Earlier today I was driving down the road listening to my local Catholic station. Every so often a popular rock station would bleed in and cover the beautiful sounds of a Mass with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. Talk about Mass confusion***! I couldn’t seem to help myself, even as I listened to him intone the words of Consecration, from singing along with the popular rock songs. As I caught myself doing so, time and time again, I was reminded that this is somewhat “normal” for me and many other Catholics, Christians, and/or any faithful throughout our faith-lives to be so easily distracted by secular things.
On a basic level, this distraction has roots in Satan. The more concentrated we become on God, the more frustrated Satan is. So, in an effort to separate us from God, Satan throws little distractions at us. Physically, my Mass confusion was caused by two local radio stations sharing the same frequency; however, spiritually, each time I sang the words to a popular rock song instead of staying focused on the Mass, Satan was winning. Of course, this makes me wonder if perhaps God also uses the physical effects of a Catholic station sharing the frequency with a popular rock station to gain followers from the crowd of rockers.
Even through my Mass confusion I began to wonder about other things that distract us from the beauty of Mass and therefore from God: liturgical abuses**. Recently, my mother and I were discussing various experiences we’ve had on vacations with local Masses. She recounted one particular Mass, where the Eucharist was basically reduced to ‘chips and dip’, from which my whole family emerged silent and disturbed. We were hours from our home with three children in the car, yet none of us spoke on the way home. I remembered another experience where we spent the entire Mass trying to find anything familiar besides some of the words – the Tabernacle was nowhere to be seen, the Crucifix was MIA, rubric defined words of Consecration were changed, and the layout of the church itself was in the round. We had other experiences with fewer abuses as well. Locally, we have a diverse celebration of Mass as well, but no where near the levels experienced outside our home area. Such Mass confusion dilutes the Word of God, Jesus, to our image of Him instead of transforming us into the Image of Him.
Some seem to thrive on Mass confusion in an effort to be more tolerant, entertaining, diverse, etc. Often, those faithful to the rubrics and to both ‘t’ and ‘T’ traditions are accused of being “rubric-Nazis”, “holier-than-thou”, “intolerant”, “behind the times”, and “divisive”. Yet Scripture tells us to stay faithful to the traditions given to us by Jesus and the Apostles as well as to avoid leading others astray. God is the ultimate in constancy whereas Satan is ever changing to tempt us away from God. Yes, we are called to be welcoming and universal, but we don’t do that by abandoning 2000 years of traditions and making Mass less about God and more about ourselves. Just as I experienced Mass confusion with my radio stations blending with one another, we all experience Mass confusion when we try to bend Mass to secular understanding.
There are many questions in my mind — that I’m unsure how answer. Have any of these changes to the Mass increased vocations, faithfulness, tolerance, holiness, etc? When we knowingly participate in a less-than-stellar Mass (according to rubrics & Tradition) do we still gain the graces given to us through Mass? By knowingly (for convenience-sake*) choosing a Mass where there is less adherence to the rubrics and Tradition, am I putting my soul at stake or am I just exposing myself to disdain (since I veil in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament) and Mass confusion? Do I mitigate whatever harm going to a confused Mass because I chose to do so based on getting my reluctant Catholic husband to Mass? Or do I add to the harm (to my soul and perhaps his) by exposing him to Mass confusion?
* Obviously, when we only have one option available for Mass, whether on vacation or due to lack of churches, we are filled with all the graces available from Mass. However, in my area, we have many available options for Mass. I live 20 miles outside of the nearest ‘big’ town, yet there are 3 Catholic churches with different pastors within 2 miles of my home. If I were to drive all the way to town I’d add at least another dozen Catholic churches to the list of available options.
** More information on common liturgical abuses:
- True/False quiz on common Liturgical abuses.
- Possibly some answers to some of my questions above.
- Top Ten liturgical abuses & why they’re wrong.
- How to handle liturgical abuses.
- A reminder to not be watchdogs for abuses, but focus on Mass.
- Commentary on how liturgical abuses damage Catholicism as a whole.
- A Jesuit priest’s perspective on liturgical abuses.
- A newsletter with many good articles on the Liturgy.
- An article by the National Catholic Register.
- A funny blog parable about the boring & repetitive.
- There are many many many more resources available if you do a search. I’ve not been able to find a direct answer to my questions above, but I’ve put in an Ask An Apologist message on the Catholic Answers forum.
*** As I was writing this post I was completely unaware of a book published with this same title about liturgical abuses.
7 Replies to “Mass Confusion: Interference”
Enjoyed your article. It is so easy to become distracted at Mass by some of the abuses. I try so hard not be distracted but sometimes it is way over the top. I loved the quiz, but most of all the references for the answers. Thanks
I’m glad to have been of service. I obviously also struggle with distractions due to abuses during Mass. However, sometimes I’m too distracted by my children to enumerate them. I’m slowly learning to not try to enumerate the abuses and also learn which priests/Masses are the worst offenders. That way, I can avoid what is really an occasion of sin, by going to Masses that are Faithful and pedantic, like me!
Thanks a lot for sharing this article! It was a good read and it was a pleasure reading it. The links that you gave are amazing and they are really informative. The quiz was awesome and I really learned a lot from it. Thank you and may God bless you! 🙂
Thanks for this post. Very insightful, and an important matter to call attention to, particularly in the U.S. I also really appreciated the list of resources (though the “Our Lady’s Warriors” one might be a little outdated: see #5.16– in the U.S., this practice is now permitted). I have just two counterpoints:
First, it is very important to separate simple discomfort with the unfamiliar from genuine liturgical abuses. For instance, changing the words of the Consecration in that one church you mentioned is a real no-no and may even invalidate the Mass. But the fact that “the layout of the church itself was in the round,” while nontraditional, is completely fine. I think an MIA crucifix might even also be fine as long as there is a simple cross on or near the altar, but I may be wrong on that one. Sometimes churches do things differently. If there is no rule against it, we must approach it with an open mind.
The same goes for people that see you in your veil and are uncomfortable with it. There is no rule for it or against it, some people just do things a little differently.
However, in response to one of your questions, knowingly participating in a “less-than-stellar Mass” (in your words) is okay, as long as the Mass wasn’t actually invalid, based on the main basic stuff that makes a Mass a Mass and is the priest’s responsibility (minister, matter, form). If those main, basic criteria are not met, it doesn’t actually even count toward your Mass obligation, and you’ll have to go to Mass again (or, actually, to a real one for the first time) that day. So if you see “invalidating” abuses, rather than just “illicit” abuses (and it’s important to learn the difference), that is when you really need to worry.
There is also a big difference between illicit and even invalidating abuses by clergy and church employees, and simple problems with the faithful’s own illicit individual acts in the liturgy. When I was younger, we attended a church in the U.S. that had a number of people who tried to use “gender-neutral terminology” when referring to God, so that one form response was rendered: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of God’s name, for our good and the good of all of God’s church” instead of “His name” and “His church.” (This was also before the new translation with the “holy” before “church.”) I was young and new in the faith and this was really annoying, like trying to make a moot political statement in the middle of Mass, but it did not invalidate the Mass and so I simply ignored it. In fact, if you let other people’s abuses get to you and interrupt your participation in the Mass, it is also the devil trying to get to you, and it is just as bad as letting that rock music you mentioned at the start of the post distract you from the radio Mass. If I were to see this happening today, I would probably approach them with gentle and loving fraternal correction after Mass, or perhaps ask the priest to address it generally if it were a widespread practice. They might not even know what they’re doing is wrong, particularly in the U.S., in the case of holding hands during the Our Father or not kneeling when there’s no kneeler, for example. But I would not let it ruin Mass for me.
My second point regards your proposed solution of “church-hopping” within your metropolitan area. Actually, we are all encouraged to attend our closest local parish churches as much as possible (not simply “for convenience’s sake”) and should “church-hop” only when necessary. And we definitely shouldn’t drive 20 miles into town just for the buffet of extra church choices when there are three choices in our own immediate area. But if we see ongoing liturgical abuses in our home parishes that make us uncomfortable, it is our right and responsibility to address it with loving fraternal correction, even if it means approaching the pastor himself.
I really liked the Catholic Answers resource you listed, and he closed with this: “We are the Church itself, we are not the Church’s customers. Still less are we the Church’s audience. And we have a right to authentic liturgy (Inaestimabile Donum), liturgy exactly in line with all applicable rules and celebrated with a suitable sense of reverence (CIC 528). So if your priest offers sloppy, illicit, or even inappropriate liturgies, guess whose job it should be to pitch in and fix the problem?” Hits the nail right on the head.
I also highly recommend this recent post on the same topic at Held By His Pierced Hands. I think it’s also a really helpful addition to this conversation:
Thank you again for bringing up this important issue! God bless you and keep you! 🙂
United in the Eucharist,
Jessa in Jerusalem
Jessa in Jerusalem,
Thank you for the comment. It’s great to hear from someone so far away. Apparently I didn’t express myself properly, but I do realize Satan is trying to distract us from the Eucharist so we must avoid distraction if possible. While I don’t want to parish-hop, sometimes that is the best way to avoid the distractions I know I will encounter at a particular Mass. In addition, sometimes to entice my reluctant Catholic husband to attend Mass, I’ll go to a different parish at a different time. Our home parish only offers one Mass on the weekend, as it is a mission from one of the other parishes 20 minutes away in town. I have spoken (in various ways) to some of the priests (or even to the Bishop) responsible for some of the continual liturgical abuses. Often I get the same response I do when I veil in one of these “non-traditional” parishes — sometimes worse.
I know Jesus is present and more powerful in the Eucharist than anything else that happens at Mass. However, sometimes the “anything else” makes it more difficult to raise my children to be Faithful and to continue to educate my Baptized, but unConfirmed Catholic husband. I also sometimes need the silent reverence of a Faithful Mass to pull me from the distractions that a 3 and 5 year old bring to me. I truly believe that reverence for the Liturgy begins with those in the pews and I strive to be one of them. I pray daily for my local priests & compliment them on a thankless job well done because ultimately, even through all the distractions, the Eucharist in their hands is my spiritual Food for Life Everlasting.
Thank you again, Jessa from Jerusalem, for reading my post. Although it may not sound like it, I know Catholics everywhere are united regardless of the ‘fripperies’ of the liturgy through the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. God bless you!
Hi Erika, Great word: “fripperies!” 🙂 Thanks so much for your response! I will pray for you, especially for your family and your husband. Here in the Holy Land, there is a huge and glaring problem of lack of unity among Christians (particularly different types of Christians), and I realize now that it happens everywhere, even among Catholics. I’m sorry if people have hurt you when you try to extend that necessary fraternal correction to them. I pray every day that God will give us the strength and the patience to truly be the Light of the World. I’m also sorry if my previous comment came off a little too strong; it is so hard to regulate tone and intentions when typing rather than talking! I realize we all have our own crosses to bear and our own best ways of dealing with them. You will be in my prayers. I may be far away, but I’m not so far in Spirit; and most Catholic Sistas contributors are from the same general area of Texas that I lived for the last nine years and still consider home. And then, of course, there’s our common faith and precious Savior to unite us! 🙂 God bless you and all your future endeavors! ~ Jessa
No offense was taken. I apologize if I sounded defensive. I just wanted to reassure you that I did realize our true unity is Christ in the Eucharist. I also thought it would be beneficial to let others knows little more about why I feel they way I do and do what I do. The divide between Christians is surely added weight to Christ’s burden. By praying for one another and striving for full Communion with Christ we can heal the division. Blessings to you in the Holy Land!
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