Last night, my daughter “graduated” from her Catholic primary school. The event was a big “Graduation Mass”, attended by all the families and friends of the year 6’s. It focused, as one would expect, on the children. It was a celebration of the last seven years of their lives and of the school community. It was, of course, very emotional and touching.
I just kind of wish it wasn’t a mass.
Apart from the fact that very many of the people who attended would not have been practicing Catholics (if they were, our attendances on Sunday would be five times a high as they are), there was the simple fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is present “body and blood, soul and divinity” (as they say) in the Eucharistic species, was not the focus. Everything was focused on the kids and on the school.
There is a passage in “Light of the World”, where the interviewer, Peter Seewald, cites Ratzinger’s Way of the Cross meditations at the Colosseum on Good Friday 2005:
How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realising that he is there!
I felt a bit like that last night. The liturgy of the Sacrifice of the Mass was incidental to the main event: the kids’ graduation.
The other thing that deeply saddened me was the liturgy itself. There were just so many levels on which it failed to be what the Church’s liturgy should be. None of them in themselves were really horrendous; but the accumulated effect was a little sad. The people were not asked to stand or kneel for the Eucharistic prayer; they sat right through it. The parts of the mass (with the exception of the Lamb of God) were not sung. The “theme” was “Butterflies”. The First reading from Thessalonians was billed as a reading from the Old Testament. The priest wore white vestments (early Christmas?). The “hymns” were MP3 recordings of songs that none of those attending knew; they were difficult to sing, of dubious quality as liturgical song; and even my own children felt them to be a little childish. Effectively it became a matter of listening to the songs played through the audio system rather than anyone actually participating by singing.
I know all that all sounds a bit picky, but the overall effect was a bit shabby. I wonder which of us in our professional capacities would serve up to our clients substandard unprofessional work and then justify it by saying “we want to be at the level of the people”? Only the Church does liturgy. Why can’t we do it well? Why can’t our schools make it a priority to form choirs and train musicians to lead the people in song? Why can’t they train servers to attend at the altar? Why can’t the parish use the school masses as an opportunity to teach the school community how to celebrate the liturgy? Why do we expect less from a school mass than we would on a Sunday Mass?
I know. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Why can’t you say something positive for once, Schütz? You’re such a Grinch.
Which reminds me of a story that a friend told me recently, of having been to a Catholic wedding mass in which the Second Reading was (wait for it) from Dr Seuss. “Is that allowed?”, he wanted to know. “No,” I answered, “It’s called an “abuse””.
If Dr Seuss were given the chance to have his say on the matter, I wonder if it would go something like this:
What you do is not right
What you do is not good
We should do what is right
We should do what we should.