The internet and social media has paid a good deal of attention recently to the now infamous “poolside Mass” offered at LaSalle College High School in suburban Philadelphia for the boys water polo team. The image of young, shirtless, boys has been literally “splashed” across the Catholic blogosphere. In the same picture (which first appeared on the schools Facebook page but has since been removed) is a priest, minus chasuble, apparently offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on a fold out television tray mere feet from the swimming pool.
Is anyone stunned anymore by such open and public displays of irreverence? Has not the desacralization of the Holy Mass been achieved once we have teenage boys participating in the Church’s highest prayer, the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary, poolside…wearing only swim trunks or beach towels? Of course, no one blames these young men, who are simply demonstrating their faith in part through obedience to authority, parental and ecclesial.
That a priest would think a swimming pool is somehow the appropriate, sacred, venue to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is disturbing. After decades of irreverence, being disturbed does not necessarily imply surprise anymore. Much of the shock which should accompany such scandalous behavior has been lost because of a liturgical desensitization which is the byproduct of both innovation and desacralization.
The real scandal here is the complete indifference demonstrated by many in the Church, particularly clergy. Put simply, this photo has become a Catholic Rorschach test to gauge our liturgical sensibilities.
For many who view it, this picture perfectly captures the liturgical “spirit” of a generation who celebrates the profane, the casual, promoting the irreverent and aggressively opposing a sense of the sacred in the Mass. For these Catholics, the slippery slope of sloppy liturgy has just slid into a swimming pool in suburbia. Many share the concern expressed by Dietrich Von Hildebrand of a liturgy which “discourages reverence in the face of mystery, precludes awe, and all but extinguishes a sense of sacredness.”
Sadly, many others who view this picture offer the same, tired, excuses which we have been hearing for far too long: move along folks, nothing to see here! Many Catholics, clergy included, are excusing the setting and the inherent irreverence which comes by asking “What’s the problem?”
Here is just a sample of some of the low expectations Catholicism found on social media. The comments come to us from permanent deacons, a priest, an instructor of diaconate formation program for a major archdiocese and a layman. The tone is “all or nothing” and the mentality is largely indicative of that defeatist Catholicism which has emptied parishes and lost souls for years:
“From what I see here, at least 22 young men are participating at Mass that may not have gone at all…Let’s not miss the BIGGER picture.”
“Yes. A bad Mass is better than no Mass!”
“…a water-polo team finishing up its pre-season practice on August 15th, a day when the school building was closed, leading the chaplain to celebrate mass outdoors for the kids. St. Peter’s it is not, but the kids went to mass–a mass they will remember more than if their moms had dragged them off to a mostly empty church building later that evening.”
“I celebrated Three Masses on the East side of New York yesterday . There were about 62 people at the Mass in Spanish. About 22 people at the Mass in English Mass. About 30 at the Evening Mass. 3 Teens and 4 young children. The priest around the corner had three Masses and he said he had less…if I was a Bishop I would think a priest saying Mass on a tray table, by a swimming pool, for a group of young men in swimming trunks and wrapped in bath towels would be one of the least of my problems…”
“Isn’t it wonderful that these young people were able to participate in the Sacred Liturgy in a way that was uniquely meaningful to them in a place that was particularly prayerful…What a great moment of evangelization!”
Let’s be clear about this picture: if you don’t see what the problem is, then you may be part of the problem.
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.