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Dr Philippa Martyr: Avoiding the gnashing of the dentures

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I recently said that planning for parish reform would lead to weeping and gnashing of dentures. So let’s think more about a large Mass centre staffed by a team of clergy.

One objection is that different priests saying the Sunday masses will be confusing. If Fr Relaxo has us all dancing on the sanctuary one week, and Fr Apocalypto makes mantillas compulsory for everyone (including men) the next week, that’s going to upset people.

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But what you’re worried about is already happening. It’s just happening in different parishes, where you don’t have to see it.

So perhaps the real fear is that you’ll have to put up with bad liturgy in your own church. But how did we arrive at such liturgical divergence in the first place?

We already know the answers – bad catechesis, bad priestly formation, and weak bishops.

But allowing boutique parishes has made the problem worse by acting like a filter system.

In Fr Relaxo’s parish, everyone says the words of consecration at Mass and extends their right hands over the gifts (which makes it look a bit like a Nazi rally). If you’re not up for this, you try somewhere else.

But at Fr Apocalypto’s parish, you can buy survival kits with blessed beeswax candles and three days’ worth of tinned beans at the piety stall. So off you go somewhere else again.

Boutique parishes are a consequence of the liturgical fallout after Vatican II. They have also become a too-hard basket for overwhelmed bishops.

If Fr Relaxo has us all dancing on the sanctuary one week, and Fr Apocalypto makes mantillas compulsory for everyone (including men) the next week, that’s going to upset people.

Allowing parishes to become liturgical sheltered workshops is an easy way of stopping people annoying each other too much. But it also means that many parish priests don’t hear complaints about how they say Mass, even if they’re hopelessly out of touch with the mind of the Church.

This makes the problem of bad liturgy even more entrenched. So if you want parish reform, you will have to work on liturgical reform as well.

If we can teach people what the Mass really is, standardise the way it is celebrated, stop laxity and abuses, we have a better chance of a new model of parish working as well.

Without liturgical reform, the parish filter system will simply repeat on a larger scale. Laity will choose their favourite clergy and follow them to their new Mass centre.

Bishops who have found their Fr Youngtrads irritating in the past might need to think again. Fr Youngtrad is the priest most likely to walk a liturgical middle path and appeal to the largest number of churchgoing Catholics.

He’s immune to the liturgical nonsense of the last few decades. But he’s also had some scary conversations with Fr Apocalypto and knows that this doesn’t represent the future of the Church either.

Many priests and laity have become insensitive and stubborn from being in echo chambers for too long. They need a bit of fresh air to render them more flexible and open again.”

Real liturgical reform also needs the laity to step up. Lay people must learn to exercise their right to bail up their parish priest in the car park after Mass for a frank but courteous exchange of views.

This means that the laity will need to lift their game and learn their rubrics and theology properly. It’s not about ‘What I like and have gotten used to after thirty years’. It’s about ‘What’s in the rubrics, and what isn’t’.

Lay people need to be ready to talk/write politely with clergy who have forgotten that it’s their job to worship God the way God has asked to be worshipped. I’m hoping these will be genuine conversations, and not just rants.

No matter what, bringing boutique parishioners and clergy out of their silos and into a larger Mass centre may cause frictions at first – but it’s more likely to have an overall positive effect.

Many priests and laity have become insensitive and stubborn from being in echo chambers for too long. They need a bit of fresh air to render them more flexible and open again.

Of course, if any priest is unable to serve on a team because he feels terribly hurt by it all, he could always be given a round of rural and remote parishes instead. They’d love to see him every Sunday.

I think that we need to try to respond generously to parish restructuring. Yes, there will be a lot of hiccups.

The clash of the music ministries alone will produce a vale of tears. There will be frayed tempers, ‘church rage’, and many opportunities to practice the virtue of patience.

But we need to try something, because the Church in Australia isn’t what it was 30 years ago – or even two years ago.

Related:

Dr Philippa Martyr: Neither Fr Relaxo nor Fr Apocalypto

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