A Gift Rescinded

I was born in in 1960. My earliest recollection of going to Mass was as a young child in Upstate New York. I remember the church was usually kept dark except for lights up front. A bit of daylight came in through stained glass windows but not much. And I recall my mother's attempts to keep the four of us kids quiet. It's where I learned the meaning of shhh. Beyond squirming and talking to my brother and sisters, the other noise I generated was snapping the clips that held the missal books to the back of the pew in front of me.

The Mass is a bit foggy to me but I remember it as something mysterious. The priest in front was doing something partly hidden. He was facing a super structure with a vault-like door on it. And I couldn't understand the words. As I became old enough to read I realized the words were in Latin and the missal book had the English translation opposite the Latin on each page. We always dressed up, my brother and I wore neck ties, jackets, dress pants, and polished shoes. My mother and sisters wore dresses and veils.

We were taught that we needed to confess our sins in order to be in a proper state to receive Communion. Confession was held in confessionals where the priest and the penitent were kept separate.

Communion was distributed on the tongue at an altar rail that separated us from the altar. The exclusively male altar servers held a flat plate (a patten) under the chin of the person receiving Communion from priests. You knelt at the altar to receive communion. After you received the host you left the spot and the next person took your place.

Music was played on an organ in a loft in the back where singers also were positioned. There was no sound system, no speakers or microphones.

Then the changes came. They built a new church for our growing town. The windows let in a lot more light and the lights were left on during Mass. A sound system was installed and microphones on stands added on the altar. Some Masses still had organ music but the one we went to had guitars and a folks music sound.

Families with infants and toddlers were encouraged to sit in a sound proof room in the back with glass windows in front and speakers piping in the Mass. We called it the crybaby room.

Meanwhile, the altar in the new church was very different too. The priest stood behind it and when we went to Communion we didn't kneel at an altar rail. Instead we went up in a line, received the host in our hand, and returned to our seats. There were many aisles where you could get Communion and now regular people were giving it out. The Mass was now in English too. In fact, only in English. The vault where they stored the hosts was off to one side, barely visible.

Confession was also different. I was told I could do it the old way in the confessional anonymously but I could also just go sit with the priest face to face and tell him my sins. As intimidating the old was was to a six year old, this new way seemed awkward. But they no longer said you had to go as often.

With the casual music came casual clothing too. I noticed that we no longer got as dressed up. My mother said my dad heard on the radio that the Pope said she didn't have to wear a veil anymore. So she didn't.

In grade school, my religious education was taught by sisters in black and white outfits that completely covered them except for face and hands. But as the changes took place, we started getting taught by parents of other kids in our class. The nuns were fairly strict. The parents weren't. 

My recollection from the time was that the laity, my mother for example, saw the reforms as liberating, a loosening of stern discipline, and a better way. As each incremental change was made, she, like everyone else, went along without questioning. It reminds me of the boiled frog story. It's not like anyone had a choice in the matter. Nor would they object anyway as they had been brought up to accept with obedience what was being done.

Fifty years later, I find myself questioning all of it. As a person who uses data to measure objective evidence of outcomes, I see a devastated landscape. The Churches are empty, schools are closing, young people are fleeing the Church never to return. Priests and bishops have been caught up in scandals, respect for the clergy at an all time low. Families you could previously identify as Catholic by their numbers have joined the contraception fad and limited births to two, one, or none. Divorce has become as common in fallen away Catholics as the rest of society. Catholic voters are indistinguishable from secular voters even when moral issues are involved.

And most of what one hears from Rome and the bishops is about social justice, immigration and climate change. It's as though they didn't notice the carnage all around them that they've presided over. They're either in denial or something more sinister.

The liturgy, indeed the entire Church, the Bride of Christ, is as though it has been taken away and hidden and a cheap counterfeit left in its place. It is 'a scroll rolled up'. The 'Sun has been hidden and the moon no longer gives its light'. We are in a time of great apostasy. The only question is, is this it? The final chastisement? Or will the trend change. Has the gift been rescinded forever or only for a time?

Addendum: In my church they moved the tabernacle back to the middle of the altar. But the priest still says Mass with his back to it. It seems they still want him to be the focal point of worship rather than the Real Presence in the Tabernacle. Maybe just as they ruined the litergy gradually they'll restore it as well.