3 February 2011

The Mass and disaster

Sister Pilcher
Sister Carmel Pilcher, somehow no longer in the employ of Cardinal Pell's Archdiocese of Sydney, but still a prolific "liturgical consultant" down under, has published The Mass and disaster.

She writes "I wonder about the experience of celebrating Mass in a burnt out paddock after a bushfire, or standing in the sludge left behind from a recent flood; or breathing in the dry dust while standing on parched, arid land in the midst of a drought. 

In a continent that has experienced each of these harsh extremes in recent times, the Sunday memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ would surely take on new significance in such a context. Did any parish community make this choice to gather for Sunday Eucharist in such a place of raw suffering over the past weeks?"

No-one should detract from the terrible and real suffering of so many of her compatriots in recent weeks and even days, or of that of so many others around the world. Being able to celebrate the Mass in the midst of tragedy, danger and loss is a great blessing and consolation. At the foot of the cross made present through the sacrifice of the Mass, especially in such situations, we encounter the source of true meanng and real hope.
But does the Pimpernel smell a middle-class, bourgeois liturgical rodent behind the question "Did any parish community make this choice to gather for Sunday Eucharist in such a place of raw suffering?"

A place of "raw suffering"
or a tourist resort for middle-class liturgists?
Reverend lady, Catholics don't choose to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries in places of tradgedy or suffering or standing in sludge to enhance their liturgical experience. We do so out of necessity, because our churches have been flooded or destroyed or whatever. 

We consecrate, we set apart, churches as sacred sites for the most sacred actions there are on this earth, those of the Sacred Liturgy, and we righly grieve when we are no longer able to use them. We don't choose to leave them behind to go walkabout in order to feel the sand underneath our feet in the hope that this will somehow make for a better liturgical experience, or like tourists with a taste for a change of setting.

Sr Pilcher goes on, "Some Catholic leaders believe that Mass is the time for us to leave behind our cares and distractions.  Ensuring the dignity and sacredness of the celebration through the extraordinary is their primary preoccupation, leaving the expression of the human concerns of a community to personal supplication. 

Particular attention is given to such elements as the wafting smell of incense, beautifully embroidered vestments and the gold of chalices and patens that are intended to lift us beyond our human lives and into the sacred presence of the divine.   

Others recognise that Christ is present in the very human experiences of our lives, and these become the focus of the liturgy."

Thanks for making that clear Sister. When "the very human experiences of our lives...become the focus of the liturgy" we're no longer celebrating God, as a certain Bavarian cardinal once said, but ourselves. That, Reverend lady, is not Catholic liturgy, even though it may be what your consultancy advocates.
No tourism, just the Church's liturgy.
Ask a miliary chaplain, Sister, whether men in the face of imminent death ask for a liturgy that focusses on their human experiences, or on the divine realities of redemption, forgiveness and the hope of eternal life? They dont have time to choose to savour the sand, the mud or the stench. If they did they would probably choose to be in a church. But they are thankful to be at Mass, to be focussed on God, and to receive the Sacraments in a time of mortal danger.

Sorry, Sister, the Sacred Liturgy is about us worshipping God according the Church's rites, and not about celebrating our human experiences in some manner concocted by ourselves, however touching it may be to us.

The Pimpernel for one, and the Church for another, thinks that the liturgy is about lifting us beyond the human, beyond the horrible suffering we sometimes, nay, all too often, meet in this world, to the divine. Churches and other such things that some dismiss as "frills" are part of how we do this. Please don't patronise people in the midst of their suffering by saying that either they don't want it, or that the liturgy shouldn't do it.


  1. I'm afraid I am at loss of pithy comments for the habit-less dinosaur's inane prattle, but I believe the following image (which you're free to use) is a rather poignant and beautiful example of how a TRUE Catholic liturgical propriety makes the solemnity and glory of God manifest in even the most dejected of circumstances:

    Mass in the Ruins

  2. I agree with my cocitadine from the most west of cities in the Great and Free State of Texas: there is a difference between the glory of a Mass in a disaster, as his picture shows, and the shambles of a disastrous Mass (on the beach).

  3. Quite right LP, good post. This Liturgical Consultant should be disposed of in a Christian fashion at once (I don't mean burning at the stake, just a sacking will do).

  4. I'd be most concerned about this quotation:

    In a continent that has experienced each of these harsh extremes in recent times, the Sunday memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ would surely take on new significance in such a context.

    Sister, the Mass is not the "Sunday memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ." You'll find that in the bread cubes and grape juice at the local Methodist church. The Mass is Calvary on earth substantially present in the Host and Precious Blood. Mass is the inestimable entrance of the Creator into His Creation. Jesus did not institute a wimpy "memorial". She has no clue about how Mass should be said because she does not believe in the Mass.

    The Mass in the ruins of a German cathedral typifies the humble simplicity I desire. Mass on a folding table with kindergarten art class pottery is pride masquerading as humility.

  5. iF the Lady in the photo is a Sister, and one who empathises so much with the afflicted that she would disapprove the wasting of precious oils to annoint our Lord's feet, then why oh why does she allow herself to be officially photographed wearing the rather expensive looking clothing in the colour proper to Cardinals? Wouldn't the black proper to nuns be more appropriate?