There may have been liturgical abuses, were, in fact, according to several articles I’ve read this week by prominent Catholics.
These people evidently bring a spreadsheet to mass so they can tally all the disrupting liturgical abuses they find there. I don’t know how they have time to worship during all the liturgical-abuse minding they must do. I would imagine that a priest, on seeing one of these folks enter his church, must feel the same anxiety that a young bride feels when her mother-in-law comes to call.
It would be difficult to get on the right side of parishioners like these. One of the sadnesses of these articles is that they find such a ready audience among people who evidently go to mass to carp rather than to pray.
Let my tell you what I found at my church on Christmas Eve.
I saw a church that was packed to overflowing with people of every description. There was the rail-thin gay man who almost certainly is suffering with HIV, the odd-looking transexual whose bulging forearms belie the surgeon’s work, the families with screaming babies, the elderly ladies who sat behind me and gabbled their way through the mass, the deaf man who sat next to me and watched intently but never spoke, the young man with gang insignia on his arms, the young police officer who was injured in the line of duty and was never supposed to walk again but who walked, albeit slowly, into church that night. There were pillars of the community and illegal immigrants, packed into the pews together. Last, but not least, there was me and mine.
We (shudder) held hands during the our father, (gasp) applauded the folks who’d spent hours decorating the church and (can you believe this) got up after mass and talked to one another on our way out of the sanctuary.
It was enough to make a liturgical abuse cop foam at the mouth and fall over in a dead faint.
But do you know who else was there?
Jesus was there.
He was there in the eucharist. He was there in the tired, screaming babies, the gabbling ladies, the odd-looking transsexual, the deaf man who couldn’t hear the mass but felt it anyway, the sad, tired HIV sufferer, the miraculously walking police officer and all the chitter-chattering celebrants as they exited to the Narthex. He was there in the priest whose lunch I once interrupted with a call when my mother was ill, and who came immediately to the hospital.
He was there when we held hands during the Our Father, during the applause and the Christmas carols. He was there in the faith and trust of people who don’t give a care about liturgical abuses but who left their homes on a blustery Christmas Eve to go be together before the Lord because they know He is real, He is present and when they enter that sanctuary, He is there.
These are people who have followed Jesus across the rocky landscapes of their rocky lives. They’ve walked with Him through death, life and everything in between. Some of them had walked right over drug addiction, sexual disorders, terrible injuries, loneliness and fear to be there with Him. We are all riddled with sins, failings, weaknesses and shame. That is our condition. And that is why when we walk into a Catholic Church, we are not searching for liturgical abuses and laundry lists of petty crimes and misdemeanors to assure ourselves of our righteousness. We know that our righteousness resides behind that altar, in the tabernacle, because He is there.
I went to mass Christmas Eve. I didn’t go in search of liturgical perfection. I also didn’t go in search of abuses that I could call out and feel self-righteous about. I went because Jesus is there, and He alone has the words that lead to eternal life. I went to be with my Lord.
And I found Him. Because He was there.