My parish church is a liberal church. Which is funny since it’s not a liberal area, at least not as liberal as most of the surrounding metropolis. We moved here about 15 years ago and tried Mass at the church a few times, but just couldn’t take the “guitar-and-bongo” flavor of the liturgy. Then we discovered the Latin Mass about 20 miles away, and now we only come here for confession.
The parish is planning a renovation of the church in which the orientation of worship is changed from latitudinal to longitudinal. It’s not one of those old, beautiful churches built in the early 20th century that you sometimes see in movies and older sections of big cities. It was rather cheaply designed and built when it was new in the early ’60s. But it does have the traditional, cross-shaped layout, with a long nave and the altar set way back from where the communion rails originally would have been.
Before we got here they had built this hideous-looking, semi-permanent partition between the original apse where the altar was and the nave, and set up a new altar closer to the pews. Now they’re going all the way and turning the church sideways. I’m sure they would rather destroy the whole thing and build a new, church-in-the-round type of thing, but evidently the money isn’t there for that, so they’re just going to stick the altar against what is now a side wall, and build-out the opposite side of the church to make room for pews to be turned towards the new altar. The end result will be pews to the left of me, pews to the right of me, pews all around. That way we can stare at Christ in our neighbor during Mass rather than Christ on the altar.
Which goes to show that conservative politics and conservative liturgy are two very different things. A lot of Trump fans want nothing whatever to do with the Latin Mass (though lots of Latin Mass lovers love Trump).
And yet, this parish has a Eucharistic adoration chapel, with adoration going on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They literally built a separate building for this purpose. It’s a small building, sort of squeezed between the rectory and the parking lot. It has about six rows of pews, all set up facing the same direction, towards the monstrance in which the Blessed Sacrament is displayed behind a plexiglass barrier. It too is a cheap little building. They didn’t go all-out with it, but presumably did the best they could with the funds they were able to raise. The architecture leans slightly towards the traditional end of the spectrum, with pseudo-Greek style moldings and stained glass [EDIT: It even faces east!], though probably designed by an architect who mainly does houses and retail stores.
The main idea of liberal liturgy, as far as I have been able to make out after years of pondering the subject, is to de-formalize worship, make it casual, accessible. Vestments were simplified and made soft and flowing rather than stiff, with simple, modernistic designs replacing the intricately embroidered classical motifs of the old fiddlebacks. Priests begin Mass with a big “Howdy!” and end with a shout-out to all who made it possible. They wander around the sanctuary and up and down the pews during their homilies (as if lecterns were somehow forbidden by the rubrics). The tabernacle gets a mere nod or a slight curtsey as people walk by, because Jesus is our buddy, not our boss.
How then do they build a traditionally-oriented adoration chapel and, more importantly, get people to man it 24 hours a day?
My guess is that there were a core of people who wanted it, and the pastor said, “If you can raise the money I won’t stop you.” Either that or they had a conservative pastor for a short interval. Still, they have kept the all-day adoration going until now.
I suppose this may be a metaphor for how the Church will survive. To my mind it’s been slowly committing suicide, mainly by losing confidence in itself; either that or deliberately declining to maintain and propagate itself as itself. It does this by declining to preach the Gospel as the Gospel. It no longer preaches hell, and therefore nothing to be saved from. It doesn’t preach sin, except maybe the sins of racism and harming the environment, and being mean to homosexuals and adulterers. And it no longer preaches marriage the primary purpose of which is childrearing. The few kids Catholics do have are catechized in accord with the above, so that they grow up wondering what the Church has to offer that they can’t get anywhere else, other than corny liturgy and wimpy platitudes.
And yet these people, adoring Christ in the Eucharist at 3:30 in the morning …
I have this idea that we adherents to the old Mass are the remnant who remain true to the Faith; and I don’t doubt that’s true. But it seems there are remnants even among the mainstream. The new Mass and accompanying doctrinal wishy-washiness aren’t destroying the Faith entirely, only making it harder to find and therefore harder to follow. But it is after all indestructible, whether we like it or not. The silliness and stupidity, the ugliness and wickedness, the indifference to the welfare of souls can’t kill it.
Someone said recently in a lecture, “The Church will come to life again.” Just that simple and in passing, as if it were a mere matter of fact. And I thought, “That’s right. It will, won’t it?” After all when did it not?