I’m Giving Up Bad Liturgy for Lent

That’s it.

It’s a late Lenten resolution but this Lent, I am giving up bad liturgies.

I’ve had enough of it. All of it.

The ad-libbed Eucharistic Prayers, the casual sauntering around the Altar, the bongos, the Creed mysteriously left out, the trite homilies, the banjos, the empty stoups during Lent, the equally (theologically) empty hymns from the 90s, the dismal homilies, the handing-holding in the Our Father, the “Blessing songs”, and the constant chatter before, after and (I’m serious) during Mass.

It’s so… awful. Sometimes, it feels like a Rotary club putting on play about soft pop-rock, druids and the importance of self-esteem.

It’s not just that it’s ugly (which it is), but that it’s so irreverent. And I’m sitting there, wondering, where is God in all this?

I think I tolerated it for so long because, as Dr. Seuss might say, a Mass is a Mass, no matter how bad. It can disrespectful, shambolic, lazy or even illicit and still be valid. Jesus Christ, in His immense mercy, still comes to us. It is still His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity that is offered to the Eternal Father; and which we are still privileged to consume.

And that’s awesome.

Lent CartoonBut just because it’s “valid”, or even not dreadful, doesn’t mean it’s helpful.

“‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up.” (1 Co 10:23)

I have to finally admit that bad liturgy is not beneficial. In fact, it’s downright poisonous.

So no more.

I’ve avoided making this resolution.

It’s from partly laziness. The churches immediately around me are, um, not the greatest. But when I’m tired, or rushing, or have lost track of time (which is ALL. THE. TIME.), it’s so much easier just to go there. So I drift in most weeks… and then leave discouraged.  

But it was also with good intentions. It’s still Mass right? And it feels like a kind of pride to say, “actually you’re not good enough for me and I’m going elsewhere.” Doesn’t Jesus say not to judge others? Who am I, baby Catholic that I am, to judge others?

But there’s a difference between judging others and knowing your limits. And although I thought I was avoiding pride, I was actually falling right into it.  

You see, I thought I should be able to handle it.

I’m a mature Christian; I don’t need the “props” of a Mass well done like others. I can thrive in bad conditions because I’m that awesome. In fact, I can probably help change things – like, I’ll just rock up and everyone will be like, “Wow! Mass really is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth. Thanks Laura!” (Oh, how I wish I was joking…)

So I’ve been doggedly going to Mass, scandalised by the irreverence and irregularities, and I haven’t had the humility to see how it is slowly starving me. 

But no more.

Jan van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb, 1425-29 (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten)

Jan van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb, 1425-29 (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten)

I need to embrace my littleness, my babyhood, my fragility and stop thinking I can handle this. I can’t. It’s not my job to decide what’s edifying and what’s not. And I need to learn that it’s not weakness to need encouragement, whether from beauty or other Christians.

I am a sapling and I need the good soil of a reverent Mass. 

I am an infant and I need the pure milk of a holy liturgy.  

I am human and I need all the help I can get. 

As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust. (Ps 103:13-14)

I’m finally admitting that I desperately need a beautiful and holy Mass. It’s my new, impromptu Lenten resolution. Because really, who am I, baby Catholic that I am, to think I can survive without it?

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20 responses to “I’m Giving Up Bad Liturgy for Lent

  1. My family moved to a different parish about 10 years ago for the same reason. Banjos, trite homilies and the looming threat of liturgical dance (!) caused us to flee. Luckily the parish we moved to was not too far out of the way and I’ve seen my children, my husband and I grow immensely in our faith. We’ve also met many like-minded people who have become good friends. I sincerely hope and pray you will find what your soul craves soon.

    • Goodness! I’ve never come across any liturgical dance, even the threat of it! I’m glad to hear that you have had such a wonderful experience. It gives me hope! 🙂

  2. Really? Banjos? Wow.
    I agree with you that bad liturgy is poisonous. Reading more and more on the current “sentimental theology” that has infiltrated the Church, it has invaded our hymns. Instead of hymns about the glory of God and the like, we have hymns about our egos. Having to sing those songs every Sunday (Or Saturday, I do Saturdays 😀 ) is a habit; and those songs eventually become ingrained in you. I’d say we’re basically brainwashing ourselves!

    • Haha yes, actual banjos but I think I was still more amazed at the bongos… 😉

      You’re so right about the hymns, they are are incredibly people-centred. It’s not that they say anything particularly untrue, it’s everything they leave out: God, salvation, glory, judgment, the real presence etc. I like to think that those hymns are sinning by omission rather than commission but as we all know in our lives, that can be just as dangerous!

  3. I recently had a very similar conversation with an older member of my parish. I really wish she would have said the same things to me. She didn’t. She told me something very different. I want to share them with you to offer a different perspective. It isn’t to say you are wrong. Believe me, I want to do the same thing. I feel the same way. However, upon hearing her words and praying about it, I have decided to heed her advice. Its abbrieviated, and if it sounds harsh to you, don’t worry….It chapped my behind really good. Here is what she basically said:
    “Roy, we are not protestants. We don’t church hop or pick where we get fed. We support our parish. Why? Because we are Catholic. To go somewhere else because it is better entirely negates the power of the Eucharist. Rather than spending your time lamenting what you don’t like about this parish, focus on your own worship of Christ. Focus on your need to complain (Out loud or in your mind). Try disciplining yourself to not be moved by the antics or poor form of others. Discipline, its almost entirely a Catholic idea nowadays. That is why you came here wasn’t it? For reverance, discipline, and worship.” She went on a while more. I was thouroughly miffed. Then I realized she was correct. Christ was calling me to discipline and greater reverance. To not go with the flow…a worldly and protestant idea. Like I said, just food for thought. You don’t have to get twitterpated the way I do.

    Roy

    • Thank you Roy for commenting, both in offering another perspective (always welcome!) and doing it so graciously. I think the older woman at your parish is right in many ways. The Eucharist is still Jesus Christ, and that is an incredible miracle!! And she’s also right that we don’t get to chose how we are fed or follow our own whims. We are Catholics and we know that discipline is good for us!

      That said, I think this is a “wisdom” issue, with no hard and fast rules. Both staying and leaving, if done prayerfully and humbly, can be a wise decision. It also depends on so many other things like other support networks, personal experiences and just where you are at in life. It reminds me of St Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians to look out for the weaker brother. In this case, I am perfectly willing to admit I am the weaker, well, sister in this case!

      But I pray that both of us will receive the grace to adore Jesus whatever the distractions, to quickly forgive and even not see the faults or annoying quirks of others – and that our parishes will also grow in holiness and reverence for the Lord. That would be a win-win, wouldn’t it?

      Thank you again for your kindness and honesty. God bless and keep you, Laura 🙂

  4. If only all Catholics would give up bad liturgies!

    Stay or migrate — It’s a tough choice that requires much prayer. I’ve endured plenty of bad homilies, banal hymns and music, and of course the irreverent chatter that envelopes the sanctuary before and after mass, but I’ve never experienced ad-libbed Eucharistic Prayers, bongos, banjos or the omission of the creed! I’ve considered not attending my local parish in favor of a parish with a more reverent and proper liturgy, but I decided to stay for at least a few reasons:

    1) The parish currently has Holy and orthodox priests and deacons
    2) The parish has over the past few years undone some of the awful innovations in liturgical practice and architecture (yes, they put the tabernacle behind the altar and replaced the dreadful resurrectifix with a proper crucifix).
    3) Many of the dissenting and disinterested Catholics are dying out or leaving the church literally on a weekly basis (Kyrie eleison!).
    4) I’m convinced that much of what is wrong at the parish is due to bad catholic laity who are on the way out (see #3) and/or previous, less orthodox priests at the parish.

    However, if these conditions did not exist I would seriously consider attending another parish. I don’t think this is equivalent to church shopping or “going Protestant” for that matter (believe me I used to be one!). If a parish is not faithful to the Catholic faith you have no obligation to attend that particular parish. It is the parish that has gone Protestant, not you!

    Just a few thoughts from a fellow convert (1 year this Easter!).

    Btw, you might like this article by Dr. Taylor Marshall on “the great Catholic migration” over at his blog: http://www.taylormarshall.com/2013/01/are-you-part-of-great-catholic.html

    • Hey Aaron, thank you for such a thoughtful and gracious response! 🙂

      You’re right that there are many factors at play and that either way, this sort of decision requires much prayer! You actually reminded me that the parish also has the tabernacle off in a side chapel. It always feels confusing genuflecting…

      I think that, as in my case, where the Mass is actually said wrong, not just done sloppily and where I desperately need some encouragement to grow in my faith and stay the course, it makes sense to move. At least, I hope it does!

      And thank you for the link too! I don’t quite think I’ll end up at a Latin Mass (I like English too much!), this frustration with poor and irreverent masses does seem to be common. It’s a great shame.

      Oh, and CONGRATULATIONS on almost making it a whole year!!! 😀 I’m in the same boat – and no, I’m not just talking about the barque of Peter. 😉

      • Laura,

        Congratulations to you as well! It’s refreshing to see faithful and young Catholics like you giving the boot to compromise and complacency in the faith.

        Just to clarify, I’m not an avid proponent of the Latin Mass, but I have many friends who are and as a result I’ve come to appreciate its importance in the life of the Church. For what its worth, I’ve never been to a Latin Mass that was sloppy or irreverent, but I think this has a lot to do with the kind of priests that are attracted to the LM and the kind of attention and discipline that is require to celebrate it (after all why would an undisciplined and sloppy priest take the time to learn all that Latin and liturgical movement?). I pray that more priests celebrate the ordinary form with extraordinary devotion and reverence to Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist.

  5. So sad, but true. I’m for leaving – writing a letter to the bishop, the pastor, with reasons why you are going to find a more ‘true’ Catholic church to attend Mass. Usually churches like this also have other activities that are also ‘off’, for lack of a better word. Perhaps you could participate in something to shine a light – but again, I don’t know how bad this issue is. Another thought is you could go to the church when Mass isn’t going on and spend a holy hour there, praying for the pastor, the ministers, the congregation. You might think you are just a baby, but you’ve obviously had more meat than someone who’s running things at this church. God bless you and may the Holy Spirit guide you.

  6. Excellent piece! This was so well written, and so true. Probably the same reason I go to church by myself so often, too. The church Janitor and maintenance people know me by name, only b/c I go during their work hours each week, not during mass times! Sometimes that can help you build relationships! All the books and reading materials are there for you to read and interpret on your own. You are a smart, bright girl. I know you will find a happy middle ground! ❤

  7. Pingback: Dear God, I have depression | CATHOLIC CRAVINGS·

  8. Much good sense here, Laura, far too often our churches (of any denomination) do not give us what we need, we have the same problem on our side of the aisle, and sometimes it’s people of very good will that have never learned themselves why there is a set liturgy, and often they don’t wish to hear about it either but, as others have said, it seems to be getting better (at least I hope so) as my generation loses influence, which can’t happen too soon.

  9. I feel the same way, probably even more vocal. In any St Suburbia Catholic Church your in for a rude awakening. Even though I live in the suburbs a huge city I have to drive about 30 miles to find a building that looks like a church, sounds like a church, and teaches like a church. Although I have found one fix. St. Thomas (Episcopal) in New York believes in real presence, the homilies are superb and they broadcast live (audio) on their website. I may not commune as much as I would like, but listening to St. Thomas in surround sound beats any tripe that St. Suburbia can offer.

  10. Bravo! You’ve hit the liturgical nail on the head. I have been so thankful for my parish priest over the past few years. He’s in his early 30s. I just THOUGHT I was conservative. He began correcting “mistakes” from the start. No more holding hands during the Our Father as an example. And this man, so young, obviously called of God to be a priest, has provided me with a very real evidence to base my hope on. A hope that we’ll get back to spiritual reality, remember that its HOLY Mass, and act accordingly. Thank you for such a wonderful post. And also for subscribing to my blog. God bless you. (And I’d say He has.) 🙂

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