From the Pastor: More about what to “do” at Mass
Picking up where I left off last week, aside from the most perfect act of full, active, conscious participation of the congregation at Mass (which is praying, in case you have been deprived of that most obvious bit of essential and useful information), there are things which the congregation may also “do” at Mass. But before I get into what can and/or should be done, let me clarify and correct some misconceptions about what should or should not be done.
As I mentioned, when I was growing up and when I was being taught in the seminary, “uniformity” was the Utopian ideal. Everyone in the church was supposed to be doing exactly the same thing at the same time and in the same manner as everyone else. Any deviation was considered an offence, and the greater the deviation the greater the offence. Many people, even seminary professors, took this uniformity to extremes in that even whatever the priest was doing at Mass, the congregation had to do as well. That is why you will often see people raising their hands along with the priest at the “Our Father” for instance, or priests asking people to extend their hands in “blessing” along with him when he is extending his to pray over someone. This extreme uniformity is also a culprit when investigating why so many communion rails were taken down (the priest receives Holy Communion standing up and from his own hands, after all). It also explains why the steps to the altar were removed and seats were placed completely surrounding the sanctuary (extreme uniformity means there is to be no distinction between the “people’s place” and the “priest’s place” at the celebration of the Mass). It is also responsible for an atrocity that was so offensive to the true Catholic teaching of the distinction between the ordained priest and the unordained laity--and yet had became so widespread that people were beginning to think it was “Catholic”--that the Church finally had to say, “Enough is enough! Cease and desist!” I am speaking of priests inviting the people to come join him around the altar during the consecration, as if they were somehow helping him to confect the Eucharist. Egads! And, yes, I was taught to, and (woe is me!) actually did this early in my priesthood!
There are truly distinctions, real distinctions, between a validly ordained priest and an unordained lay person. These distinctions will remain for all of eternity, so great are they. There is even a great distinction between an ordained priest and an ordained deacon, which at Mass is is supposed to be most apparent when the deacon kneels during the consecration along with the altar servers and even any ordained priests or bishops who are present “in choir” but not celebrating or concelebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Unfortunately what should be an exception to the rule (a deacon physically unable to kneel due to very bad knees, for instance) has instead become, in many places, a bishop's’ mandate that all deacons must remain standing at the consecration. This, again, is the result of the extreme view of “uniformity,” for if one deacon cannot kneel, then none will be allowed to do so under this way of thinking.
Along these same lines, another “uniformity” issue comes up that is so ingrained as to not even be apparent to the most fervent of Catholics. This uniform thinking says, “Nobody is to be in the church while Mass is going on unless they are participating in that particular Mass, at that time, in the same way as everyone else.” An example will clarify what I mean. What would you think if, during Mass, especially during the consecration, a little old lady wandered into the church, made her way up the side aisle to the statue of, say, Our Lady of Good Health, lit a candle, deposited some money, knelt to say a few prayers, and wandered out again? “Tsk, tsk.” would be a nice way of putting what most people would think. “Doesn’t she know Mass is going on? Doesn’t she know that she is distracting everyone (meaning: me)?” But in reality, that type of non-uniformity, that type of distraction, is no issue for the Church! How can I say such a thing? I point to the TLM rubrics for a priest proceeding out of the sacristy and into the church to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice. He is told what to do if he passes by an altar where Mass is being celebrated, what he is to do if he hears the bells signaling the consecration as he is passing by, and what to do if Exposition is going on at an altar he will pass. Twenty side altars could hold twenty priests celebrating twenty different Masses (different prayers, readings, vestment colors, etc.) starting and ending at twenty different times, and attended by twenty different congregations and Holy Mother Church would not pooh-pooh any of that as an offence against the Lord, against the priest celebrating Mass at any of the other altars, or against any of those congregations. Certainly the little old lady who only wished to honor the Blessed Mother or beg her intercession would not be out of line!
Darn. I have gone way too long here. More to come next week.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka