The Pope’s New Youth Mass

July 24, 2008

By Jeffrey Tucker:

Some of the worst liturgical abuses in the last decades have taken place in the name of appealing to the youth. Liturgists set up this category called the ‘youth’ to be an archetype within a dialectical drama that pit tradition against innovation. The youth were supposedly uninspired by solemnity and preferred laxity, pop music, casual celebrant demeanor, and practices such as liturgical dance and liturgical puppeteering that had no precedent in the entire history of the Roman Rite. The music in particular is my concern here, and in this area we heard the use of music that was not only incompatible with true spirit of the Mass but utterly contrary to it. The idea was that the Catholic Church had better embrace this stuff else it risks losing an entire generation.

So many parishes complied, first with set-aside youth Masses in which all heck broke loose, and any savvy Catholic in America knows exactly what I mean by that. Then the next step took place: the culture of these Masses began to flow into the other Masses at the parish. The reductio ad absurdum was the phenomenon known at Life Teen, at which garage bands were encouraged to unleash their talents and celebrants were encouraged to use any and every method to entertain people rather than draw people’s attention toward the transcendent. One must also observe that previous World Youth Days—with their exhibitions of pop stars and over-the-top displays of emotional unleashings—have not been a help in this regard.

Well, there is a slight problem with hinging an entire liturgical project around a dogmatic demographic claim. Time moves forward. The present is infinitely vanishing, as Kierkegaard said. Demographics change. The youth get old, and the vanguard of the movement eventually gets trampled by the sheer passage of time. Thus do we observe the absurdity of obviously aging old-timers attached to styles and approaches that are as dated as shag carpet and big-bell jeans telling the actual youth of today what they should and shouldn’t desire in liturgy. It comes across like 1970s kitsch, the stuff of low-budget comedy films about a time that today’s real youth only know in caricature.

Well, that was then and this is now. Observe the Masses at World Youth Day in Australia. The trappings of the ‘youth Mass’ of yesteryear were gone, replaced by a new solemnity that included Gregorian chant, traditional vestments, beautiful altar arrangements, attention to the rubrics, and so much more. Far from being an example of what not to do, these Masses were, in many ways, models that today’s truly progressive parishes would do well to follow.

What were the youth doing during the event? Many of the most active were involved in Gregorian chant scholas, either with the main event or side projects such as the group Juventutem, which has a special attachment to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. The group brought in chant master Scott Turkington to train the new generation, which sang Mass ordinaries and hymns from the Parish Book of Chant published by the Church Music Association of America. They sang propers from the Liber Usualis, a book with a grand tradition that was being tossed out in the 1960s and 1970s but which is now experiencing a glorious resurgence.

But even in the ordinary form Masses celebrated during the main events, we heard Gregorian introits and communion antiphons. Here we see what was even a step forward from the best of the U.S. Papal Masses, which provided only selected seasonal communion antiphons in chant. It seems like the Vatican advance team, led by Papal MC Guido Marini, is getting ever more vigilant in encouraging a recovery of traditional practices and liturgical ideals. They have not been 100% successful (the final Mass in Australia included a few highly unfortunate moments), but they learn to be less naïve as time goes on. As Fr. Zulsdorf frequently says, progress in this area takes place brick by brick.

An example of an important step that represents an ongoing transition is the Benediction altar arrangement that we see in Papal Masses. The altar is not the high altar of the extaordinary form. It is the altar of the ordinary form, but with an important difference. The candle sticks are on the altar itself and there is a crucifix in front of the celebrant so that he can truly be turned toward the Lord rather than the people as if they are some kind of audience for his actions. The altar arrangement carries with it the important symbol that the purpose of liturgy is directed toward eternal things, glorifying God rather than the tastes of the congregation. This arrangement of course is not the final ideal but it is a step forward toward the historic Roman Rite practice of saying the Mass oriented toward the liturgical East, together with the people in procession toward the risen Lord. If the goal is to unseat the cult of personality and to get away from these entertainment-focused liturgical events, no step is more important.

As for the entrance and communion propers in chant, this is music that is deeply embedded as part of the Roman Rite. It is the music that is heard in its normative form, and the Popes have long taught that any music that substitutes for chant must in some sense grow out of its style and approach and unmistakable holiness. This realization is not a burden but a relief for musicians who struggle week to week to program music as part of Mass, using every manner of liturgical guide. When they turn to the very music of the Roman Rite, they are truly singing the Mass as it has been given to us by tradition. This is a musical form of liberation for musicians and for people of all ages. Newly discovering this truth is a new generation of young people who find in its both artistic challenge and profound spiritual energy.

Meanwhile, there is the persistent problem that many parishes that some Sunday Mass has been set aside as the Mass designed to appeal to the youth. Ironically, it is precisely these Masses that are most open to reform in the direction the Benedict XVI is calling for—much more so that the main Sunday Mass. These are the Masses where a dignified ordinary setting can be used, either in Latin or English. The new schola can sing propers, again in either Latin or English. They should be encouraged to sing all music without instruments, as a way of clearing the air, encouraging participation, and emphasizing a core truth that the primary liturgical instrument is not the guitar or piano or even organ but the human voice itself. The celebrant can do his part by singing the parts of the Mass that belong to him. The Mass can be said ad orientem and use incense and bells, all of which today’s youth find intriguing precisely because these symbols of holiness are not available in the secular world. Here we have the basis of a new Youth Mass, and perhaps the approach of this Mass will have a meritorious influence on the other Masses of the parish.

The goal of such a reform is not to appeal to a certain demographic but to use an opportunity presented by the existence of such Mass times to institute a new pattern of liturgical use that defers to the tradition and puts a premium on the idea of sacred space. What we find in such spaces is something completely unlike what the rest of the world offers: actions designed to reach outside the passage of time and into eternity. Here we should find a form of beauty for which the world itself offers no parallel. To attend Mass and be part of this mystical action is a privilege of the highest order. It can be offered to today’s youth so that they can be part of something much larger and infinitely greater than their own times and their own generation.



The Box and the Masculinity of Christ, Part 2

July 24, 2008


From Catholic Exchange:

In The Box and the Masculinity of Christ, Part 1, we examined the culture of death’s narrow view of masculinity, and how the culture puts an enormous amount of pressure on boys to conform to this view. We also observed that Jesus Christ, as He is presented in the New Testament, does not conform to what our culture claims that a real, authentic man.

So, what is a real, authentic man? Because Jesus Christ created all that exists (Colossians 1:16), and is truth itself (John 14:6), his life can be upheld as a model of morality for both men and women. However, the second person of the Trinity became flesh as male, not female. As such, Christ lives out his perfect holiness in a manner that is masculine, not feminine. Therefore, it can rightly be said that Christ is to be regarded as the model for perfect masculinity. What are Christ’s masculine traits that are to be emulated by all men?

Before we examine Christ’s masculine traits, it is important to note a few important qualifications. First, women are not left out of the equation. They, too, have a model of perfect femininity in Mary, the mother of Jesus. Second, not all of the traits listed below are rigidly masculine. For example, I have listed that a real, authentic man protects his loved ones. This is primarily a masculine feature, but would anyone argue that if a mother’s child is in danger, the mother will rightly intervene to save her child? There is nothing un-feminine about a mother protecting her children. Therefore, be aware that although the traits listed below are indeed masculine, some may be considered feminine traits as well.

With that being said, a real, authentic man…

•1)      Fights Injustice and Evil: Jesus Christ is a fighter, a warrior. The New Testament portrays Him as “clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses” (Revelation 19:13-14). The gospels narrate Him as taking on the hypocritical Pharisees (Matthew 15:3-9, 23:13, Mark 8:10-13, Luke 14:1-6, etc.) and even Satan himself (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-12). Lastly, Christ is victorious over death itself (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, Revelation 1:18). Each time He enters into combat, Our Lord exits the battlefield victorious.

•2)      Leads Others: Jesus Christ is called the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). As the King and Lord, Christ leads us to perfect holiness so that one day we may share in His reign (2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:6). Christ does this through his own example, but also through preaching (Matthew 5-7, etc.) and parables (Matthew 20:1-16, Mark 13:28-32, Luke 15:11-32, etc.). When Jesus leads, he does so as if he was “one who had authority” (Matthew 7:29). He can rightly do this, because he has been granted it by God the Father: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

•3)      Keeps His Responsibilities, Even When Difficult: The second person of the Trinity had the awesome task of becoming man, maturing, and beginning a three year ministry that would bring about the fullness of God’s revelation to the world. During this ministry, Jesus was not always popular. Can you imagine if the gospels read, “Jesus spoke amongst the crowds, and watched his words lest he say something to offend them”? God forbid! Instead Jesus is bold and speaks the truth no matter who chooses to be offended. His largest task was the culmination of His ministry, to be murdered for the redemption of all humankind. He knew that it would be difficult: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Despite the fear or anxiety, Our Lord went through with His mission, becoming tortured and executed by the very people he had come to save.

•4)      Is Passionate: Jesus Christ is expressive. When he found money changers in the temple, he displayed the emotion of anger. He flipped over tables and used a whip to drive them away (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:13-16). When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus “wept” (John 11:35). As Jesus Christ expresses emotions, such can thus be considered a masculine trait.

•5)      Prays Often: Jesus prays quite often (Matthew 14:19, Luke 5:16, 6:12, etc.). Note that when Jesus prays, He often does so alone and in the midst of nature, such as when he went to fast and pray in the wilderness for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-12). Note also that Jesus’ prayers can be considered masculine because they are more active than receptive: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made” (John 17:5). Contrast this with the Mary’s feminine prayer, which is more receptive than active: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Here we have listed just five qualities that Jesus Christ possesses that can rightly be called masculine. In the The Box and the Masculinity of Christ, Part 3, we will discuss five more masculine traits of Christ and conclude up this series. In the meantime, I once again urge all men to break free of the popular culture’s false idea of masculinity in order to bear the image of the one who is masculinity itself.

Contraception and Cultural Chaos — Part 1 of 6

July 24, 2008

Marking the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Mary’s Anawim will run this six part series from Christopher West:

This July 25th marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most controversial papal documents in history: Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae which reaffirmed the traditional Christian teaching on the immorality of contraception. If you have wrestled with this teaching, believe me, I can relate. Years ago I almost left the Church over it. Forty years of perspective provide an opportunity to take another look. That’s what I’ll be doing in [the next] several columns.

You may have noticed above that I said “traditional Christian teaching” on contraception. Only in the last 50-70 years has this been viewed primarily as a “Catholic” issue. Until 1930, all Christian bodies stood together in their condemnation of any attempt to sterilize the marital act. That year, the Anglican Church broke with more than nineteen hundred years of uninterrupted Christian teaching. When the pill debuted in the early 1960’s, the Catholic Church alone was retaining what in 30 short years had come to be seen as an archaic, even absurd position.

One way to begin understanding the Church’s stance is by “judging the tree by its fruit.” This is what first made me realize that contraception was a much more important issue than I had realized.

When Margaret Sanger and her followers started pushing contraception in the early 1900’s, wise men and women — and certainly not just Catholics — predicted that severing sex from procreation would eventually lead to sexual and societal chaos. Today’s culture of adultery, divorce, premarital sex, STD’s, out-of-wedlock births, abortion, fatherless children, homosexuality, poverty, crime, drugs, and violence was all foreseen.

What’s the connection with contraception? While today’s societal chaos is certainly complex, the following demonstrates the “inner logic” of contraception’s contribution. People are often tempted to do things they shouldn’t do. Deterrents within nature itself and within society help to curb these temptations and maintain order. For example, what would happen to the crime rate in a given society if jail terms suddenly ceased?

Apply the same logic to sex. People throughout history have been tempted to commit adultery. It’s nothing new. However, one of the main deterrents from succumbing to the temptation has been the fear of pregnancy. What would happen if this natural deterrent were taken away? As history demonstrates, rates of adultery would skyrocket. What’s one of the main causes of divorce? Adultery. Apply the same logic to pre-marital sex. Such behavior has, indeed, skyrocketed. Premarital sex, as a kind of “adultery in advance,” is also a prime indicator of future marital breakdown.

It gets worse. Since no method of contraception is 100% effective, an increase in adultery and pre-marital sex will inevitably lead to an increase in “unwanted pregnancies.” What’s next? So many people think contraception is the solution to the abortion problem. Take a deeper look and you’ll see that that’s like throwing gasoline on a fire to try to put it out. In the final analysis, there is only one reason we have abortion — because men and women are having sex without being “open to life.” If this mentality is at the root of abortion, contraception does nothing but foster and afford this mentality.

Not everyone will resort to abortion of course. Some will choose adoption. Other mothers (most) will raise these children by themselves. Hence the number of children who grow up without a father (which has already been increased by the rise in divorce) will be compounded. And a culture of “fatherless” children inevitably becomes a culture of poverty, crime, drugs, and violence. All of these social ills compound exponentially from generation to generation since “fatherless” children are also much more likely to have out-of-wedlock births and, if they marry at all, divorce.

What about homosexuality? Our culture is impotent to resist the “gay agenda” because we have already accepted its basic premise with contraception — the reduction of sex to the exchange of pleasure. When openness to life is no longer an intrinsic part of the sexual equation, why does sexual behavior have to be with the opposite sex?

Forty years after the release of Humanae Vitae, many people are beginning to see that the Church might not be crazy after all.

The Box and the Masculinity of Christ, Part 1

July 24, 2008


From Catholic Exchange:

The auditorium was filled with around 50 teenage boys, nearly all of whom were impatiently waiting for what they expected to be a boring lecture to begin. A hush fell upon the room as the speaker walked to the chalkboard and drew a two-dimensional box.

“What qualities does our culture say a real, authentic man has?” the speaker asked.

The teenage boys were silent before one young man had the courage to speak up. “He’s strong!” he yelled out. The speaker then wrote the word “strong” inside the box.

Another boy exclaimed, “He’s independent!” The speaker then wrote the phrase “independent” inside the box.

Soon others began to participate. Various responses were being shouted. The speaker frantically attempted to write down everything the teenage boys were saying.

“He wins fights!”

“He has sex!”

“He doesn’t show emotion!”

“He’s tough!”

“He drinks a lot [of alcohol].”

“All the girls want him.”

“He’s violent!”

“He never shows weakness!”

The responses subsided. “Now,” said the speaker, “what the guys who don’t fit these characteristics get called?” The boys knew the answers all too well and reluctantly began yelling out labels.








Again, the speaker attempted frantically to write down everything that the boys were saying. The difference, this time, was that he was writing outside of the box. Once the boys had calmed down, the speaker began making the excellent point of how our culture puts an enormous amount of pressure on boys to conform to a narrow, false view of masculinity and authentic manhood. If the boys don’t conform, they get labeled names that horribly damage their self-esteem, change their social standing, and can make growing up miserable. The culture’s message is clear: if you show emotion, show weakness, refuse to have premarital sex, refuse to get drunk at parties, et cetera, then you’re not a real man. You’re a failure who will never succeed in life. No job, no girl, and no future. The boy has but two options: conform to the culture’s standards, or be rejected and suffer.

The speaker continued. “The message our culture sends to boys about masculinity is a lie. And this lie is being lived by thousands if not millions of boys across the globe. Unless we are willing to discuss this issue and guys are willing to tear apart this false box, things will never change.” The teenage boys in the audience began to take turns discussing the issue. The speaker moderated a dialogue between them. It was very thought provoking. After the presentation had ended, the boys began filing out. I hoped that the speaker’s presentation had some lasting impact on the way these future men view their masculinity, their role in this hurting world.

As everyone left, I stuck around, staring at the diagram on the chalkboard, with all of the characteristics and labels intact. My mind began to wander. What Catholic theology could say about what I had just seen? How Jesus Christ might relate to this box for so-called authentic men?

Toughness was listed by these teenage boys as a masculine trait, and certainly Our Lord was tough. How many of us could survive a scourging (Matthew 27:26, John 19:1)? Strength was also listed in the box, and yes, Our Lord was strong. After all, he spent most of his life as a carpenter-builder (Mark 6:3), which takes a fair amount of physical might. It goes downhill from here: Christ’s conformity to the culture of death’s idea of an authentic man ends.

By their own admission, teenage boys are taught that it is not masculine to show emotion. Yet when Lazarus died, Jesus cried (John 11:35). When Jesus cleansed the temple, he displayed anger (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:13-16). Indeed, Our Lord is an emotional, passionate man.

Is Jesus independent? No. He defines himself in terms of the Father (John 14:9). Jesus teaches that He and His Father are “one” (John 10:30). He prays to God the Father, asking for strength (Luke 22:42). Rather than being independent, Sacred Scripture shows that Jesus is completely dependent on His Father.

Does Jesus win fights? Yes, he does win fights, but the fights aren’t physical. Instead, they’re spiritual and intellectual. Jesus takes on the Pharisees again and again, giving them an intellectual pounding (Matthew 15:3-9, 23:13, Mark 8:10-13, Luke 14:1-6, et cetera). Likewise, Jesus combats the devil in the desert (Matthew 4:1, Luke 4:1-2). Not surprisingly, Our Lord is victorious (Matthew 4:2-11, Luke 4:3-12).

Jesus further lacks conformity to the box by not having sex with many women. Jesus does not condemn the sexual act, though he puts it in its proper place: between one man and one woman, with remarriage being forbidden (Matthew 19:1-9, Mark 10:1-10).

Similarly, Jesus did not drink obscene amounts of alcohol, although he did drink alcohol, and even turned water into wine (John 2:1-10).

What of showing weakness? The teenage boys confessed that a real, authentic man does not show weakness. Yet Christ allowed Himself to be weak during His passion and death. At any time, Jesus could have asked God the Father to send Him an army of angels to save Him from suffering and death (Matthew 26:53-54), but he did not. Instead Jesus allowed Himself to be the victim, to be weak. Yes, the infinite God of the Universe allowed Himself to be brutally murdered. The twist here is that this weakness Christ displayed was actually strength, because it redeemed all of humanity for all time. As St. Paul teaches, it is when we suffer weakness for God’s sake that we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

As one can plainly see, Jesus doesn’t fit into the culture’s supposed box of real masculinity. He never conforms to the world, just as he chose to not conform in the first century A.D. Rather, He chose to fulfill a heavenly plan: His mission, ordained by the Father. For this he was persecuted in the same way that we continue to be persecuted for following Him. Therefore, I urge all boys, all men to follow Christ, even though it means certain anguish. I urge you to break free from the conformity of the box in order to be made in the image of the one who exhibits masculinity itself.

Concerning Eucharistic Desecration

July 24, 2008

Please view this excellent perspective on recent accounts of Eucharistic desecration.

Is such vulnerability another good reason for Communion on the tongue?

Courting Reverence: Why has the courtroom retained the reverence the Mass has lost?

July 20, 2008

From Adoremus:

You may not have recognized Sean Combs or Marshall Bruce Mathers III as they appeared for their court dates recently. The irony is, their fans would not have recognized them either. Mr. Combs aka Puffy or Puff Daddy and Mr. Mathers aka Eminem or Slim Shady are giants in the world of rap music. They both have enormously successful careers carefully established on a “bad boy” rebel image. In fact, Mr. Combs is CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment.

But for court they departed from their regular image and behavior. Gone were the baseball caps, sunglasses, gold chains, leather jackets, t-shirts and baggy jeans so familiar in the rap music crowd. Each of them wore a nice new suit and a sharp tie. They did not have the defiant, violent, in-your-face attitude that their music carries and that they display on stage. Rather, they sat still and respectfully in the courtroom as everyone else does.

As far as I know, courtrooms do not have a dress code. But everyone senses the seriousness of the business conducted there. They dress and act accordingly. The dramatic distinction between courtroom behavior and regular behavior calls to mind the distinction that should but does not exist between the sacred and profane in Catholic churches.

In many ways the courtroom resembles a church, or at least what a church should be. Its benches look like pews. The man who presides is robed in black. He renders judgment from a sort of sanctuary: from a large table, usually elevated, set apart many times by what looks like an altar rail. The bailiff functions as his acolyte and the jury could be his choir. Proper reverence must be maintained in the courtroom: when the judge enters, the people stand; to speak with him, you must ask to approach the bench. People always dress respectfully for the courtroom and, if they must speak, they do so in hushed voices.

Alas, despite these similarities, the courtroom clearly receives more respect and reverence than a church. It certainly elicits a distinction from our dress-casual culture that a church no longer does. The sanctuary of a church is no longer set apart: people do not think twice about approaching it and even walking through it if they want. The altar in many cases is not elevated, not distinguished from the congregation in any real sense. People do not dress respectfully for church. And when was the last time they merely whispered?

The fact that the courtroom has maintained a distinction between the casual and serious the sacred and profane, in effect while the Mass has not, indicates that current irreverence for the Mass is not just a product of larger cultural decay. The courtroom shows that we can still maintain reverence in our culture. The way people respond to the Mass indicates something drastically wrong with the way Mass is celebrated and the way our churches have been redesigned.

 Serious Business
The courtroom is a place of serious business: it is where life and death issues are decided, where a man’s future hangs in the balance, where fortunes are won or lost, debts are settled, and guilt is bound or loosed. Even though the “proceedings” of church conduct a “business” infinitely more important than any courtroom’s, people have no sense of it. They do not realize that the Mass makes present the victory of life over death, and gives us our inheritance as children of God. Granted, unlike court proceedings, the Mass does not determine guilt or innocence but instead celebrates and communicates reconciliation. Further, at Mass we approach God not only as supplicants but also and even more as children. Nonetheless, the Mass (and Confession, Eucharistic Adoration, etc.) deals with forgiveness and punishment, with innocence and guilt, with eternal salvation and damnation. That is the most serious business.

Why then does our culture respect and revere the courtroom, while it practically scorns churches? Obviously there are many general causes, most obviously the loss of the sense of sin, which obscures the seriousness of any religious undertaking. But a comparison of the respect for the courtroom with the irreverence for the Mass isolates two specific causes for the latter: the priest-host and the egalitarian architecture.

  “Good morning!”
First of all, no judge would ever lower his courtroom to the level that many priests bring the sacred liturgy. “Good morning!” Would an important trial ever begin with such a trite greeting? Would a judge announce the birthdays or anniversaries of people in the courtroom? Would he ease the tension of the courtroom by beginning with a joke? It would be rare indeed for a judge to act so flippantly during a trial. He has the power to silence people in the courtroom and even to hold them “in contempt of court”. The judge knows that the tension in the courtroom is healthy because it focuses everyone on the serious business before them. If he dilutes this tension, he lessens the importance of his role, his words, and his courtroom. The judge understands a basic paradox: if the courtroom has the atmosphere of everyday life, then it no longer has any relevance for everyday life.

The Mass has a similar tension. The formal greetings, the reminders of sin, the call to repentance, the invitations to prayer, etc. all these create a healthy tension that reminds us of the importance of the Liturgy. Unfortunately, many priests see themselves as hosts charged with the task of entertaining and consequently do not see the benefit of this tension. They do not understand that it elicits reverence and respect for the Liturgy. As a result, such priests diffuse the tension with casual greetings, jokes, and references to secular celebrations. They intend to relax the congregation and put people at ease. They instead produce a casual, mediocre and often meaningless atmosphere. They do not understand the paradox: if the Mass has the atmosphere of everyday life, then it no longer has any relevance for everyday life.

Seating is Everything
Second, those who design courtrooms understand the importance of the physical arrangement of the people. Not everyone is on the same level. The gallery is normally distinguished somehow from the lawyers. The jury has its own area, and the judge looks down from what is obviously the most important seat in the house. The use of rails, benches, and tables to distinguish the participants reminds everyone of the hierarchy essential for the business involved. Further, courtrooms rarely, if ever, look cheap. In fact, they normally have dignified furniture of the finest wood and dark colors that bring a solemn tone to the whole place. All the physical furnishings communicate a dignity that no one fails to notice.

For centuries, churches had a similar design. The congregation occupied the nave, while the ministers served in the sanctuary, set apart by an altar rail and elevated by a couple of steps. The layout reflected the hierarchy of the Church that is essential to the Liturgy. The furnishings and building materials conveyed a dignity and seriousness.

Now, however, new churches display a more egalitarian architecture, and old churches twist and turn to accommodate the new thinking. The altar may be on the same level as the congregation and even moved out to be in the midst of the people. Chairs that can be easily moved and rearranged have replaced the pews. Kneelers have been eliminated and the altar rail, of course, has long since been removed. These new designs destroy the distinction between the people and the ministers and effectively eliminate any sense of the hierarchical structure of the Church and of the Mass. If a courtroom were designed like this the people would ask, “Who is in charge”? Catholics may ask the same at many parishes.

Moreover, these new and renovated churches tend to look quite cheap. Movable chairs, so important for quickly changing the church into a concert hall, do not convey seriousness, dignity or reverence. Rather, they bear a striking resemblance to kitchen chairs. One theologian calls all this the “domestication of transcendence”. In other words, we feel at home in the church so why should we regard it as special?

The Mass, and a church in general, should be a refuge of reverence in the midst of a culture that increasingly reveres nothing a glimpse of heaven as we progress on our pilgrim way. The solution is not to make the Mass into a court hearing or churches into courtrooms. They have more differences than similarities. Nonetheless, the courtroom has not suffered the same trivialization and irreverence inflicted on the Mass. Insofar as these two are similar, then, we should learn what elicits reverence and what we should retain of our tradition.

If in doubt, we can always ask Puff Daddy and Slim Shady.