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.
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.