The visiting priest came with members of his Order and a few singers. They were there to raise money and awareness for their charity and in so doing, they turned Holy Mass into a spectacle. Shouts of “Amen!” and “Alleluia!” filled the air as people enthusiastically waved their arms, prompted by the visiting priest.
The musical performance (because that’s exactly what it was) was better suited to a rollicking concert venue than Holy Mass. The parishioners clapped to the upbeat rhythm, some of them bopping along in their seats, and gave an enthusiastic round of applause after every song.
Throughout Holy Mass, there were rounds of applause for parts of the visiting priest’s homily that was heavy on pep-talk but woeful in catechesis. He even busted out a few dance moves. Unsuspecting, embarrassed parishioners were cajoled into acting out parts of the homily. There was clapping for them, too. Most disturbingly, with his encouragement, parishioners clapped for themselves.
Like a high school cheerleader, the visiting priest urged the parishioners to louder and louder shouts of “Daddy!” as they reached up to the heavens. Abba, he explained, was the Jewish term of endearment for “Daddy.”
In fact, Abba does not mean “Daddy.” Abba (which is an ancient Aramaic word) is always associated with the word “Father.” In Hebrew, Abba is linked to the word “father” and in the ancient Babylonian Talmud, it is combined with the word rav (which means Master) to form the word rabba, a term of respect. In the New Testament, Abba is always followed by the word, “Father” (Hebrew4Christians.com). The word “Daddy” is childish. As Christians, we are exhorted to “put away all childish things” (1 Cor 13:11) and develop a proper understanding of God as not only our merciful Father but as the just Judge.
“Wasn’t that fun?” exclaimed a parishioner after Mass. From the laughter of some of the people as they filed out of the church, it seems that many of them thought so too. And right there, perfectly summarized in the parishioner’s exclamation, is the heart of the problem.
I am not a theologian. The only theology I have learned over the years is with the guidance of my spiritual director, and I’m pretty sure that at times he must think I’m a slow learner. However, I do know this: the crucifixion of Christ which we commemorate at each Mass, His ultimate sacrifice in which we participate, offering to the Father the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord, was not “fun.” As Jesus entered freely into His passion and willingly suffered on the Cross in atonement and reparation for our sins, I doubt that the word “fun” entered into His thoughts. Holy Mass and our preparation for the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist should be reverent, dignified, peaceful, beautiful, theocentric, transcendent. Our participation at Holy Mass should take us outside of ourselves and give us a foretaste of the Beatific Vision through the beauty of the sacred liturgy and the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.
To reduce the holy sacrifice of the Mass to a noisy, irreverent, self-centred, fun performance makes a mockery of what Jesus did for us. While some may argue that the visiting priest and his group were there to raise money for a good cause, anthropocentrism has no place in sacred liturgy.
In speaking of the crisis in the liturgy, Bishop Athanasius Schneider said: “Our first duty as human beings is to adore God, not us, but Him. Unfortunately the liturgical practice of the last 40 years has been very anthropocentric. … The temptation today for the clergy is to adapt to the new world, to the new paganism, to be collaborationists.”
For the Catholic layperson striving to live a life of prayer, work, and service, Holy Mass and the devout reception of the Holy Eucharist is central to the way we worship God and the way we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to be properly informed of what is beautiful, noble, and acceptable in the celebration of Holy Mass. In charity, we need to speak out against liturgical abuse, and expect of our clergy a right understanding of their responsibility to ensure that the sacrifice of our Lord is not mocked or forgotten for the sake of fun.