From a reader:
Dear Father, I am a little exasperated at this point and wondered what you would have to say about certain matters.
I know, you know, and readers of your blog will know, that we need to return to a theocentric Christianity, with Worship that allows us to encounter the living God as totally Other, as transcendent, and as Mystery.
What is a person (or priest) to do if the congregation will simply have none of it?
Recently our parish started a Gregorian Chant choir. Three people were interested (in a parish of over 700 families!). Others told the pastor that they would leave the parish if we started using Gregorian Chant at Mass, or Latin, or Ad Orientem, or the Extraordinary Form, or male-only altar servers.
None of the other parishes around do any of those things and so these people would have many places to go (and their money and support as well).
What is a sacristan (or priest) to do when the area in which he is stationed is more focused on sports than Sunday Mass? Do you know how hard it is to have Solemn Mass (even with bad music and all in english but at least use incense, torch-bearers, an MC, etc) when all the servers are out at soccer/baseball tournaments? Not to mention that they are no allowed to miss any since they would be kicked off the team! Our 7:00pm Sunday is usually packed (and people still show up late!) because of all the people catching the "last opportunity" for Mass since they’ve now done everything else they wanted to do. I feel like there is hope here.
If the parishoners hate traditional worship that much and are willing to leave to go to the Church across the highway, then all their support goes as well. If no one cares enough to attend Mass on Sunday morning, or make sure they are on time, how is a parish supposed to have servers/musicians in order to transform the way we worship in the first place?
I understand your concerns.
I must start by saying that a sacristan can do nothing but pray and follow the directives from the parish priest.
One question we have to ask, I think, is whether or not implementing more faithful and/or more traditional liturgy is the right thing to do.
If it is, then it must be done because it is the right thing to do.
That doesn’t mean that it must be done in one fell swoop. It can be done incrementally.
Also, when we do what we must do, we must prepare and explain. People have to have the changes explained. That is something that a sacristan or other lay people can do, I suppose: be able to explain what is going on, why it is being done. Whenever I have received notes that a priest has implemented some traditional practice, and he has done so with explanations beforehand, things have gone pretty well and people have accepted the changes.
From another point of view, if people are so detached from Holy Mass if their faith and Holy Mass are that far down the list of what is important, then perhaps shaking things up a little is a good idea. And if they leave, they are only taking their money: in the other important ways, they are gone already.
We need to ask God to bless these projects and provide for our needs as we sacrifice for the sake of worthy worship and better engagement and active participation.
Finally, we have to have patience. I know one priest who took over a fairly prosperous parish where the word "sin" probably hadn’t been mentioned for a very long time. It took him years, but he got rid of the abuses and has shifted the whole liturgical practice around. Along the way and sure there were gripers and naysayers. No doubt some people left for other places. Without question other people started coming because of the good changes.
None of us like conflict. We don’t relish people going away in a huff. But we have to be willing to hold the door open for them if they seek to impose what is wrong on Holy Church’s worship and, for the sake of their error or ego, resist correction which is well explained and prepared.
When St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) talks about how Christ, as Physician, applies sometimes painful corrections in our lives in an effort to save us and heal us, he says,
"The doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for him to stop."
Priests are shepherds, fathers, doctors of souls. Sometimes they have to do the unpleasant parts of those roles. The dopey sheep who get’s stuck in a muck hole doesn’t like the extraction process. Kids don’t like being corrected. Patients don’t enjoy surgery.
I am sure that some priests can chime in here with their own experiences and pointers.