state with conviction that no, one is not obliged to attend Mass when it is spiritually dangerous. To which I ponder, how far is too far? Define, precisely, what is too dangerous. Others, however, state firmly that one is always obliged to assist at Mass. To which I ponder the many Catholics who have lost their family’s faith because of such faithless liturgies.
I have no answers. All I can do is state where I am at right now. My conscience says to go to Mass, but also to be very wary. That is, our family will continue to scrap it out. Day by day. Week by week. We will drive to other parishes, particularly to the nearest TLM, whenever possible. We will receive the Sacraments somewhere, someway, somehow. We will supplement the faith as best we can for our children. And yes, if need be, we will even spend extra time in the church basement “hiding out.”
But such a set up cannot endure forever. Christ says He came to give us life, and to give it more abundantly. Eventually something will have to give, for Christ cannot lie. We cannot spend our lives dreading each weekend Mass.
St. Joseph, patron of families, come to our assistance. And come to the assistance of all families enduring a similar trial. For a family is not meant to hide in a church basement away from Mass.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. 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.