When the Lord Returns Will He Find Any Faith in the UNITED STATES?
by Mary Ann Kreitzer
My husband and I attended a wedding a few weeks ago in the Archdiocese of Detroit. On Sunday we went to 11:30 Mass at St. Malachy’s in Sterling Heights. Going to an unknown parish for Mass is a little like buying a lottery ticket. In this case we lost. Arriving early to say our rosary, we got a good look at the church – modern with a fan shaped “worship space.” The floor slanted downward from back to front like a theatre with a slightly raised sanctuary “stage.” The centrally located tabernacle was framed in wood with stained glass sides in shades of amber. It opened from the side and the ciborium was clearly visible. It was pretty but, like the vessels used for the Eucharist, the tabernacle is supposed to be made of metal, marble, or wood rather than less durable material.
High above the tabernacle hung a beautiful somewhat stylized crucifix. Jesus, his head bent forward, appeared to look down on the congregation. To the immediate left of the sanctuary was a large baptismal pool, hot-tub style, with a large elevated bowl. Water ran continuously from the bowl into the tub. Statues of Joseph and Mary with the child Jesus between them decorated the left wall. To the right of the sanctuary an electronic keyboard stood back-to-back with an organ and several mikes. The pews were comfortably upholstered with kneelers.
Few entering the church genuflected and, as the crowd grew, the chatter increased. Before Mass the cantor invited us to sing a prelude. (Alas, no silence for those who wished to spiritually prepare for Mass.) The accompanist, obviously a talented musician, played the keyboard like he was in a piano bar with jazzy flourishes at the end of every line and a definite jazz rhythm. It was very entertaining from a secular standpoint, but more conducive to dancing than praying. He played the entrance song in the same jazzy rhythm as the prelude. Few sang the prelude. The entrance song got a little more participation.
A woman lector with lectionary led the procession followed by two altar girls, a fully vested deacon, and the celebrant, pastor Fr. Joe Gembala, wearing his stole over his chasuble and singing loudly. Father began with the sign of the Cross and the penitential rite speaking in an exaggerated style and punctuating the end of every sentence in a booming voice. It was an exuberant performance that to me seemed somewhat clownish. After the Penitential Rite and Kyrie he skipped the Gloria and charged straight into the readings. The pause after the first reading was the only quiet moment in the Mass. It gave Father and the deacon time to exchange pleasantries. Then the cantor walked behind the altar bowing with his back to the tabernacle. He and the accompanist performed a Broadway-style responsorial, but at least it reminded me of Fiddler on the Roof, not Hair.
The Gospel was the story of the wise and foolish virgins. Father began with a humorous anecdote about a wedding he celebrated then gave a little history of wedding customs during the first century. The bridesmaids were waiting because the groom was at the home of the bride negotiating the dowry with her father. Being invited to welcome the bridegroom (and his bride) was a great honor. For the bridesmaids not to be prepared showed how little they regarded the honor. The insult of the bridesmaids’ absence when the bridal couple arrived resulted in their exclusion from the wedding feast. Father urged us to be prepared by going to Mass and praying every day, being kind to the poor, and not gossiping. He didn’t mention Confession, but it was a nice homily.
Skipping the Creed, Father launched into the prayers of the faithful which included a pro-life intention. The musician switched to the organ for the Offertory song, How Great Thou Art. My enthusiasm for a traditional hymn was somewhat dampened by his style which transitioned from piano-bar to carnival. It sounded like merry-go-round music. Very odd! Meanwhile, Father received the gifts and returned to the altar raising and presumably offering the bread and wine while he continued to sing loudly. At the Consecration I couldn’t help wondering if He believed in the Real Presence. He didn’t appear irreverent, just indifferent. He did not genuflect.
Before Communion he took a small bottle from the side of the altar (anti-bacterial lotion?), squeezed some of the contents onto his hands, and rubbed them together vigorously. The extraordinary ministers used it also, passing it around as they came up and surrounded the altar like concelebrants. Father distributed the hosts to the laity and they all communicated together.
Communion was given under both species using proper vessels. Few in the congregation made a gesture of reverence before Communion except the dozen Arlington Catholics visiting for the wedding. Most of the congregation received in the hand.
I got the impression Father was annoyed (maybe baffled is a better word) when I genuflected and received on the tongue. He distributed Communion like playing cards, but gave the little children a big smile and a blessing.
The “organist” returned to the keyboard for his final piano-bar arrangement, another modern tune. Father sang several verses before processing to the foot of the altar where he joined in another verse before exiting. The cantor and musician kept singing by which time some of the congregation had either lost patience or, according to accepted custom, were leaving while the song continued.
During Mass I had a strong sense of the Blessed Mother’s love for her priests and I prayed for Father continuously. Should I speak to him? As we left he was greeting parishioners. Since I didn’t want to interrupt we walked past and stopped to visit with our friends. One had gone to a nearby parish, St. Therese of Liseux, where the priest changed the words of the Consecration. She left.
As we chatted, Father’s group dispersed and I decided to speak to him. I walked over, smiled, and shook hands. “Father, you certainly say an enthusiastic Mass,” I said. But you’re not allowed to omit the creed.” He began to be agitated and said, “What’s your name?” I introduced myself and said we were visiting from Virginia. “I’ll pray for you, Father,” I said still smiling. He said he would pray for me too. Then I added as mildly as I could, “Father, you teach your people to be disobedient when you disobey the Church.” At that point something bizarre happened that startled me. He began grimacing, opening his mouth very wide and then closing it like someone on a plane trying to clear his ears. He did it several times twisting his head and neck at the same time. Then he leaned over and said in my ear, “You know what, honey? You’re full of it.” He walked away, raising his hand over his shoulder. I had turned away, but my husband said it looked like he gave me the single digit salute.
Later, while reading the bulletin I noticed there were as many as nine intentions listed for each Sunday Mass, a serious violation of canon law. If the priest accepts more than one stipend for Mass he violates canons 947 and 948 which prohibit “any appearance of trafficking or commerce. Separate Masses are to be applied for the intentions for which an individual offering, even if small, has been made and accepted.”
What is happening to the faith in that parish? And in that diocese? My husband said, “It was like a protestant church. All the focus was on the music. The Eucharist was almost incidental.” We both wondered how many in the congregation believed what Catholics believe. Do they even know what Catholics believe?
James Clavell, the author of Shogun, wrote a chilling short tale called The Children’s Story. It describes the first day of school following the defeat of the United States by an unidentified communist nation. As the terrified teacher, a kindly gray haired woman, waits with her frightened classroom of children, the new teacher enters the room. Instead of the monster they expect, the new teacher is young, smiling, knows all their names, and immediately sits on the floor with them and draws a crying child onto her lap. As the old teacher is dismissed, the new begins indoctrinating the children – not based on fear, but on smiles and deceit, substituting happy lies for truth. She manipulates the children into cutting up the flag so each can have a “special piece.” The Pledge of Allegiance disappears with the flag. Then she cleverly begins to destroy belief in God and to undermine parental authority, winning over even little Johnny, the class skeptic. The story ends this way. “She looked out of the window, at the sun over the land. It was a good land, and vast. A land to breathe in. But she was warmed not by the sun but by the thought that throughout the school and throughout the land all children, all men and all women were being taught with the same faith, with variations of the same procedures. Each according to his age group. Each according to his need. She glanced at her watch…. It was 9:23.” So little time to do so much damage.
The seed for Clavell’s story was planted the day his six-year-old came home from school reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with no comprehension of what she was saying. It is easy to eliminate the truth we parrot but do not understand. And so Clavell illustrates with his story.
Holy Mother Church teaches the right of the flock to proper liturgy. She defines clear rules for celebrants. Priests “ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions. For as Saint Ambrose said, ‘It is not in herself ... but in us that the Church is injured. Let us take care so that our own failure may not cause injury to the Church.’” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 31)
The faith is being lost all over this country and the entire western world. Just as the teacher undermined and destroyed patriotism and respect for parents, misguided clergy are making something other than Christ the center of their worship. Whether out of human respect or loss of faith or a sinful lifestyle, they are committing spiritual murder. Is it any wonder that Jesus lamented, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?” Parents, teach your children doctrine so that when they see showmen on the altar who disobey Holy Mother Church and distort the faith they will not be casualties of scandal. Help them understand what they believe so they can never be tricked into cutting up the faith like the little children in Clavell’s story cut up the flag.
And if your parish priest says the Mass faithfully with reverence, if he is devoted to Mary and is a true shepherd, please thank him. Invite him to dinner and, above all, pray for him – and for our poor church.