Wonder Leads to Knowing
How did it happen, then, that a short time later I found my favorite childhood hymn ("Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creaaaaaation") replaced by a congregational rendering of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," our doubtful voices urged on by a swaying man wearing blue jeans and strumming a guitar? Why was our priest preaching, not about sacraments or sin or salvation, but about the wisdom of Paul Simon's "Mrs. Robinson," which told us that -- coo-coo-catchoo -- Jesus loved us more than we knew?
Talk about having a rug pulled out from under you. Seemingly overnight, the genuflections were passé, the organ was silenced and its loft emptied. The chants, which had brought chills and stillness -- even to us children -- were forgotten. The altar rails were down, the women's heads uncovered, the sisters mostly gone, and our priests were facing us at a "table." The Holy Mass that had so recently moved Aileen and me to ecstatic tears had suddenly become unrecognizable, and almost nothing about these changes was explained.
I was a grown woman before a kind priest told me that the lifting of the Friday ban on meat was not -- as I had come to think of it -- the equivalent of a doctrinal tooth extraction that replaced something with nothing and left a gaping hole in my understanding. Who knew that the Council's intent was to free the faithful to choose their own, more personally meaningful -- and therefore more worthwhile -- sacrifice to perform on Fridays, in remembrance of Good Friday?
I suspect the news that the powerful men in Rome had actually meant to treat the faithful like adults capable of self-discipline would have been very welcome and inspiring in that era of liberation and self-discovery, but I've never met anyone who was taught it. Lacking that, most Catholics wondered why things that used to matter suddenly did not, opening wide the doors to doubt, and then forgot about a useful spiritual exercise. Suddenly Friday became just like any other day, and thus time became less sanctified -- as did most things.
We youngsters riding on the cusp of change grew up anxious, never quite knowing what to expect at Mass. Would we be clapping hands today? Will there be bells at the consecration? Are we always going to recite the Eucharistic prayer along with the priest like we did last week? Should I bring my tambourine?
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My memory of the Traditional Mass is cloudy and vague, and I suspect a bit romantic, but I recollect the first translations of the Novus Ordo very well; they were more exact, and more spiritually focused than what eventually followed. We easily learned our vernacular responses, which were pretty nice:
"The Lord be with you."
"And with your spirit."
"Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; speak but the word, and my soul shall be healed."
And then we learned them again:
"The Lord be with you."
"And also with you."
"Lord I am not worthy to receive you; but only say the word, and I shall be healed."
Small differences brought significant changes in meaning, and we sensed it. The liturgy kept evolving, the emphases kept changing, and every reform and bizarre new experiment was described as being "in the spirit of Vatican II." To many of us things often seemed arbitrary, impermanent, and disordered. Weighed against the aura of mystery, gravity, and unambiguous purpose that we remembered, the attractions of Mass in the vernacular -- and there were many -- seemed to rise in the balance. In short order, Masses became so individualized and unpredictable that it became easy to walk away from a church that seemed to fit itself to times and trends, rather than transcend them.