About Clown Masses and what we are up to today.

There’s an old chestnut about how you can rate as “successful” the Masses of various religious orders.  For example, the Mass of Benedictines is successful if more than half of the notes were sung properly.  Its successful for the the Dominicans if more than half are still there at the end.  Success is claimed by Jesuits if more than half show up in the first place.  Franciscans are successful if fewer than half are injured during the course.    Mind you, that bit of sport originates from at least 30 years ago, and surely from diocesan priests.  I hope my religious friends and readers out there will forgive the jocularity at their expense.  Things are, in some groups at least, much better than that now.  Really.

Then there’s the one about how the different religious groups adored the Baby Jesus in the manger….

Thus today’s offering from the often amusing Eye Of The Tiber, originally from 2013, but recently made visible to me again… mysteriously.

Speaking of 2013… and success…

Pastor of St. Genesius Catholic Church Fr. Edmond Harrington confirmed this afternoon that at one point during his first ever Clown Mass, he looked down at his oversized checkered shoes as he was praying and thought to himself, “Edmond, what in the world are you doing?”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel a shred of guilt about it or anything,” Harrington told EOTT as he brushed away a lock of bright red hair from his painted face. “But I mean…who could deny how freaking weird the whole thing was. As a kid I never imagined myself saying a Mass. I also never imagined myself exerting so much time and effort trying to pick up a host off an altar with oversized white gloves. Definitely harder than it looks.”

Harrington went on to say that there was another point during the Mass, just moments after he had said the words of consecration and raised the host, when he just paused there a minute, gazing, “not in adoration, but in absolute disbelief” of what in the damn hell he was doing.

One deacon said that he knew the Mass was going to be a touch unusual after Harrington handed him a rubber chicken, and asked him to slap him in the face with it some time during the homily.

Harrington also told EOTT that he had gotten frustrated during the dismissal, after having spent a good minute or so trying to maneuver his plastic red nose so that he could kiss the altar. “It was humiliating,” he said, before smacking himself in the face with a pie.


We have to start treating our sacred liturgical worship as the most important thing we do.

No reform or initiative in the Church will succeed until we revitalize our liturgical worship of God.

There are a few things we can do right away to start the process.

  1. Begin programs of sound liturgical catechesis.
  2. Eliminate Communion in the hand.
  3. Celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem.

After that we must get our priests into shape to start celebrating also the older, traditional form of Holy Mass.  We must recover communal observance of devotions, such as the singing of the liturgical hour of Vespers on Sundays and Feasts, Forty Hours, Exposition, Novenas, etc., with opportunities for confession.

And, friends, it’s ad orientem…. not tum or tim or tom.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sawyer says:

    I agree in principle and do what I can at my own parish. It would be useful to hear from people who have successfully transitioned parish worship from contemporary-style social gatherings with sacro-pop liturgical music to celebrations of Mass with a sense of reverence, beauty, transcendence and genuinely sacred music, perhaps with chanted propers. What worked? How was it done successfully? Were there any setbacks? How long did it take? Go cold turkey or baby steps? What was the reaction of parishioners? Did many leave? Did many new members join?

    The parish I am currently in and serving at has suffered near-catastrophic departures of families (to a hyper-contemporary style parish) and reduced offertory collections, in part because of dislike for even modest moves towards more sacred worship by the priests. Strange to me, but people get angry (yes, angry) about things like the Benedictine altar arrangement, incense, optional kneeling to receive Communion, bells during the elevations, traditional hymns, organ music, even the mere mention of ad orientem or altar rails, and a general return to tradition. They predictably decry a “return to pre-Vatican II” Catholicism, and they leave.

    So I’d like to read about and learn from success stories. The book “Rebuilt” is about the “success story” of revitalizing a dying parish in Baltimore (Nativity Parish) along contemporary lines by imitating evangelical mega-churches, but that’s not what I’m looking for. How about a “Rebuilt” type success story and book for transforming a parish from contemporary to traditional and authentic?

  2. Olecrochet says:

    I wonder if those clown masses weren’t a way of renewing the mockery of Jesus during His Passion. In the same way, the priest, who represents Christ, is making a mockery of himself. It is a sacrilege, and I think it is intended to be.

    Also , dear Sawyer, I think prayer must be the only answer . I attend a parish with good doctrine, a reverent Mass, and confession offered all day Sunday and frequent opportunities for Adoration. But whenever a new priest tries to introduce Latin or anything like that there is a certain group of parishioners who react violently and usually that poor priest get transferred out.
    It’s an intractable prejudice and I don’t know how to eliminate it .
    Instead of introducing TLM elements to the weekly mass, maybe instead start with a year long adult education program explaining the Latin Mass? Pretend it is just in the interests of learning abut our “history” or learning old customs. Some people might develop an interest in attending a Latin Mass and actually ask for one.
    In many ways the V2 generation is terribly immature and spoiled. They have made getting their own way their life’s work.
    You might have to trick them.
    Really, sometimes the reaction is almost superstitious. I will add this intention to my prayers. I’m glad there are priests like you out there. Hang in there, things are moving in the right direction.

  3. TonyO says:

    @ Sawyer, I wondered, after reading your account: what on earth would these people have to complain about with respect to a “return to pre-Vatican II”. How many of them would actually have clear and discernible memories of (a) what went on then, and (b) why it was “bad”? I am approaching 60, and my memories of the pre-V II masses is hazy enough – even though I have gone to the Trad mass near. What is it that they remember that was so bad? That back then, when they were in their single-digits or teens, that they “didn’t participate in the Mass”? Surely they might be brought to recognize that their own lack of participation was their own defect, not the Church’s defect – that REAL participation was available all along if only they had PAID ATTENTION?

  4. The Egyptian says:

    Actually the rubber chicken part has some appeal, ,,,just sayin

  5. iamlucky13 says:

    @ Sawyer

    I don’t know what to say. I’m honestly impressed they are even aware enough of those details to get upset if there are 6 candles on the altar, much less are able to think of a pretense for being upset by it.

    Prayer certainly is a part of it, as mentioned by Olecrochet.

    I suppose a lot of this is a matter of tact and patience. Latin and Altar rails aren’t going to be embraced overnight, and even organ music might take a long time to be tolerated, but using Christmas or Easter, for example, to sneak in new vestments or start using bells during the elevation seems like a small start. A good relationship with the choir director might help revive a couple hymns “we haven’t sung in a while that Father mentioned he misses” that might be more liturgically appropriate than whatever is the current norm.

    I would argue some of this sounds like problems the pastor should take initiative to put a stop to, such as by devoting part of a sermon when the readings provide a suitable segue to explain why those who chose to receive Communion kneeling are not to be criticized.

    Several priests in parishes around the area I live have been slowly working on such efforts. The guitars haven’t disappeared at all of them, but are at least less central, and several tabernacles have found their way back into the sanctuary at various parishes where they were previously hidden away in chapels.

    I don’t know all their strategies, successes, or failures. I do at least know a priest friend of ours invited my wife and to PLEASE come to Mass at his recently assigned parish the week he was planning to announce his plan to move the altar out of the middle of the church and back to what had been the sanctuary when the church was first built. During the announcements, he gave a well-prepared, easy-to-understand talk about focusing our attention on Christ, avoiding distractions both for him trying not to ignore people behind him and for us looking at people opposite the altar from ourselves, and about the confusing traffic pattern that existed at that time for Communion. He also talked about the previous pastor having told him how frequently he had been approached over the years by parishioners interested in the change, and strong support he heard when starting his own discussions about the topic. He received a round of applause after the announcement. I wouldn’t normally applaud during Mass (much less help start an applause), but I figured sometimes knowing how those around your feel influences your own opinion about something.

    Father later confided he did hear some angry comments, but fewer than he expected, and a lot of support. Maybe this parish was simply more ready than yours. Maybe it’s a matter of taking the right size baby steps. I don’t know for sure.

  6. If the laity resist the restoration of tradition and the abolition of novelties, is it really because they want novelties? Or is it Stockholm Syndrome? Was it the laity clamoring for new and improvised liturgies? Or would we, who are constantly buffeted and beaten up by the nutty secular world that it is our duty to engage, have preferred to have just one thing in our lives that was changeless and sure and certain? I wasn’t quite born yet when the new Mass came along, but I can imagine, after a week of having the crap kicked out of me by the world, how wonderful it would be not to have to take yet another beating at church.

  7. adriennep says:

    Actually, there is little hope. In the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, people have had decades of subversive clergy. Archbishop Sample was the last of Pope Benedict’s assignments, and he has been under constant assault and subversion ever since. A new Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook is being promoted and he wrote a masterful letter on sacred music recently—only to have the people complain that they can’t sing “All Are Welcome” with electric guitar or “bless” communicants with their unconsecrated hands and wildlife sweatshirts. Archbishop takes saintly patience to the extreme in this but in the meantime we are stuck with pastors who are ignoring their Archbishop and blaming liturgical reform as “his opinion.” They don’t deserve this Archbishop and the people are too Stockholm Syndrome to see his offerings of Truth and Beauty. Doesn’t bode well for future, and certainly not for lay people trying to do something without clergy support.

  8. Dismas says:

    Stockholm Syndrome? I greatly doubt it. The very slightest improvement in praxis is a pricking of the conscience. Reverence is contrary to narcissism, and if the SoVII and Marty Haugen have taught us anything, it is that Jesus is pleased by our pride.

    Susan from the Parish Council is *most* displeased….

  9. JonPatrick says:

    I think there could be a bunch of reasons for resistance. Among older people who remember the TLM pre 1969 I think that they have gotten used to the more relaxed casual atmosphere of modern Catholicism and are afraid that “going back” to the old Mass also means a going back to taking it more seriously i.e. not everyone goes to heaven, no meat on Fridays year round, fasts from midnight, and so forth. For some especially younger people the Latin is an obstacle. I was recently on the Church Militant “Retreat at Sea” and even among very committed and devout Catholics as one would find on such a retreat there was resistance from some about the Latin. On the retreat we had 6 Masses, 3 of them were Novus Ordo and 3 Vetus Ordo, although the NO Masses were Ad Orientem and communion kneeling and on the tongue which people were generally OK with.

  10. teomatteo says:

    Do they make gluten free clowns? Or is it gluton, glutin?

  11. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    In re Sawyer’s question, and Olecrochet’s answer, which I think is a good one, I have something to add which, although untested, might be useful.

    By way of background: the rector at my (traditionalist) church is part way through a series on monthly talks on the mass and its history (and pre-history, beginning with the Ark of the Covenant). He’s a great lecturer, and has a fascinating and important topic, so I’m loving the talks, which are more-or-less what Olecrochet suggests.

    But perhaps a twist might be in order. Don’t speak on “the traditional mass” but on “the Roman rite”. At each stage, after describing the history – for example orientation in aboriginal house churches and Roman basilicas, describe the rupture of the 1960’s. And aim the talks at those too young to have memories of their own. If they’re anything like me- which I accept they might not be – they’ll become angry at having had their liturgical patrimony stolen from them, and demand its return.

    Make them ask for what you want to give them. It’s for their own good, after all. And make them think it’s their own idea (which, in a sense, it would be).

    (I suppose my suggestion hardly differs at all from Olecrochet’s.)

  12. Michael Haz says:

    Related, how can you tell if an ICKSP Mass was successful? The coughing of the faithful caused by the thick cloud of incense only drowned out the first half of the homily.

  13. bobbird says:

    Egyptian: You expressed perfectly MY reaction to the Rubber Chicken with the heretical sermons we endure in our parish. I’m surprised Fr. Z did not give you the Gold Star.

    Just sayin’ …

    Insofar as negative reaction by the liberal parishioners to increased devotion to the Sense of Sacred: LET THEM GO! They certainly haven’t minded offending US with weird liturgies and half-baked catechesis. If they want to receive the Sacraments, they will stay. If we can endure 50 years of abuse for the sake of the Sacraments, so now they will have to endure. Otherwise, they have merely been cultural Catholics all along. Allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts. Let them go to their friendly, neighborhood Mainstream Protestant Church and (temporarily) swell their ranks. Yes, I know, I know, we will be poorer in a material sense, and we might have to scrape to pay even the heating bills.

    So what?

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Actually the rubber chicken part has some appeal, ,,,just sayin”

    There must be a statute in Canon Law for some other universe where this is a just punishment, but it might be better to use a sitting chicken to indicate the laying of an egg (an English expression = a performance going badly).

    The (non-rubber) Chicken

  15. Geoffrey says:

    “Eliminate Communion in the hand… Celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem.”

    A Bishop would have to be on board with these…

  16. hwriggles4 says:

    What are we up to today?

    Anyone here been to some Spanish Masses recently? Okay, I am bilingual and will sometimes attend Mass in Spanish. While some of these Masses are celebrated reverently (this often depends on the parish and the priest), there are quite a few (particularly in places like Texas) that are not. Mass attendees are usually late, leave early, let children run around, aren’t paying attention, and come dressed very casual. At some parishes, the music is more like a show.
    Some good priests have tried to address these issues in Spanish, but in many places it seems to fall on deaf ears. Several of my Hispanic friends tell me that this behavior is one reason they prefer English Mass.

  17. MrsAnchor says:

    I’m in agreement that’s exactly the problems. They don’t want to hear fire brimstone or be reminded of it in any form. Everyone is saved! Is their way of thinking. It was the generation along with the poor Catechisis …
    For example: My poor Mother In Law suffers from this VERY much. She’ll attend every so often a TLM, and has been Catechised by EWTN (thank you) which brought her back to a better centering point… but IT still remains. Every so often with these political Church issues. She has these resets to “Spirit of Vat II” moments. Family & Friends that she’s had buried… “they’ll get to Heaven” when their lives proved every reason why that wouldn’t be the case… ??It boggles my mind every so often how tight a grip this Radical thinking Protestantism is among Catholics.
    Please keep those lukewarm in your prayers!!!!! I only now understand WHY Jesus made so much highlights about them.

    Pray for us St Titus & St Timothy!! We need the conviction

  18. MrsAnchor says:

    This is a great idea… along with XMCCLXIII ..

    I’ll have to store that one in my pocket of a traditionally minded Priest ever comes back… They tossed the last one out with Slander, but don’t get rid of the nearby Priests who disparage anything remotely Latin Rite or have a Mistress. Those are just fine.
    It’s high time many of us MOVE into parishes that will nourish us instead of why we live in that community. All those small idols have got to go if we really want to have a life that’s Spiritually set… why are we here anyway?! I thought our directive was Heaven? If the nay sayers say they want to “fight” where they are why? If those places are the centers of the Golden Calf worship or SodomGomorrah : Moses left them, Abraham wasn’t sticking around. Let the rot implode on itself.
    This terrain we find ourselves presently is not Aquila & Pricilla’s environment…yet.

  19. MrsAnchor says:

    It’s the same for us. The reason why we’ve attended is because there are at least kids present in those communities and sometimes the Priest is a reverent one (they rotate a semi retired Older Priest) He’s admonished the Laity for doing that. It’s awesome. I looove when he’s there, very old school. One can imagine he very much has the Cristero imprint on his Soul. I get the feeling they’re not fond when he shows …. a group of them are more interested in their Singing & guitar playing.
    I am reminded of St Alphonsus’ lament of people paid more attention to their horses than their Children.
    If only they would get back to reading the Lives of the Saints!

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