It was the best of parishes, it was the worst of parishes



Gratitude and yearning for greatness should not be in tension of each other. A baseball player can be thankful he is playing professional baseball for a living, and yet he still strives to win the World Series each year and ultimately enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. What a simple concept: Gratitude and Greatness. Why is this so difficult? 

I wish to examine the Catholic parish in my small town. My family and I are consigned to a Saturday night mass. The music, "liturgists" and overall disruptiveness of the Sunday morning mass are too burdensome to bear without blowing a spiritual gasket. Let me just say that the Breaking Bread hymnal should be classified by the UN as an instrument of torture. As should welcoming all visitors with a round of applause (the rite of mortification). We are reduced to attending a Saturday night Mass.

What we have:

There is no music on Saturday night. Elderly ladies serve at the altar, unable or unwilling to so much as genuflect to the tabernacle. The homilies are long, difficult to follow, and often simply recitations of bishop letters (as if there wasn't enough suffering in the world, then fallen humanity created bishop letters… and videos). Families are nonexistent at the mass, yet we are enlightened with the phrase that our parish is "a family of families." Rather a family of octogenarians I observe. The mass is rightly called an obligation.

What we desire:

What we long for is chant, beautiful polyphony, and traditional inspirational hymns such as Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.. We long for throngs of altar boys serving the priest reverently, not in flour sacks but soutane and surplice, as little cherubs. Incensing and ringing bells. We long for homilies with spiritual insight. Hopeful fervor. And above all: TRUTH. We long for families to live out our faith side by side. Wholesome friends for our children. Catholic community to help challenge each other to sainthood. When experiencing this one looks expectantly to the next opportunity, not obligation, to participate in mass.

Striving for greatness with this approach inevitably leads to ingratitude. Sometimes the longing for something better is more of a "look at the mess I have now." It is wise to examine the situation from a different angle.

In the rest of the diocese every parish weekend Mass is full of Breaking Bread razzle dazzle, er, music (e.g. "Sing a new Church into being..."). We are granted silence on Saturday night to pray and enter into sacrifice of the Mass. Many parishes in our diocese have no altar bells, but we do. Many parishes nearby have priests who preach for an intended audience of 7 year olds. At my Saturday night mass our priest does strive to go deeper, and even at times presents saint quotes for our spiritual edification. Families are lacking, but the 80 year olds we do have are generous and very encouraging to our own family. One might say, with trepidation I suppose, that our lowly Saturday night mass is actually the best mass offered in the entire diocese on any given weekend. 

Hence the tension between greatness and gratitude. On one hand, saying our Saturday night mass is the paramount mass in the diocese speaks to just how far the Catholic faith has collapsed in Saskatchewan. It would take a generation or more to recover what has been lost. Anthony Esolen once referred the Catholic Church to a dragon. What do dragons do? They sleep on top of a great wealth of treasure. Our faith has inestimable beauty and insight, but we lazily sleep on it, or somehow try to sing a new Church into being because it sounds warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, the spirit of gratitude states that the Church is a mess, but wow are we ever fortunate to have what we do! The best mass offered in our diocese... right here in our small town. That is something to be thankful for.

Why the tension between gratitude and greatness? We were made to return thanks to God. We also were made to become saints. Tension and discord mounts when we leave one aside, either gratitude or greatness. Gratitude without greatness is hollow, for our spiritual hearts are to seek heaven, and the glory thereof. One cannot be simply satisfied to sing a new Church into being. One must sing for the full revelation of the glory of Christ. Conversely, to not be grateful is to wallow in self-pity and to seek a greatness which will never truly fulfill, because greatness necessitates acknowledging God as the source, i.e. gratitude. As is summarized in Eucharistic Prayer IV: “It is truly right to give you thanks, truly just to give you glory, Father, most holy, for you are the one God living and true.”

May I be grateful for the Saturday night Mass and at the same time, instead of singing a new Church into being, seek the old, true Church of Christ. With all of its inestimable treasures which satisfy the heart.

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