The typical American Mass

So I went to the typical American Mass yesterday. For 99% of people reading this, either no explanation is needed of what I mean this or none is possible. For the remaining 1%, by “typical American Mass” I mean one that has, say, at least five of the following things:

1.) Guitar (and, in extreme cases, drums).

2.) front-position choir

3.) At least one reference to “our faith journey”

4.) Hand-holding during Our Father

5.) Five or more extraordinary ministers

6.) Serving girls, dancing girls.

7.) Hagen/Haas.

8.) A setting in a building with any two of the following architectural features: carpet, low ceilings, no stone, Jacuzzi-thing near front door.

This list was not meant to be exhaustive, but indicative. Each of the practices might be unmentionable in itself, but they have a cumulative effect, and usually come with a great deal more that accumulates with them. Note that I am not speaking of any of these things as “liturgical abuses” since I doubt that any of them are. Still less do I see any of these things as “problems with the Novus Ordo”. I imagine all of these things received the OK of the local bishop at some point and were perhaps even encouraged by him; the others are in all likelihood things that were in the discretion of the people who began them.

No, the problem with the typical American Mass is not that it is abusive, but that it is pathetic and embarrassing. The whole affair has the air of someone trying to be something they are not, or trying to fit in with a group that does not want them around- and to watch someone do this is embarrassing.  I know the typical American Mass wants to speak to contemporary concerns, in a vernacular that contemporary people understand, but Mass can only do contemporary lingo like a 42-year-old cougar does dating. Embarrassing.

What point does this all serve in the providential order?  I can’t avoid thinking that the embarrassment and humiliation is the point. God has humiliated himself again. The beautiful, poetic ring of the prophesy of Christ’s passion: “naked before mine enemies” can obscure the reality that this was a terrible humiliation- it was, in fact, an act of sexual violence.

Or perhaps the humiliation was so that God could in fact be anonymous in the contemporary world. The mass became camouflaged and easy to ignore. Who among those who hate Catholicism could mock such a thing as the typical American Mass? Who could see it as a threat or a competing culture? To an outside observer, there is nothing serious or earnest going on in there- just leave it be. Perhaps this was the point.

Or perhaps this is our punishment. We’ve used all our vast technology to humiliate ourselves in ways that previous generations were not able to do. We deserve the humiliation.


  1. Bill Parkyn said,

    December 25, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    In the 50’s I served Mass, in Latin. I most liked being part of a centuries-old rite. Throwing that away was a suicidal mistake. As for the humiliation you see, its an integral part of that suicide. A religion that used to be willing to kill heretics now surrenders to PC.

  2. Peter said,

    December 25, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    This past summer an elderly relative of mine — an agnostic of sorts — was brewing more than usual about her ever approaching death. I overheard a conversation on religion between her and her daughter, who is Catholic. Her objection to Catholicism was that if the church were really of God it would not have capitulated to the age. Of all the things that she could have said, this seemed to her to be the clearest sign that it was all a bunch of phony BS.

    This isn’t unanswerable, as you all know. But she had a point that is lost on not a few Catholics.

  3. Joseph A. said,

    December 25, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I will attest that, as a youth in a Catholic school, seeing the amount of capitulation, the relative namby-pambiness, nearly made me an atheist. I had some luck in that A) I was a Byzantine Catholic, which (while having their own problems) had very different emphases – my school was Roman Catholic, so I saw two distinct churches, and B) I read up on Aquinas and Church teaching, and was shocked to find so much more to the church and the religion than so many of the feel-goodisms or attempts at being “modern”.

  4. Andrew said,

    December 26, 2009 at 6:16 am

    It is the sum of the loss of the sense of the sacred, a loss of the sense of tradition, a lust for novelty, all caused by participation in our shallow consumeristic society which makes us flat, one-dimensional, unable to detect the mystery that confronts us, and the awe and deep respect with which we should respond, in worship of God our Creator and Redeemer.

  5. W Ryan said,

    December 26, 2009 at 11:02 am

    That’s exactly what I think every time I go to one of those Masses. … that Our Lord still and ever allows Himself to be on the Via Dolorosa. He, Beauty Ancient and Ever New, must be more offended by the singles-bar trappings than we ever could be, but He suffers this. How much He has always had to bear from His friends!

  6. Ed Langley said,

    December 31, 2009 at 10:04 am

    “front-position choir”

    You realize that there is a centuries old tradition to have the choir in the front? Granted, it was not out there to show it off, but hidden in choir stalls. But, I don’t see the slightest problem with this as such.

  7. December 31, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Read the whole post more carefully, MR. Langley. Why do you think I write paragraphs like the one immediately following the list?

    Furthermore, you give a perfectly reasonable response to your own objection:

    “Granted, it [the choir] was not out there to show it off… etc”

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