Doing Your Own Thing Again, Father?

It doesn’t take much to see that in the last fifty years, priests in the United States have liberally changed various parts of the Mass or put their own spins on them somehow. The examples are countless. The examples I’m going to give right now are comparatively pretty minor, but they help illustrate my point all the same.

What does the priest say when he concludes the Gospel reading? Come on, you should all know this. You in the back? Yeah! He got it!  The priest says, “The Gospel of the Lord” to which the congregation responds, “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ”. Or at least, that’s how it should be.

At my church, he says not only “the Gospel of the Lord” but “the Good News – the Gospel of the Lord”. Now okay, it might sound like nitpicking. If he wants to add the words “Good News”, so what, right? Gospel means “good news” anyway, so he’s not declaring something heretical.

More on that in a minute while we observe a second thing. During the Concluding Rite, the priest SHOULD say this as he performs the Sign of the Cross: “May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.

Our priest adds a slight change to that formula. He says, “May Almighty God bless US”. Now, again, this might sound like a nuance, since we do indeed want the Holy Trinity to bless the priest, too, but please consider some things.

1) The Mass is not the priest’s. The Church has prescribed that Mass, regardless of specific rites, is to be celebrated a certain way. The priest does not have the ability to change things as he sees fit. It doesn’t matter if he thinks it would make Mass better, it doesn’t matter if some otherwise dissident Catholics would give Mass a chance, it doesn’t matter what the priest’s personal opinions are. He cannot change the Mass.

2) The Mass isn’t a spotlight for the priest – it’s a spotlight for Our Lord, Who is present on the altar. A lot of priests treat Mass as though it’s their chance to entertain. They tell jokes during their homilies, they do crazy things in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, etc. etc. That’s not the purpose of the Mass. The purpose of the Mass is, chiefly, to make Calvary present here below and to be fed by the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Everything else about the Mass points to that. The priest is acting not in persona sui (in the person of himself) but in persona Christi. All his actions during Mass should reflect the One in Whose Person he is operating. If Christ Himself celebrated the Mass, would He be telling jokes or otherwise trying to make His congregation entertained? I doubt it. So why should the priest who represents Him here below?

3) The Mass is not about making the Church’s members happy. That the Mass should be full of joy is spot-on. But the problem is, when most people say the Mass should be joyful, they end up mistaking joy with “warm fuzzies” or “hymns that talk about community and God’s great affection”. I answer that joy is peace of mind, knowledge that one is right with God, in the state of grace, and prepared to come to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Mass should be absolutely full of that, but “joy”, if you mean “feelings”, really doesn’t matter at all. Jesus Himself underwent a terrible agony shortly before His death, but He never did one wrong thing in His entire life! Saying things like “May Almighty God bless us” rather than “you” and calling the Gospel the “Good News” just screams of, “Let’s make the congregation feel included and good about themselves”. But since when do feelings really matter?

There’s nothing quite like a Papal Mass, which is almost always a reverent, to-the-rubrics thing.

Basically, it all adds up to “the Mass is not ABOUT you, it is FOR you”. The Mass is a gift! It’s the nature of gifts that they’re given by someone else, and no one in his right mind receives a gift and asks for modifications to it. He simply says, “Thanks” and gladly–or not so gladly–accepts what he’s been given. Jesus is perfect. His gifts are only ever perfect. How can we say the Mass, the ultimate gift, isn’t good enough the way He gives it? It’s terribly ungrateful to demand that it be changed when it could not be better than He, through the Church, has determined it to be [on the note of gifts being given–that’s why I dislike when people speak of “taking Communion”; one does not take a gift, he receives it].

God bless,



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