Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter circus

The following account of my Easter Sunday experience did not take place at a Staten Island church, but I think it's relevant to our topic because so many Catholics across the country probably went through the same ordeal.

Visiting my family in the hinterlands, we went to Mass at a small church in the hills. As many churches do, all the Sunday Masses were combined into one for Easter. However, this was a physically small church, so the overflow crowd was forced to sit on folding chairs in an adjacent room where they hold bingo games and church dinners. We were able to see the altar and the rest of the congregation through a glass wall, but all feeling of sanctity was destroyed by our oppressively mundane surroundings and our physical separation.

Naturally, the people around me acted as if they were in a dining room. The women gossiped, the men chatted about sports, and the kids acted up. Yes, they quieted down a bit when Mass began, but the awkwardness was palpable. No one kneeled, no one prayed, no one bothered to sing a hymn because- well, how strange would it have been to start doing those things in that glass-enclosed meeting space?! After all, it wasn't like we were in church!

To top it off, the sound system wasn't working, so we couldn't even hear what the priest was saying. I don't know what it is, but it is a common factor in almost every Catholic church that I've ever been to that the sound system is absolutely atrocious. And in the few churches I've seen with relatively decent acoustic technology, half the priests mumble their words or haven't yet figured out how to even speak into a microphone. Not that we're missing much with today's preachers, but I'd still prefer to hear their vapid musings than watch a pantomime show. Contrast this situation with that of the sects, where even the smallest storefront church is wired with enough sophisticated equipment to host Metallica. Why don't Catholics "get" the concept of electronic amplification?

Eventually, an usher applied enough elbow grease to one of the speakers to get it to begin transmitting sound. I was sorry he did. The priest sounded like he just stepped out of La Cage aux Folles and, on a day when he had a rare opportunity to preach to a church full of once-a-year Catholics, he chose to lisp through a 1 minute sermon of breathtaking, record-breaking banality, in which he explained that the purpose of Easter was to make us "happy people". He proceeded to finish up with some cautionary jokes to the children about eating too much chocolate and getting a tummy ache.

He then announced with a big self-deprecating smile that he was going to bless us now, as if that were the funniest thing in the world (and maybe it was, coming from him). However, he couldn't find his aspergillum, so he ran around the altar laughing about this and kept repeating, "I can't find my broom, I can't find my broom", an undignified term for a liturgical implement used to impart a sacramental. When he finally found it, he went up and down the aisles playfully splashing people with the mischievous grin of a 12 year old boy brandishing a Super Soaker. It was obviously all just a big joke to him. Coupled with his effeminacy, his irreverence diminished the authority of his office, the sacredness of the sacramental action he was performing and whatever personal authority or dignity he ever had.

This vignette encompasses a host of issues that seem to generally plague the American Church today, including horrid preaching, lack of gravitas, frivolousness, clerical effeminacy, general incompetence, et al. I don't intend to discuss them all now. To sum it all up, the atmosphere became so unbearable that I was forced walked out of Easter Mass in disgust.

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