Thursday, April 14, 2011

Catholic Church Shopping, Part XII: Gone in 25 minutes

The next stop on the ecclesiastical safari was a beautiful, Shore Shore parish that was founded in 1922. (By the way, I'm from the old school Staten Island where everything south of the expressway was "South Shore". I guess the newcomers would call this area "East Shore"). It has a pretty interesting history. Before the present church was constructed in 1928, the parishioners first worshipped in a Revolutionary War-era tavern, and then in a wooden chapel that was transported from the old Vanderbilt estate (present day Miller field). At some point in those early days, the founding pastor even erected a huge mission church a mile and a half away, to accommodate the seaside vacationers. They still hold one Mass there every Sunday.

I attended a 1:15 Mass at the main church and was surprised to see it packed with around 150 people. Hardly anyone genuflected when they entered their pews and absolutely no one sang along with the female organist, who sat in the choir loft. However, they didn't seem to display the infectious boredom usually associated with such lack of piety. The pastor of this church is a young Indian priest, but the priest who said this Mass was a short, stocky, White man. He was attended by two altar boys (shocker) and a young, male lector in a suit (another shocker). The sound system was excellent, and the priest had a very articulate and commanding voice. I eagerly looked forward to hearing his sermon.

He seemed to be tearing through the Mass at a manic pace. At one point, as he was saying a prayer over the gifts, he gave the universal "hurry up" gesture with his upraised hands to the men with the collection baskets. Needless to say he used the short form of the Gospel reading about the resurrection of Lazarus. By this point he was starting to sound like a cattle auctioneer. His sermon had a good and sensible message. He said that even though there are only 2 weeks left until Easter, we can still have a "good Lent" if we manage to break at least one bad habit and resurrect our souls like Jesus resurrected the dead Lazarus. I liked listening to this priest. He was obviously intelligent and well spoken. However, he wrapped up his sermon in about 40 seconds. I kid you not. Literally 40 seconds. He then resumed his frantic race to set a new world's record for fastest Mass. I don't know if he succeeded, but he managed to get it done in 25 minutes, which is the fastest time I've ever witnessed for a Sunday service.

This was a disgrace and a shame. I can't think of a single good reason that a priest would have for treating the Mass, and the congregation, so disrespectfully. Do any other religions or Christian denominations have to endure a clergy that is so bored with worship that they race to get it over with as quickly as possible? Do any other faiths have a laity that is so docile and indifferent as to tolerate this? Or maybe the laity wants it like that? I know that I've often heard a priest praised because he keeps his sermons short. If that's our attitude, then why do we go to Mass? To fulfill a Sunday obligation? if anyone under 60 still remembered or adhered to such old-fashioned ideas. There's certainly no sense of community and certainly no edification or inspiration, and polls show that most Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence anymore. So why do they go?


Anonymous said...

Did you speak with the priest afterwards?
In any case you sin by committing detraction. You seem to judge his motivation. Could he have been tired from the day before? Perhaps he had to rush out in the middle of the night to a dying parishioner. Before castigating him, you could have had a conversation and asked why he seemed so rushed. That would have been charitable.
Another point is your ignorance of Catholic doctrine about the Mass. Catholics do not go to Mass for the sermon. The source and summit of the Faith is Christ's true presence in the Eucharist. The sermon is meant to help us take fuller part in worship. You are upset it wasn't long because of your own subjective desires. But, you learned a good lesson that Mass is not about the sermon. In any case, it seems you remeber Father's message. Mass is about Christ. Grace is available to those who are present at Mass. Your disdain for the notion of obligation as "old-fashioned" is incorrect. There is still an obligation, and people who attend out of obligation are still numerous and commendable.

Staten Pilgrim said...

Your criticism is absurd. I hardly judged his motivations for acting so disgracefully. I merely reported the facts. If there were some pressing reason to hurry through the Mass like that, he should have said so at the beginning so as to avoid the scandalous appearance of mere impatience.

To cite the "sin of detraction" is a dodge intended to shield the clergy from any criticism, and to scare the laity away from any consideration of a priest's conduct. This priest performed these actions in front of 150 people. It is obvious that he wasn't trying to hide his actions and he was obviously not embarrassed at giving a 40 second sermon or saying a 25 minute Sunday Mass. I am not harming his good name by reporting what he openly did in public. Even if I were publicly revealing a hidden fault of his that he wished to keep private, the Church teaches that the sin of detracting from someone's reputation is superseded by consideration of the benefit conferred by revealing the fault. To quote the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Finally, even when the sin is in no sense public, it may still be divulged without contravening the virtues of justice or charity whenever such a course is for the common weal or is esteemed to make for the good of the narrator, of his listeners, or even of the culprit. The right which the latter has to an assumed good name is extinguished in the presence of the benefit which may be conferred in this way. "

Isn't the betterment of our clergy and the good reputation of the Church "common weal" enough for you? I know people who have left the Church because of such experiences as I have mentioned. How many of those in attendance will eventually not bother attending Mass or even leave the Church because of the impression that the priest doesn't really care? The Church is in crisis, such as in the days of the Reformation. Before 1517, many critics spoke out against the scandal of an apathetic, ignorant and out-of-touch clergy, but no one did anything about it. Then Martin Luther came along and we lost half of Europe. There's no main Martin Luther-type heresiarch today, but Catholics are voting with their feet as in the 16th century. According to recent polls, about 1 in 10 Americans are ex-Catholics. Over 1/3 of American cradle Catholics have left the Church for Protestant sects or no religion at all. Yet you would have us be silent when an apathetic, ignorant and out-of-touch clergy is motivating this vast exodus. You know, I recall Paul publicly rebuking our first Pope, Peter, and then bragging about it in a letter to the Galatians, I believe. Was Paul guilty of detraction?

As for my supposed ignorance about the centrality of the Eucharist, I am well aware of why we go to Mass. But tell that to all the people who have gone to Protestant sects because, after getting so sick of awful Catholic homilies, they tried something different and were thrilled to be educated, edified and inspired by preaching. Most Catholics don't realize the importance of the Eucharist, or even believe in the Real Presence, because such things are never mentioned during the sermons. No, the sermon isn't the most important thing in the Mass, but it is VERY important, and people are being driven away by the generally abysmal state of Catholic preaching.

You misunderstand my point about the Sunday obligation. I do not denigrate the notion of obligation. I was merely saying that since most modern Catholics will deny that there is any longer a Sunday obligation (Vatican II did away with it!) then I wonder what motivates them to come. If asked, what percentage of Catholics do you think would know that deliberately missing Mass is a mortal sin?