Above: An official promotional graphic from the Vatican Synod on Synodality (posted on their Facebook page here).
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are required to attend Mass.
– CIC, can. 1247.
It’s Saturday night and I’m trying to endure another “Sunday” Mass in my hometown. A snowstorm, along with the cost of hotels and driving, forced our family to stay home this weekend away from our usual Sunday mass out of town.
The church building appears to be buffeted by wind and snow pounding its side. Inside, the unforgiving winds of the spirit of Vatican II continue to blow around the “People of God,” or what remains of them.
The new parish priest left his mark on the parish in just a few months. The best way to describe him is that he is the image of Pope Francis by the parish priest. The little white-haired congregation usually get lectures about how we live in the time of Vatican II, not Vatican I (not sure what that means) and that tradition was suffocating the Church before Vatican II (again, not sure what that means). Active participation is now required in the parish, especially through singing Happy birthday to others at the end of the mass. Meanwhile, we are told that the value of the Mass comes solely from those present. How ironic, considering how the congregation has shrunk since Vatican II. As for the mass as being the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary? I guess it’s so Vatican I.
I look up during this mass and see an altar boy in the sanctuary playing the guitar while his brothers next to him laugh. It’s a far cry from a few months ago, when my two oldest boys served. They were good at what they did, I must say. However, they gave up. The new priest forbids them to genuflect when entering the sanctuary. No compromise. Better to play a fake guitar than to genuflect before Christ.
As the only choir boy cuts out a false guitar solo, I decide to temporarily give up this mass. Having young children is a blessing. If need be, I can take our baby to the church basement, and no one wonders why. A little pinch and I’m gone…
In the basement, I say my rosary while holding in my arms our dear, but fussy, little Benoît. This is the only way to pray at such a mass. Yet even that is disturbed. I hear the echoes of a Broadway musical entering the basement. “Hallelujah…for the glory…and the honor…is yours…Hallelujah!” I thought I lowered the microphone volume last week? They are on me. As “and the glory…” returns again, I imagine Hell as a place filled with church microphones – a good incentive to live in a state of grace.
I walk around with Benoît, but soon feelings of shame are well anchored in me. My wife and oldest children are upstairs and I’m hiding downstairs. Would Saint Joseph do this? Just What would it do in our situation? Flee to Egypt? Flip the banners and Glory and Praise hymns while stringing a whip? I am not Saint Joseph. I go upstairs and shyly hand our baby to my wife. She rushes downstairs with him. Tag, it’s me. I take a look at our other children. They look like extreme pain and suffering. They don’t like each other here anymore. They told me. Everyone asked in advance if we could drive the two plus hours to the traditional Latin Mass at 5am the next morning. Snowstorm or no snowstorm. But we can’t. It’s not sure. We live where we are and we can’t afford to live any closer to an MLT. Not yet anyway. But if readers here bought my latest children’s fiction novel…
Now the altar boys are laughing. They copy the actions of the priest during the Our father. Not like my three-year-old son does for his hero-priest at TLM, but like those who think the whole “celebration” is a joke. Arms in the air. Arms down. Swing here. Movement there. Active participation indeed. It’s a Simon Says game, and I’m not talking about Simon Peter. But again, at least the altar boys didn’t genuflect as they entered the sanctuary.
After a final interpretation of Happy birthday, the mass ends happily. Our Sunday Obligation – Emphasis on obligation– is fulfilled. The priest then finds me and begins to ask me why my boys have stopped serving. Maybe he noticed the air guitar after all? Seconds after I mention genuflecting, we both launch into verbal fanatics. I’m in no mood to take a beating from him. I start going in for the metaphorical murder. He immediately says that he has to leave. It is very good. Me too. We both know there will be – there can be – no deal or compromise. My wife and I take our kids home and put them to bed.
I stay awake most of the night. The wind howls. The sky seems clear as day because of the falling snow. All I can think about is how to survive mass next week. No, we cannot go to a TLM every week. It’s too expensive and tiring. But we can’t keep showing up every week for a spiritual beating. Can we? I throw out the idea of arriving at mass as late as “legally” possible, saying a rosary with the whole family in the basement, then leaving as soon as “legally” possible. We will get the Sacraments elsewhere, whenever we can. But the idea doesn’t quite suit me. And so, I stay up another two hours looking for another solution.
East this Catholicism? East this the glorious Catholic Church which has conquered the hearts of the nations? Hide in the basement while Mass stumbles upstairs? To be compelled to receive spiritual abuse, under pain of mortal sin and eternal damnation?
I know many will say things like: just move– as if well-paying jobs were as plentiful as modern synods. Just talk to the bishop– as if most bishops care to listen. Just Ffind the SSPX– as if only 700 priests could reach the whole world on any given Sunday. Suffer anything because Jesus is there –as if the mass were only a service of communion, and that the little children are not formed by the way in which they adore.
Anyway, all these comments miss the point. The current state of the Catholic Church is a mess. Worse still, the mess is growing. It seems that every week a bishop or two pulls the rug out from under a TLM community, or even suspends a devout Novus Ordo priest. Faithful Catholics, many of whom already moved to a new city for a respectful mass, find themselves in a situation similar to ours. It is a great spiritual test. More than that, it is dangerous for the education of their children.
The Catechism of Trent says that Catholics are obliged “to go to church and there, with sincere piety and devotion, to attend the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”. As far as I know, the Catechism of Trent does not speak of air guitars and vocals Happy birthday. To go further, there is no question of clownish masses, rock’n’roll rites, liturgies inspired by James Martin, nor excessive and heresy masses under the post-conciliar sun.
To all this, I therefore pose an open question: How can Catholics be required to attend such a Mass? How can Catholics be forced to be spiritually abused? Are there no limits to what a Catholic would be obligated to attend?
I have heard arguments from both sides. Some declare with conviction that no, one is not obliged to attend Mass when it is spiritually dangerous. What am I thinking about, how far is too far? Define precisely what is too dangerous. Others, however, firmly state that one is still obliged to attend Mass. Of what I think of the many Catholics who have lost the faith of their families because of these unfaithful liturgies.
I have no answers. All I can do is say where I am right now. My conscience tells me to go to mass, but also to be very suspicious. In other words, our family will continue to suppress it. Day by day. Week by week. We will travel to other parishes, especially to the nearest TLM, whenever possible. We will receive the sacraments somewhere, one way or another. We will supplement the faith as best we can for our children. And yes, if need be, we will even spend more time in the basement of the church “in hiding”.
But such an organization cannot last forever. Christ says he came to give us life and to give it more abundantly. Eventually something will have to give, for Christ cannot lie. We cannot spend our lives dreading every weekend mass.
Saint Joseph, patron saint of families, come to our aid. And help all the families enduring a similar ordeal. Because a family is not supposed to hide in a church basement far from mass.