Friday, April 18, 2014

Not-So-Good Friday Services

I have noted in several previous posts that I am a lifelong Catholic who has no tolerance for radical traditionalists but still sees that the Catholic Church has been steadily walking away from much of what make her "Catholic".

We read one account after another of Pope Francis making calls for what is in effect greater governmental control over the property/wealth of the individual. By his statements and firings of key leaders, he has also made it clear that the Church will largely abandon her traditional and obligatory role of protecting morality in the face of a West that is "going to hell in a handbasket".

One of the more disturbing manifestations of this ugly trend occurs in local parishes. There priests have taken to arbitrarily dispensing of time-honored and essentially hallowed traditions, many of which are crucial to the formation of the mindset that one would easily recognize as Catholic.

For children, simple yet effective practices such as Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, making sacrifices for Lent, and Good Friday services imprint on their minds good memories while concurrently teaching them important aspects of Faith. For adults, these have the added advantage of helping those who are weighed down with the stresses of work and periods of difficulty by reminding them that God's promise is a permanent one. They also have been the catalyst for fallen-away Catholics or those who have experienced crises in Faith to return to full communion with the Church.

These are precisely what are willfully being grossly abused by parish priests who seem to be enthusiastic about excising any and all symbolic practices that have long served to fuel both one's actual Faith and his imagination - the mental picture of what it means to be a son or daughter of the Church.

Today, it is not a rarity to walk into Church on Palm Sunday and become confused at being unable to see a table of palm fronds. After asking were then one may be able to obtain a palm - an object that (in the liturgy) is to be either carried in procession or held by the faithful for the annual blessing, the layperson is told "we give those out after mass". -sort of like a weekly church bulletin as you step outside to begin the rest of your day.

Corners have been cut too on Ash Wednesday. Not only does one no longer hear the words that remind him of those heard by Ezekiel  "remember you are dust and to dust you shall return" but is only exhorted "to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel", but the member may not even have someone (today often Laypersons or nuns) to apply the ashes to his forehead; a bowl of ashes are on a table for self-service - I came here for this? I could have burned my own palms from last year and done the same thing at home.

About twelve years ago, I experienced a very ugly demonstration of this attitude. After the annoying revelation that came from discovering that our new parish (which incidentally was designed in the kumbaya-type semicircular pattern) had their own bizarre and sloppy means of distributing palms, I witnessed something that was akin to a punch in the stomach. The Passion reading, which is the only Gospel selection (different ones are used for Palm Sunday and Good Friday -for example Good Friday always features that of John) that is done in narrative format, was simply butchered.

The narrative - put put it as succinctly as possible, has the priest speaking the words of Jesus, a lector narrating, another lector speaking the words of characters other than Jesus, and the faithful speaking the words of a group or the crowd. Both young and old benefit greatly from this means of participation - particularly when we are all reminded that it we whose sins were the reason that the mob was to be persuaded by those who collaborated with the Romans to cry out that Jesus should be crucified. This yearly experience leaves an indelible imprint in the mind of a believer.

The narrative in this case was treated as something that must be hurried along - the short, portly priest took all of the speaking parts; it was a disgrace. There I was with my daughter, who was ten at the time and looked forward to the passion reading after having been raised doing so on Palm Sunday. After doing some mental math, I determined that if I left at that moment I could arrive for a mass at the church in my original hometown (which started at later time) to participate in an actual reading of the Lord's Passion. We left and did (just barely) in fact arrive in time for a decently-held Passion reading.

For the next thirteen years, things for the most part went well at the parish in which I had received all of my sacraments except for baptism and marriage.

That is, until today.

Our parish has a fairly large Vietnamese community - one that has enough members to have masses or services in their own language. Two years ago, the parish changed Good Friday service (not a mass on that day) to an earlier time so that the Vietnamese could have their service at a reasonable hour. That arrangement worked well enough; three hours is more than enough time to complete one service to make room for another.

This year, the schedule was the same. 5:00 PM for the Celebration of the Lord's Passion and 8:00 PM for the Vietnamese service - no reason to think that anything would be amiss.

After a hurriedly-done entrance by the priests and deacon (which was from the sacristy rather than  from the front of the church), the service began in an otherwise normal fashion. No longer with young ones in tow myself, I was happy to see a number of young families with their little ones. Once the moment for the Passion reading arrived, the priest made an announcement - and repeated the same, that the reading would not be done in the form of a narrative. I felt so badly for the children who were missing a truly precious monument in their lives; one that for which many no doubt felt great anticipation. He then read off the words as quickly as had the priest many years ago (note both of whom had enough people with them to help and more than a sufficient amount of time). I watched one parishioner after another place their missals down as following the text was no longer as necessary as they had expected.

The reading was a disgrace. It was rushed and left no room at all for the experience - the feeling, of being a part of a key part of the history of mankind - when the God Incarnate endured betrayal, suffered so greatly, and gave his life to undo the sin or our father and mother in the Garden of Eden.

Somehow, I was able to remain standing in place until the priests finished with his ugly act. Once it was over, I decided that I wanted no part of remaining at this service which apparently meant so little for him. I walked outside  and texted my son, who had wanted to go but had an engagement that he needed to attend, and told him that he didn't miss anything. I then returned home and resolved to prepare the words that I will need when I confront the priest and let him know what he did for the sake of brevity.

I will report back - hopefully within a week, with the results.

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