29 July 2009

St. Guy and the Potluck Mass

LCR ran a story the other day about a Mass celebrated by a priest familiar with the Catholic Worker movement. The story is no big deal, but there was a picture of a group of people in lawn chairs around a table loaded with picnic foods. No biggie, except in the middle of it all were a Paten and Chalice, and the story describes the scene as the Mass itself. The photo above is a redacted view with just the immediate area around the supposed-to-be sacred vessels. The reason for this is that I didn't want any flack for showing specific people.

In any event, this rusticated abuse of Mass set off one of my regular readers, who goes by the nom-de-guerre of StGuyFawkes. Like Guy, he throws an incendiary or two in the post below:


By StGuyFawkes

Once upon a time, you were at a Mass like this. It may have been after your theatre club finished a three night run of “GODSPELL” . Or maybe you attended this Mass on a “Youth Group Weekend”. But admit it. You did once attend a Mass like this.

Examine the photo: Men have not even bothered to remove their hats. The consecrated bread and wine stand alongside what looks like a cheese ball. The whole set-up suggests that Christ’s body were another kind of three-bean-salad, or a Jell-O mold. My mother would say, “Don’t these heathen know how to kneel?”

On the other hand, it does look to be a Mass conducted before dinner -- observing the one hour fast. And to be generous, the pot luck items, one supposes, might be “Offertory Gifts”. Still, this “Pot Luck Mass” drives me crazy! I just can’t get past the consecrated matter being placed across from a crock-pot. Wherever I witness the “Pot Luck” Mass I always get these strange messages.

1.) The sacrament is mere food! Christ’s body is no different than hot dogs.

2.) Another message is, “Everyone here is just as informal and sincere as the disciples at “The Last Supper”. Gee, aren’t we all loving and intimate?”

3.) Also the “Pot Luck Mass” always seems to whisper, “If we are now, in this liturgy, just like Jesus and the disciples at the ‘Last Supper’, then who needs bishops? Or a Church? We are Church.”

And of course, “The Pot Luck Mass” suggests THE BIG QUESTION, “Who confects bean salad, string bean casserole, and bundt cake, really? Well, women, of course! Therefore, why not women priests?”

“The Pot Luck Mass” seems like a buffet of half baked ideas taken off the back of the macaroni box; and worse, it draws ants. It invites the little crawlies of vanity and self delusion to come up on the table. And the worst part of the “Pot Luck Mass” is that lurking within the sauce -- maybe it’s the taste of a bug that fell in -- is the flavor of Calvinism.

Oh, yes! In this "loving, accepting, all inclusive" liturgy there’s often just a teaspoon of Calvin’s idea of the pre-destined elect. In their arch-casualness and stern sloppiness you sense the aroma of high self opinion. The congregants studied cluelessness of rubrics whispers, “We’re so good, we’re so holy, we’re so close to Jesus, we don’t have to kneel or beat our breasts or do anything uncomfortable. We’re better than other people.”

I don’t know if anyone ever meant it this way but it’s there anyway. The “Pot Luck Mass” is snobbish precisely because it is slobbish. The mixture of informality, and intimacy, in liturgy – or anywhere else -- always excludes more than it welcomes. Think of your college fraternity acting badly. Think of the relaxed grossness of your soccer team after a match. It’s a rule of human nature: informality and intimacy imply in-group exclusivity. “The Pot Luck Mass” is for people who already like and approve of each other. Too often, at the “Pot Luck Mass” you find a confraternity of the like-minded whose deepest wish is to celebrate themselves.

They call that “being sacrament to each other”. I call it group narcissism.

Paradoxically, it’s the regular Sunday parish Mass that escapes all this warm and fuzzy self-admiration. The Tridentine Mass, or the Novus Ordo Mass, done reverently, creates a community out of anyone who shows up. It’s as unselective as an A.A. meeting. The regular scheduled Masses don't need a pre-existing social base to work as liturgy. They create one by the power of reverence and discipline, humility and rubrics. Just like in A.A.

The fact is that the regular Parish Mass is more egalitarian than the back yard “Beggars’ Banquet”. Why? Because the regular parish Mass is there for everyone. It’s there for the Antonin Scalias and the Dorothy Days. It’s there for both Martin Sheen and Phyllis Schlafly. It’s universal, it’s Catholic.

When I went to “Pot Luck Masses” in the 1970s I always felt lonelier after they ended. I finally figured out why. These Masses were only for the "special people" who were really supposed to be there. They weren’t really for everyone. Those Masses may have been valid.

But they weren’t Catholic.


Anonymous said...

StGuyFawkes said...
Readers: to get an understanding of what I am griping about go to this URL and witness the LCR posting which has a bigger picture of the kind of Mass I am talking about.


Anonymous said...

just wondering said...
WHOOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, GO GET EM TIGER! excellent post St. Guy, but i'm feeling a little ashamed to say that i have never, nor will i ever attend a pot luck mass. uh-uh, no way,not happenin.

Anonymous said...

The closest I'd experienced to something like this was when I was a kid in the early 70's. My uncle, a priest, used to celebrate Mass on the dining room table at home on Sunday with Wonder bread and Riunite. Yea, I got to cut the pieces of bread ... felt pretty important for a 10 year old.

'Don't think I went to Mass THAT Sunday.


Latinmassgirl said...

I have never heard of a Pot-Luck mass, but had the unfortunate luck to run into a Polka Mass. Has anybody heard of that? Not edifying.

Anonymous said...

Pot Luck Mass - yeah see 'em. But the table for the Altar did not have the picnic food on it!

Polka Mass? Yup. Every year first Saturday in May - KCKS Polski Day Celebration. The Polish Constitution Day is May 3rd - sorta like the US's 4th of July. They have a parade in the morning, Polka Mass @ 4pm - then the food, beer and fun begins. Church - St Joseph-St Benedict. In Chicago it is a much bigger celebration. I know a few Polish people around my age go up to join in the fun. Polka Mass is weird. I went once, felt uncomfortable. We decided to join in the fun later, well after Mass.

Martha in KC

Anonymous said...

I said a so-called Polka Mass once for an ethnic Slavic parish at one of their annual homecoming festivals. Let me just say that whereas the outdoor-picnic-casualness isn't my style, the Mass needed to be outdoors to accommodate the large crowd at that particular event and that, typical of many eastern European ethnic parishes, the Mass was indeed very reverent. The "Polka" aspwect of the Mass was simply that the Mass parts were sung according to polka music with accordions. Strange and not my style, but still reverent and I think not really worthy of our derision. We are not talking about anything that would be done in places like Cronan's at all. Fr.J.R.

StGuyFawkes said...

Dear Fr. J.R.,

Thanks for your reply. My little essay was not directed at outdoor uses of the Roman Lectionary read and done with reverence. My complaint is with a kind of liturgical free styling you find most often in self styled "Faith Communities" where the congregants feel possessed of some very special connection with Jesus which -- when accompanied by a very personal connection to each other -- justifies liturgical sacrilige.

I believe these communities are gnostic or calvinist to the extent that they base their practices on deep unexpressible intuitions of a special election or gnosis given to them as to what Jesus meant and who is good or bad. This gnosis is frequently nothing more than political correctness made esoteric.

This "gnosis" cannot be explained to other Catholics who are comprimised by the successive layers of ignorance. These layers of ignorance were called demiurges by the original gnostics, but our new gnostics call these layers "racism" or "sexism" or "insensitivity to structures of oppression".

I don't think a Polka Mass is sacriligious.

I think Masses conducted such that appropriate gestures of respect such as kneeling are lacking need to be stopped.

Thanks for writing.

St. Guy

Latinmassgirl said...

Dear Fr. J.R.,

With all due respect, it is my opinion that the Polka mass or any very lively music mass, especially outdoors, is generally not very reverent and takes away from the sacred liturgy.

The Polka mass I am talking about seeing, was right outside the church. They had a picnic and didn't want to take the time to go to mass, so they simply held mass outside, complete with upbeat, festive, Polka music, wearing shorts, flip flops and tank tops.

We went to a "Rock n Roll" mass indoors by accident once and didn't like that either.