Mary DeTurris relates in a two-part post (here and here) her growing disillusionment with the Catholic Church’s liturgy and her increasingly inability to put up with its foibles. There’s a lot to sympathize with and a little to criticize in Ms. DeTurris’ posts. She is bored by bad homilies (a complaint shared by a few Orthosphere writers), for instance, but it’s not the average parish priest’s fault that the Pauline lectionary stinks and has the effect of reducing the proclamation of the Word from a theophanic encounter with the Word incarnate to a dry undergraduate exegesis lecture. (Compare crummy diocesan parish homilies to the truly exceptional ones given by Traditionalist priests, who are not tied to the mast of a purely and exclusively didactic lectionary).* And she is alienated by the near-absent community life of her parish, but evidently doesn’t feel the need to take any steps to ameliorate it, as if community life is something that can only be handed down ex cathedra by the hierarchy, as if the laity are not itself members of the body of Christ. (EDIT: And one absolutely must not take seriously her suggestion to withhold support from the Church, i.e., to neglect our duties in a grave matter).
Still, she’s on to something, especially when she writes:
When I go to church and nothing – from the six-verse processional dirge to the poor sound system to the inane homilies to the complete lack of community – seems to feed me, well, I tend to ask myself one question, “If I were coming to this church for the very first time, if I were a non-Catholic thinking about becoming a Catholic, would I ever come back?” And nine times out of ten, the answer is a resounding NO!
She’s right, and I know, because I’ve been in that position. A year or so before my conversion I attended my first Mass at an awful, ugly, white marble, fish-shaped church in exurban West Virginia and walked away so annoyed and alienated by its sickeningly self-referential character that I never would have believed I would soon convert. My more emotive friends sometimes marvel that my conversion was so intellectually and academically motivated but, really, what else would there be to appeal to me? To anyone? Who is converted by a guitar-strumming Elvis impersonator wailing “Gather Us In” or a 25-minute lecture in broken Spanglish about how God wants you to feel good about yourself? There’s very little that’s superficially or obviously good, interesting, or engaging in the postconciliar liturgy to recommend Catholicism to someone not born into it.
I was especially moved when she wrote the following:
Some who don’t know me very well — or at all — assumed (wrongly) that one or two bad homilies had sent me running. All that matters is the Eucharist, they said. And, I’ll give you this, the only reason I stayed seated in that church this weekend is because of the Eucharist. I would have been out the door before the homily was even close to over if not for that, but are we really going to pretend that the Word doesn’t matter?
I’ve heard this counter-objection before, “why isn’t the Eucharist enough for you?”, and even been on the receiving end of it. There is a glimmer of truth in it, and plenty, too, of that species of mincing minimalism common to the present age that sees the approaching of the essence of a thing as entailing the cutting-away of extraneous appendages rather than a gradual perfecting and integrating. A man who loves his wife is not content to say that his interior love suffices; love, when it is real love, naturally seeks expression — he longs to give her good things, at a minimum safety and security and children, and accounts himself a failure when he can’t. Likewise, yes, the Eucharist is what matters at Mass: that’s what we’re there for, what it’s all about, that encounter with the risen Christ come down again from Heaven to nourish the faithful. But if we truly believed what we say about the Eucharist and what we say we feel about Christ, we would not dare to treat him as shabbily as we do — greeting him with abysmal and tediously self-obsessed “sacred music,” mocking him and his doctrines and his beloved Church with homilies that alternately veer between stand-up comedy routines and freshman orientation nondiscrimination seminars, disposing of the sacred vessels that carry his precious body and blood with carelessness and frivolity, dishing him out like a handful of M&Ms even to unrepentant and manifest sinners who gobble him out of cupped hands raised to the mouth, and then eyeing with suspicion all who object to and are deeply wounded by the impiety of the arrangement, blisteringly speculating “why isn’t the Eucharist enough for you?”, which translates into “why aren’t you a saint?”, which rhymes with “why aren’t you as great as me?”
Such, sadly, is the reality of life in the postconciliar Church, where the message from parish priests and spiritual directors and canon lawyers and airport bishops is a near-unanimous shut up and get with the program, where every day is a trial and every Mass a penance.
* I’ve thought about writing a post detailing at length the numerous defects of the 1970 lectionary, but I wonder if this would be too remote for our readers.