I recently saw the term "Mass Hopper" over at The Cafeteria is Closed, and had an "Ah-hah!" moment. Maybe it's OK to hop from church to church, a la Goldilocks, looking for the Church that's not too modern, not too old-fashioned, the Church that is just right. I was a lapsed Catholic, and I started to go back to church (almost) every Sunday about three years ago. Unfortunately, the two churches in my hometown west of Boston have left me completely uninspired. Good pastors, but the Mass was distracting and flat. Going to Mass was depressing me! Not a spiritually energizing experience. My issues with the two churches in my town:
- Bland 70's architecture, bland interiors, no statues, no stained glass, no votive candles, nothing beautiful inside or out, no sense of a sacred space.
- Astonishingly banal music, the songs at church were syrupy and droning, more like hippie folks songs or Barney tunes. The Catholic Church arguably has the most magnificent musical heritage of any religion. Why are we forced to sing this OCP dreck?
- No dress code of any sort, altar girl and boys are in T-shirts, Extraordinary Ministers are also in extremely casual clothes (one older woman had her cleavage showing - yuck!) , many young women and their moms in skimpy clothing. Guess I'm old school, but there's a time and a place, and church is a place to dress more respectfully.
- Extraordinary Ministers are commonplace, not Extraordinary. At both churches, the EMs went through elaborate greeting before communion, shaking hands and hugging each other. Yeeks! We don't need to see the self-congratulations. It's like Dodge'ems in the communion line, having to split up between the one priest and two EMs, then get back in line to return to your pew. Why does one poorly attended church need one priest and 8 EMs?
- On more than one occasion, the priest apologized in the homily for the "sexist" text in the readings (specifically, the reading about the good wife who weaves linens, takes care of her family, etc.). Are we so feeble-minded that we can't take the good intent from a reading that is several thousand years old, when women indeed did have to weave their linens? When did we get so sensitive and soft?
- The Masses resembled community theatrical productions more than a worship service. For some reason, the cantor and readers are seated on the opposite side of the lectern, so they have to cross over, bow in front of the altar (meaning that their butt is sticking out to the people in pews), sing or read, and then cross back to their seats. Why on earth is there all this walking back and forth? Put them in a chair behind the lectern! It's so distracting!
- The pianist and choral group are up at the front of the church, to the right of the altar. So we get to see all the communication between the director and the singers, and who's fidgeting, and who's fumbling for stuff in his pockets. Placing the singers in the front of the church (instead of up in the balcony) means that the music is no longer a backdrop to the liturgy, and it's part of the production.
Maybe it's me. Maybe I have an undisciplined monkey-mind! But I doubt I'm alone in my bewilderment.
OK, enough kvetching for now. I'm not looking for the Latin Mass, but I'd like a Mass which transcends the secular, day-to-day experience. I'm looking for a worship service that is conducive to prayer and reflection. I'm looking for "bells and smells," the traditions and sensory experiences that transport one to a contemplative, spiritual place. I'm looking to be part of church community which respects the Mass. So, I've decided to become a Mass-Hopper in Lowell, a nearby city which is home to over a dozen Catholic churches, some large cathedrals, others intimate chapels. Apparently, it's OK to do this, we are no longer bound to attend only the church in our neighborhood or parish. Stay tuned, I'll let you know if I find the Church that is just right.