What to Do about Newchurch Horrors
Concerning that last blogpost on my experiences during Holy Week—in particular that Horrendous Handwashing…
My big brother, who keeps an eye on this blog, has pointed out that when St Peter wanted Jesus to wash not only his feet, but his hands and his head also, Our Lord definitively ruled that out, saying: “He that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet, but is clean wholly.” Quite so: most of us wash our hands every time we go to what our American cousins call the bathroom. So ritual handwashing of the laity on Holy Thursday is not only liturgical nonsense, being connected with Pontius Pilate’s futile and hypocritical gesture; it’s also contrary to the express command of our Saviour.
On the whole business of exposure to Newchurch horrors, I think one may safely follow the advice of Fr John Hunwicke, in this as in so much else:
People sometimes do me the honour of asking for solutions to problems … which is one reason why I endlessly reprint my old articles on how the Novus Ordo may be (as it is commonly done) an unpleasant experience but no way is it invalid. Abuses do not make a Mass invalid. (I imagine these articles can easily be found via the search engine attached to the blog.) But I don’t think I’ve ever tried to offer an answer to what a devout Catholic might do if he/she has no choice but to fulfil the Sunday Obligation by his/her presence at a Mass which in important repects is contra mentem Ecclesiae (perhaps, for example, because of its disobedience to the rubrics and the GIRM).
I do have some experience of this unpleasant dilemma: I had to spend fifteen months ‘in lay communion’ after we joined the incipient Ordinariate. And in so many churches, the problems are considerable. I do know.
Even Bishop Richard Williamson is prepared to discern patches of sunshine in what he calls the Newchurch. I would advise everybody whose local church does the Novus Ordo decently to join their fellow-Catholics in praying that Mass devoutly. But there are very many churches in which (to give an important example) the First Eucharistic Prayer is never used; and, even worse, hundreds of churches in which, at Sunday Mass, the second Prayer is invariably used, despite the very clear language of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal. This latter I would regard as a very serious abuse. In such circumstances, what is one to do?
It is, I think, advisable to consider the possibility of reverting to habits which sanctified Christians in many earlier centuries. If you foresee that, by Communion time, your mind is going to be full of irritated thoughts about the illegalities and irreverences you have experienced, it is probably best not to receive Holy Communion. Most people, through most of the Church’s history, have ‘received’ very rarely. This abstinence can have the effect of making your much rarer communions more significant. Old-fashioned books of devotion used to suggest forms of devotion on preparation for Communion to be said on the Friday and Saturday evenings beforehand.
Does the church have a quiet corner near the back, or behind a pillar, where you might be able, without being too conspicuous, to kneel quietly down and to pray the Rosary throughout Mass? Millions, over the years, have done that for centuries. But DON’T make a show of it.
Or might you prefer to take your Missal along and prayerfully go through the propers of the Day’s Mass? If you do that, I would recommend that you ‘labiate’; i.e. gently and inconspicuously move your lips silently as you read the words. (Clergy do this with regard to the Divine Office.) Otherwise, the risk is that your eye will just slide down the page without your really ‘inwardly digesting’ anything. Remember that the celebrant will probably be using the ultra-short pseudo-Hippolytan dewfall-in-the-Trattoria-in-the-Trastevere shall-we-order-another-bottle Eucharistic Prayer (or else something even iffier), so it might be best to start the Secret, Preface, and Canon in good time. Do not fail to break off and to worship most devoutly when the celebrant gets to the Consecrations. At Communion time, remember that the people moving around you have God Incarnate within them. Try not to feel superior to them, because there are rumours that God rather dislikes that sort of thing. And, in any case, you aren’t. Considering the graces that have been lavished on you, why are so much less holy than your fellow-worshippers to whom God has not given nearly as much?
Indeed, all through the Mass remember that (even if you are the only person there, possibly, who understands this) you are present at the Most Holy and Adorable Sacrifice, the Oblation of the Incarnate Word, the Immolation of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.
This is what the Church means by Actuosa Participatio.
ON NO ACCOUNT start persuading yourself that, for some reason, you might be exempt from your Sunday Duty. You aren’t. Don’t go there.
I’m sure some readers will have other, far better, ideas.