My parish (which shall remain nameless. So no comments with names, any of you who know me well enough to know where I go to Mass. Yes, this means you) has some funky habits. Like the Children’s Bulletins. Or the first-Sunday Children’s Homily, complete with cheap made-in-China presents for the kids. Or saying the St. Michael prayer before the Final Blessing, and not after it, like most people do.
Another one of those is the Obligatory Pre-Mass Rosary.
Now, Holy Mary, please don’t smite me for what I am about to complain. I don’t hate the Rosary. I hate what people do with it.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, time to address the problem.
As the organist, it is my job to get to the church early, unlock all the doors, set up the equipment, and practice before Mass begins. I usually get there by 6:30am, sometimes a little later. The choir is supposed to show up at 7:15 to get warmed up.
It has become a parish tradition to say the Rosary before Mass. I think Vera (wonderful little old lady; may she rest in peace) started that habit about seven years ago. I am firmly convinced that the only reason we got the rock-star priest we had a few years ago was because she would always end the Rosary with “Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us: obtain for us many and holy priests, Amen.” There’s even some talk about a few possible vocations in our parish. So, yes, it works, and in general, I approve of the practice.
The Rosary, when said properly, takes about twenty minutes, minimum. Safer to have twenty-five. So, we need to start the Rosary by 7:35 at the very latest. Probably better to start at 7:30.
Which limits the choir to a most fifteen minutes of warmup time, if everyone arrives on time.
Now, what usually happens is that the choir members are late, and the Rosary begins late. This past Sunday, one choir member began leading it at 7:42. This was after we had practiced for a grand total of . . . yeah, zero minutes. I was busy making absolutely sure that the readings and such were the ones for Ascension, not Seventh Sunday of Easter (Ascension Thursday Sunday is a problem for a different post), letting my dad, the lector, know that it was the Ascension readings (he had practiced the wrong ones, and was pretty grateful that I stopped to let him know before he messed it up during Mass), and trying and not succeeding to find Father to check on this stuff. When I finally get that squared away, I climb the stairs to the loft, check the time on my phone, and take a few seconds to be grateful that we’ll have a little extra practice time, because we can’t do the Rosary. We can go through the chants, make sure “Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean’s Star” is okay for today (being a hymn we haven’t done before), and practice today’s polyphony at least once.
Nope, no such luck. The Rosary has begun.
I sit there, stunned, for a moment, and then I realize that we’re completely SOL for this morning. We’ll be lucky to get through the Rosary in time for Mass to begin at 8am, which means we’ll have to wing everything. That alone is bad enough.
What’s worse is the way the Rosary is said under these circumstances.
Rapidly, with hardly any pause between words, a few sentences said for the Mysteries, usually rushed, and not enough time to finish properly, leaving a few minutes of silence before Mass.
Sometimes, we even make Father wait to start Mass, so that the Rosary can be finished.
This is bad on so many levels.
Saying the Rosary at Mach-1 isn’t saying the Rosary. It’s going through the prescribed motions, not praying. Why no one seems to disapprove enough to put a stop to this blows my mind. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about the Tridentine Rite Mass, before Vatican II, was that people would “hear Mass,” saying the Rosary during Mass, because they couldn’t understand the Latin or what was going on enough to participate. A crappy excuse, I know, but the stupidity surrounding Vatican II and its results is for another post. Or two. Or twenty. But, to go ahead and use that bad example, both the Mass and the Rosary were being misused.
So where is the outrage now? Both the Mass and the Rosary are being misused.
The Rosary is being rushed and not-prayed, and the Mass is reduced to second place in the schedule, when Mass waits for the Rosary to finish; not because the Rosary is important or because it’s an emergency prayer for some parishioner who was just hit by a bus, but because we’re too freaking lazy to start earlier and finish on time.
Everything suffers when the Rosary is said like this. The Rosary itself, the proper attitudes towards the Mass, and the quality of the music of the Liturgy.
And when those things suffer, the spiritual life of everyone involved suffers, too.
It seems like we have a case of false piety chipping away at real piety. Oh, the Rosary is so important, we have to say it every week, right before Mass. How dare you say that the choir needs to practice? Oh, Father can wait a few minutes for us to finish. It’s no big deal. We’re so holy, we have to say the Rosary at light speed every single time, to show everyone in the parish how holy we are.
It’s just like those other bad habits I mentioned above — handing out Children’s Bulletins after communion, so the kids can run (yes, RUN) up the center aisle and collect a stupid piece of paper with puzzles on it and no real religious instruction value from Father and the pressed-into-service lectors. Because it’s so important that all the grandparents in the congregation remark how cute they are. Or the Children’s Homily, where they all go up and sit in front of the Altar while Father tries to teach them something (my personal favorite is how the story of St. Paul getting blinded and converted is really about bullying). Because that’s how you teach kids to keep their faith. Or saying the St. Michael Prayer (in a bad translation, no less) before the Final Blessing. Because no one would actually sit in their freaking pew long enough after the Recessional Hymn to say it then, where it actually belongs. Because we’re supposed to jump up and start talking after Mass, before the hymn even ends completely, and chatter like it was a concert hall on our way out to the parking lot.
All of these things chip away at the Mass, changing it from the most important hour of your week into a framework for all these other “important” things. They’re just as bad as having crappy guitar music at Mass instead of the organ, self-centered “praise and worship” songs instead of real hymns and Gregorian Chant, or a priest changing the words of the Mass.
We can’t allow anyone to distract us from the Mass, the “source and summit of the Christian life,” as Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us. And all of those things do exactly that, while pretending to be a vital part of our spiritual life and instruction.
We’re just as bad as Scarlet O’Hara, “throwing away happiness with both hands, and reaching out for something that will never make you happy.”
People complain about not having vocations, or kids going to college and losing their faith, or how no one seems to really “participate” at Mass, or how Mass attendance is dropping. Well, you can’t fix those problems until you fix how people treat the Mass itself. It is not an option. It is not a form of cheap entertainment. It is not at all about us and how well we play the guitar or sing “gather us in, the lost and forsaken,” or some other such crap.
It’s about how the Creator of the Universe deigns to come to us and be with us, not in a figurative, symbolic way, but in a real, physical way.
Stop and think about that for a minute, and then be truly appalled that we would do anything to undermine that reality.
Because that’s what the Obligatory Pre-Mass Rosary does. And Children’s Bulletins and Homilies. And misplaced prayers. And bad music.
It has to stop, or nothing will ever change. We’ll be stuck in this deep cavern of superficial, pseudo-religiosity, and souls will be lost along the way.
I, for one, don’t want to go to my judgment and have to answer for that to Him.
We have to get up off our lazy butts and do what we’re supposed to do, at the very least because we know we’re supposed to do it; it would be better if we did it because we had that great love for God, but we have to start somewhere. But to do that, we have to be told that we’re supposed to behave a certain way. We have to have someone who can direct our habits the right way, to tell us why this is important, and then hold us to that higher standard. People don’t just wake up one morning and have saintly piety. We need to foster good habits in little things, because if we have those, we can be handle the bigger things, and we will be hungry for them. He did say that “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater” (Luke 16:10). That’s where high Mass attendance comes from. That’s where vocations come from.
That’s how souls are saved.
Fortunately, I might be able to keep the Obligatory Pre-Mass Rosary from being a bad thing (because it isn’t, when done properly). The choir leads it, so I can (theoretically, anyway) put my foot down and say that if we don’t start by 7:35, we don’t start. We’ll do the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or the Litany of Loreto instead, depending on how much time we have after practicing. I can continue to play the organ, and make sure that one of the weekend Masses is musically appropriate. And I can pray. That’s all I can do until someone at the top realizes that our habits reflect our attitudes.
The aforementioned bad habits really are that bad, because this is the Mass we’re talking about. Until we treat it as “the source and summit” of our lives, we rob it of the power to affect us, which is our problem, not its problem. Until the bad habits go away, we’re whistling in the wind.
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