10 May 2011

The Emperor's New Clothes Retold, with Apologies to Hans Christian Andersen

This is a fable, with no direct correlation to reality.  It is about a mythical liturgical reform, with no direct correlation to any particular real-world attempts to reform any particular real-world liturgy.  If you think otherwise, shame on you.


The Prelate's New Mass

Many years ago there was a prelate so exceedingly fond of liturgical novelty that he spent all his time trying to change the ancient liturgies of his Church. He cared nothing about praying, saying his rosary, or studying theology, except to try out his new ideas for the liturgy.

In the great Church to which he belonged, the spiritual life was always vibrant. Every day many converts came to faith, and among them one day came two trained liturgists. They let it be known they were liturgists, and they said they could weave the most magnificent liturgical novelties imaginable. Not only were the colors and patterns of their tablecloth chasubles and felt banners uncommonly fine, but items made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming spiritually toxic to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid or un-pastoral.

"Those would be just the rubrics for me," thought the prelate. "If I used them I would be able to discover which priests in my Church are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools. Yes, I certainly must get some of the stuff for me right away." He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.

They set up two coffee table altars and pretended to restore "ancient" usages, though there was nothing in the new books they used. All the finest theology and the purest gold thread which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty books far into the night.

"I'd like to know how those liturgists are getting on with the reformed Mass," the prelate thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the wonderful fruits of this effort. It couldn't have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he'd rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole Church, through the national Bishops' conference bureaucracies, knew about the new Mass' peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.

"I'll send my honest old minister to the liturgists," the prelate decided. "He'll be the best one to tell me how the reformed liturgy looks, for he's a sensible man and no one does his duty better."

So the honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their coffee tables.

"Heaven help me," he thought as his eyes flew wide open, "I can't see anything at all". But he did not say so.

Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent rubrics, the beautiful vestments and postures. They pointed to the empty books, and the poor old minister stared as hard as he dared. He couldn't see anything, because there was nothing to see.

"Heaven have mercy," he thought. "Can it be that I'm a fool? I'd have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can't see the cloth."

"Don't hesitate to tell us what you think of it," said one of the liturgists.

"Oh, it's beautiful -it's enchanting." The old minister peered through his spectacles. "Such active participation!" I'll be sure to tell the prelate how delighted I am with it."

"We're pleased to hear that," the swindlers said. They proceeded to name all the new ordinary times and to explain the intricate variety of loose translations. The old minister paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the prelate. And so he did.

The liturgists at once asked for more money, more silk and gold, to get on with the reforming. But it all went into their pockets. Not a thread went into the vestments, though they worked at their reforming as hard as ever.

The prelate presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see he couldn't see anything.

"Isn't it a beautiful piece of work?" the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their new liturgy.

"I know I'm not stupid," the man thought, "so it must be that I'm unworthy of my good office. That's strange. I mustn't let anyone find it out, though." So he praised the new liturgy whose good fruits he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful simplicity and the exquisitely complicated dynamically equivalent translation. To the prelate he said, "It held me spellbound."

All the secular media was talking of this splendid reform, and the great prelate wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the works. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two old trusted officials-the ones who had been to the liturgists-he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them celebrating with might and main, but without a connection to the Mass of the ages.

"Magnificent," said the two officials already duped. "Just look, Your Lordship, what a wide sampling of Leviticus! What an immediacy of access to the table of plenty!" They pointed to the empty books, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.

"What's this?" thought the prelate. "I can't see anything. This is terrible!

Am I a fool? Am I unfit for my high office? What a thing to happen to me of all people! - Oh! It's very pretty," he said. "It has my highest approval." And he nodded approbation at the empty reform. Nothing could make him say that he couldn't see anything improved in it.

His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the prelate in exclaiming, "Oh! It's very pretty," and they advised him to wear chasubles made of polyester tablecloths especially for the great procession he was soon to lead.

"Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!" were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The prelate gave each of the swindlers a handsome reward and position of honor.

Before the procession the swindlers sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the prelate's new Mass. They pretended to take the good of souls into account. They smashed the stupid old altars with huge sledgehammers, and made lots of little coffee table ones. And at last they said, "Now the new, improved liturgy is ready."

Then the prelate himself came with his noblest courtiers, and the swindlers each raised an arm as if they were holding something cool. They said, "These are the simplified vestments, here's the new calendar, and this is the dynamically equivalent translation," naming each element. "All of them work together to make the Mass irresistible. One would almost think that it is a banal, on-the-spot fabrication, but that's what makes it so fine."

"Exactly," all the prelate's men agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.

"If Your Lordship will condescend to suppress the old Mass," said the swindlers, "we will help you with your new one here in your private chapel."

The prelate shelved the old Missal, dressed in the polyester chasuble, and the swindlers put him through the magnificent new rubrics. 

"How well it looks. Aren't the new rubrics and audience participation becoming!" He heard on all sides, "That calendar without so many feast days, so perfect! Those translations, so suitable! It is a magnificent Mass."

Then the minister of public worship announced: "Your Lordship's clergy is waiting for the new product."

"Well, I'm supposed to be smart," the prelate said, and turned again for one last, wistful look at the discarded ancient Missal. "this new thing is a remarkable fit, isn't it?" He was sure the pews would be packed.

So off went the prelate to promulgate the splendid new liturgy.

Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine is the new liturgy! Doesn't it celebrate the priesthood of the laity?  Nobody would confess that he couldn't see any improvement, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. It was such a complete success.

"But this isn't very good," a little child said.

"Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?" said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "It isn't very good. A child says it isn't very good."

"But this isn't very good at all!" the whole Church cried out at last.  And the pews emptied.  And the seminaries emptied.  And the convents emptied.  And the schools emptied.  And the cradles emptied.

The prelate shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This new liturgy has got to go on.  Besides, everyone knows it takes about fifty years for these things to catch on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his men held high the reform that wasn't there at all.


Long-Skirts said...


They cancelled all color
Sanctuaries stripped
First Communions were duller.

No crinoline whites
Pale hues they were stressed
Only pearled-Pharisees
Are ever so dressed.

Roses carnations,
Flowers all manners
Left just to wither
‘Gainst assertives’ beige banners.

Pillars of marble
Corinthian styles
They decided to paint
Like pink bathroom tiles.

Cassocks of red
Habits blue-white
Robes of distinction
Extinct over night.

Missals with pages
Embossed in gloss-gold
Latin in tint
English-black often bold.

Even the ribbons
To mark scriptural prayers
Were of green, yellow, silvers
So to keep us from errors.

The soft votive flames
The red opaque glass
Gave an aura of stillness
Like time could not pass.

Yet time it passed
Vividness drained
And populations with out color
Cannot be sustained.

So those underground
With red blood in blue veins
Birthed knowledge the arts
Great virtues they've gained.

They did not decay-
God’s colors kept green
For the day up above
Once again to be seen.

Except for those beige
Gray fertility fades
In their black open minds.

15:15 said...

It's funny cause it's true. Well done!