Well! Dear things and fatheads. (Is it any wonder I haven’t had much luck in the publishing world since the early aughts? But they* used to tell us ‘stand out — get the editor’s attention with your query letter’ so I once addressed one to “my fatheads.” I forgot a twenty-year-old summer intern would not like the craziness, nor care about the reference to John Dickson Carr’s crime novel barrister who calls the jury that, even if I explained it. Perhaps since the aughts and long before our Lord has been putting his hand on me, saying, No, I don’t want you to be a famous novelist or cookbook writer with an expensive cabin in the woods. I want you to return to Me and then write about your journey from adolescent piggyness and self absorption to some sort of halting Christian witness. I will make some use of that.)
Anyway. Easter Vigil at my parish was awful. I am just slowly — speaking of abandoning adolescent piggyness — blowing off steam about it so as to look at everything a bit more clear-eyed, to understand my reaction is not completely the center of things, and to consider how to respond correctly and honestly. Most of the steam escaped safely that very night, as I scribbled madly in my journal. At my age, can you imagine! A co-worker of mine, some weeks ago, taught me to laugh at diary-keeping even though I still do it. We had been talking about handling a bad day when you have no one to “vent” to at home. “This is when you go home and write in your diary,” he said, ” ‘Dear Diary, This is bullshit!’ ” I can be brief now.
A movie screen lowered in front of the altar, and we watched pictures of nature during the reading of Genesis. When it came to the creation of the birds, the man playing the synthesizer played a sort of boppy, happy theme, I suppose to indicate birds are funny. Then came the liturgical dancing. I knew, sort of, that my parish has this ministry, but I blocked it out. Now young girls raced down the aisle in their glittery gold blouses and pirouetted before the altar, to express the Israelites’ joy at the Song of the Sea in Exodus. There was a cold dead silence from the congregation afterward. So much so that when our good pastor rose to lead the next prayer he said, “This is a happy night — isn’t it?” Curiously, almost the next reading was from the book of Ezekiel: “You have profaned my name and my sanctuary.” Which leads me to reflect: the people planning all this, for months — worked so hard, so much behind the scenes preparation, we have no idea, etc. etc. — have not even seen enough old Saturday Night Live reruns to have learned irony. Of course they are not reading the texts to begin with.
Speaking of texts. There are a couple of major prayers which are a part of Easter Vigil, but I’m pretty sure they were smothered by extravagant choral shouting, by the soloists and the trumpets. The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation, could be picked out, sort of. I heard the striking line “What good would our life be to us (without the Resurrection).” The Litany of the Saints was incomprehensible in the din. Then our good synthesizer player was back at it. For the lowering of the Paschal candle into the baptismal font, he played a “spooky” theme, and when Father poured the water three times over the head of our adult baptismal candidate, he played, each time, a sort of child’s-circus “Ta-daaaaa!” Then the dancing girls in their I, Claudius blouses returned, and led us in mime-gestures during the “Lord, Hear Our Prayer” part of the Mass. They swung their arms out, crossed them over their breasts, and then seemed to caress their own cheeks. All of it was to show petition and humility I suppose. The people in the first several pews began to ape them.
As usual when confronted with packaged and inescapable innovation, one wonders what used to be done, properly, during the Easter Vigil Mass at a Catholic Church. I am lucky in that I have the option of a traditional Latin Mass parish within forty minutes of my home, but somehow one desires to attend the great holidays at one’s own parish church. And if I were to stomp over, steam not quite blown, and raise hell and then be asked “Well, instead of being so negative would you like to make suggestions or help plan this next year?” — my answer would naturally be No, of course I don’t want to help. I want to be able to show up, as a humble parishioner in a line of millions of millions of humble parishioners across thousands of years, and attend the Vigil as it has been handed down, and as it need not have required all this exhausting tampering and bashing into a new shape and “rehearsals.” Besides, I have a pretty good idea of who has power at this parish. I have some experience of committee meetings in general, and of how the temperament that wants its own way keeps at its side the trumpet that never sounds retreat. Call me negative.
So I blow off steam, a little more. My question is if I am facing a brick wall of innovation, may I do anything? For my reactions are valid. The Vigil Mass was awful and I suspect the root cause is a “music ministry” out of control. Do I write to the good pastor and respectfully offer my views? The people who loved it all whooped and clapped after it was over. They do that. They whoop and clap toward the choir loft at the end of every Mass, thereby announcing their opinions with no trouble and as a bloc. Then they just go off to breakfast. And supposing I write to the good pastor, how do I craft this in such a way that it’s not about me and my outrage? But it is about me and my outrage. But, would the Blessed Virgin Mary write angry letters to her pastor? I picture a man who does not know me from Adam, opening a long-winded, carefully passionate, middle-aged lady’s screed, in between saying funeral Masses and going to meetings and answering calls to visit the sick and driving to distant parishes to say another Mass. While his education is ten times greater than mine (in my imaginary letter I would have said so) and this parish’s craziness may be much less than his previous parish’s craziness.
“Dear Diary, This is bullshit!” By the grace of God I did not send any email or any letter to the pastor yet. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the hand restraining me. Few things are worse, in a quiet life, than the day at work spent wondering what the response to a daring email will be, while remorse grows. And, all this weekend I have happened to be reading and hearing striking and helpful things about priests and the priesthood.
They are the person of Christ, his representative, walking down the street. If the universe has been created for the Church and the Mass, then the priest is the most important person there is, not for himself as an ordinary man and sinner, but for what only he can do. Only he can consecrate the bread and wine, only he can open Heaven, only he can bring Christ to us as Christ commanded and ordained them all to do. Incidentally, I did not know that the foot-washing at the Last Supper was the institution of the priesthood. That is why it is unhelpful for the ceremony to be broadened and thinned out by the inclusion of women or “the poor” or prisoners or other carefully chosen representatives of privileged groups. Once again, as with dancing girls or a shouting choir smothering the Litany of the Saints, innovation in ritual blots out the teaching of fact.
The fact of my particular Easter Vigil was that it continued penitential Lent right up to the end. I was physically hungry. The only other Vigil I had ever seen still lay in my memory, with its incensing of the Paschal fire (I think?), and its explosion of little tinkling bells from a more modest choir, and a Litany of the Saints that could be heard. But then, after that impressive experience I was not compelled to learn more in a Dear Diary — This is bullshit! mood. If the Lord’s hand is pushing me out of adolescence yet the more I am grateful.
*Editors forbid the use of this word, but we know what it means.