Mass changes in Boston
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Mass changes in Boston

Boston is joining the parade of dioceses implementing changes to the way we celebrate Mass. Unfortunately, the Boston Globe article is a bit short on specifics. It says that the details are explained in a series in The Pilot, the diocesan newspaper. Great. That ensures that nobody will see it. Of course, they also say that it will be on the diocesan web site. Mmm, not there yet.

Anyway, here’s what it does say. During the Sign of Peace, the celebrant stays in the sanctuary and the congregation greets only those people near them. I’m good with that. It keeps the Mass from becoming the “grip-and-grin” that Fr. Rob Johansen talked about. I’m glad that, unlike other dioceses, I’m being told that it’s okay not to hug the teenybopper in the hiphuggers and spaghetti strap top. A nice, firm handshake preserves my chastity.

We’re also told that we should bow our heads at we approach to receive Communion. I do that already (although it’s actually more of a bow from the waist; I hope I’m liturgically correct). I know some people prefer to kneel, but I always worry that the old lady behind me in line won’t see me and will fall. The rest of it is pretty vague: “There will be a greater emphasis on moments of silence at Mass during which worshipers are asked to reflect on Bible readings and the homily. And the church will ask worshipers to kneel at a key moment when some previously have stood.” And that key moment is .... ? I’m all for kneeling at the appropriate times and I hope the new rule is for kneeling during the Lamb of God.

It doesn’t look like we’re being asked to stand after receiving Communion or during the Eucharistic prayer or anything like that.

[Monsignor Dennis] Sheehan, a specialist on liturgy, said it is important in a universal church, such as the Roman Catholic Church, for worship practices to be standardized.

“Common postures and common behavior,” he said, are “part of being a universal church. It’s important that every congregation not pursue its own road.”

For one thing, the reporter cracks me up. It’s not “a universal church,” as in one among many. There can only be one universal Church. Otherwise, it’s not universal. For another thing, Msgr. Sheehan’s comment belies the problem we have here. Common postures and behavior are important for universal worship, but what the new rules handed down by the US bishops’ conference do is ensure that from diocese to diocese, the one thing we won’t have is commonality. Some diocesese do the hug at the Sign of Peace, others do the handshake. Some make you stand after Communion, othgers let you kneel. Some make you stand during the Lamb of God, others have you kneel. Some only allow the head bob before receiving the Eucharist, others let you genuflect. The one thing we don’t have is universality, which at least the Tridentine Mass, however you feel about it, let us have. No matter where in the world you went to Mass during the Tridentine era, it was always the same Mass with the same language and the same movements. That was truly universal.

Okay, the Boston Herald has a few more details, but still leaves me a little puzzled:

  • “The entire congregation will kneel at the end of the prayer called the Agnus Dei when the bread and wine are being consecrated.

  • “Worshipers will join in the response to certain communion prayers.

  • “Parishioners approaching the communion server will bow their heads before receiving bread or wine but will not kneel.”

Okay, so we kneel after the Lamb of God, that’s good. I don’t know what the “response to certain communion prayers” is, that sounds strange. And the last we already knew. Oh, and the times of silence means that there will be a moment of reflection after each of the Lectionary readings. That seems a bit pointless to me; it’s not like there’s a problem with that.

In fact, the whole exercise feels like an attempt by liturgists to keep fiddling with the Mass. It’s one thing to standardize practices and fix abuses, but adding specious little things, like the moment of reflection, smack of someone trying to find a reason for their existence. Was there a problem before caused by a too quick jumping from one reading to the next? I’ve never heard anyone complain about that. Yet here we have a “fix” for it. A solution to a problem that didn’t exist in the first place is a sure sign of a bureaucracy with nothing better to do.

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