Oh boy. No matter how many times I find one of these stories I am still a little surprised and saddened. This comes from Fr. Vin of Our Lady of Grace Parish in West Babylon NY. Fr. Vin wishes to exhort his parishioners to “Pray the Mass.” Fine. However, Fr. Vin reveals just how little he really understands. Emphases and [Comments] mine. Ht to A Long Island Catholic.
Please Don’t Pray at Mass!
This might sound a little weird, but I mean it: Please don’t pray at Mass!
Or, to make my meaning more clear, let me emphasize: Please don’t “pray at Mass”; instead, Pray the Mass. Praying at Mass is a mistake – understandable because of our history[uh oh!], but a mistake nonetheless. Praying the Mass is what brings us closer to God.
People who grew up with the Mass in Latin couldn’t “pray the Mass”: It was incomprehensible. [Incomprehensible? The way that golf is incomprehensible before you play a few rounds?] So instead, we were encouraged to “pray at Mass.” The priest “did his thing” with his back to the people, murmuring (as instructed – people weren’t supposed to hear some of the prayers) in a foreign language. Rather than be bored silly [As apparently Fr. Vin was in seminary], lay people brought things to do – rosary beads to pray with, booklets of devotions, English-language “missals” that had translations to follow. And well-meaning instructors told people to conduct their own private devotions in the context of the time they spent at Mass – not a good solution, but the best that the times allowed.
Unfortunately we all, with great good will and sincerity, learned too well. When Vatican Council II restored Jesus’ intent that we “do this in memory of [Him]” by celebrating the memorial of His Last Supper together, people had to un-learn habits of a lifetime. [So we were all lost in the incomprehensible wilderness for 1500 years ignoring Jesus’ intent.]The Mass was restored to being something that the entire gathered assembly prayed together – which meant that “private” prayer had to be moved out of it to another time. To compound matters, the education that was done for Catholics in the 1960s and early 1970s about these changes was almost always inadequate. So Mass was, for some decades, a sloppy (if well-meaning) assemblage of new routines, experiments (often with bad music), and competing agendas. We are still picking up the pieces from that train wreck. [Because of poorly educated catholics in the pews or from poorly educated priests and liturgists who allowed for no competing agendas?]
But the point is a simple one: All the prayers, hymns, readings, gestures, and silences of the Mass are meant to be prayed by all the people. Some may have different roles (for example, the reader reads the scriptures while the assembly listens), but it’s a shared work – not people on parallel but separate tracks. The “changes” that some like and some don’t are simply meant to reflect this shared work more fully. For example: the Responsorial Psalm was, originally, a song; thus it’s to be sung whenever possible. (Can you imagine a baseball game beginning with a shared recitation of the Star Spangled Banner?) And it’s designed to be sung “antiphonally,” back-and-forth between the leader (cantor) and assembly. Doing that is our prayer – it’s not something that’s a background to our personal, private prayer. [I see what Fr. Vin is trying to say. I won’t debate the relative merits of any of the ‘changes’ to which he refers. What I don’t understand is this reflexive need to tear down all that came before the council. Why do all arguments for ‘change’ have to be predicated on the hermeneutic of discontinuity?]
Similarly the singing during the procession to receive the Holy Communion: our singing together and processing together is our prayer – not merely practical stage-management to “get the host” so that we can (as individuals) then “pray.” [Maybe the music is the problem? Remember, you cannot possibly be actively participating unless you are saying or doing something.]
Even the prescribed times of silence – after the scripture readings, after the homily, and after all have received the Holy Communion – aren’t times to “go private”: they are shared moments of silence in which we take to heart as a communion of faith the presence and guidance of God-among-us in Word and Sacrament. (Unfortunately, since these times mimic the “old style” of praying at Mass, the temptation is to see them as remnants of what used to be. But they’re not: they’re communal silences, something we’re not well-prepared for in either church or culture.)
None of this is to minimize the importance of times of private prayer. Private prayer is vital – it’s just not to be done at Mass. Private prayer in the presence of the Mass is a contradiction: It makes the sacrifice of Jesus Christ a “background” for – me. And what we do when we pray the Mass is to surrender ourselves, as Jesus did on the cross; we surrender to our shared life of prayer. For that, we believe, is the way that Jesus saves us: by weaving us into the fabric of the communion of saints joined in common prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. So please: Do as Christ asks through His church: don’t pray at Mass – pray the prayer He left us, together. Until next week, peace. [Reminding people to pray the mass is all well and good, but Father’s dismissive and condescending attitude coupled with the bunk about all that came before the council just misses the mark. Further, is this really a problem. I would venture to guess that there are a lot more parishioners using dressing inappropriately, having pre-marital sex, or using birth control than are praying their rosaries during mass. I guess the little old ladies praying their rosaries are easier targets.]