The Overblown Legend of the Clown Mass

The Overblown Legend of the Clown Mass March 13, 2014

After hearing one too many appeals to the Legend of the Clown Mass from one too many Reactionaries fondling that bogeyman as an excuse for poisoning the Body of Christ with malice toward good and innocent bishops like Bp. Olson of Ft. Worth, a friend writes:

For 16 years, I have ceaselessly traveled the world in search of the mythic clown Mass.  I’ve attended Mass in 9 languages on 5 continents; including St. Peter’s, and the Brompton Oratory in London and Gesu in Rome.  I’ve attended Mass in great Cathedrals and small country churches up in the mountains and deserts.  i’ve seen bats flying out of organs (true) but not a single clown.  Mass in at least 350 different churches in 117 different dioceses.  And not a clown to be found.  A girl could get the impression that the clown Mass is something of an urban legend.  Someone direct me to the nearest clown Mass because after all I’ve heard – I really want to see one!

Clearly I was looking in the wrong place for a clown Mass when I visited all those ordinary parishes and cathedrals in all those countries.  Somehow I’d gotten the impression from the blogosphere that a clown Mass could just pop up anywhere.  And that hundreds had been celebrated when in fact, they seem to be as rare as blue moons.  It has been estimated that there about 350,000 Masses celebrated *every* day on this planet.  Which is about 127 million Masses every year.  It’s hard to know how many extras to tack on for major feast days etc.  Just a rough estimate.  If two clown Masses were held in 2012, that would mean that 0.00000001574% of all Masses were clown Masses in some form (they could of course, still be valid since apparently “clown” Masses vary widely.  And that 99.99999998536% of all Masses celebrated were not clown Masses.  Call me a heretic but If Pope Benedict could manage to live with the knowledge that a “clown Mass” of some form has taken place somewhere in the world – without despairing of God or the Church, I can live with that.  But don’t expect me to  take seriously the proliferation of clown Masses as an argument for or against anything again.


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  • I’m starting to get annoyed and frustrated over this whole business. I’m not a fan of stuff like “clown masses.” I think liturgical gimmicks are stupid beyond anything and I hate it when priests get folksy. But, frankly, pious Pharisees have been abusing the mass for centuries, and nobody calls them out. The way we conservatives/traditionalists tend to think the mass “ought” to be celebrated isn’t traditional, either. Pews and kneeling (at certain parts) and sitting still are pretty late additions, from what I understand.

    When C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy, toured Greece they went to a Divine Liturgy and Lewis commented that it seemed like a fascinating mix of High Church and Low Church:

    What pleased me most about a Greek Orthodox mass [sic] I once attended was that there seemed to be no prescribed behavior for the congregation. Some stood, some knelt, some sat, some walked; one crawled about the floor like a caterpillar. And the beauty of it was that nobody took the slightest notice of what anyone else was doing. I wish we Anglicans would follow their example. One meets people who are perturbed because someone in the next pew does, or does not, cross himself. They oughtn’t even to have seen, let alone censured. ‘Who are thou that judgest Another’s servant?’

    (from Letters to Malcolm)

    We’re all dudgeony about a stupid liturgical innovation while refusing to address the very reasons why desperate people thought they were necessary. Many, many people don’t get reverence from a “reverent” Catholic liturgy. They get rigidity and wicked social enforcement of mindless conformity.

  • J Peterman

    Who cares about the “clown mass”? I have a clown who says mass in my diocese here in the diocese of Tampa.
    During Sunday mass, after he holds up the consecrated host and then sacred blood he says in a creepy voice “allll eyes on Jesus”. This is an addition to the mass and yes it’s illicit. Also, three weeks ago he had two visiting priests with him on the alter during the consecration and he DIDN’T say it because he KNOWS it’s not right.

    This same priest during his homily on Super Bowl Sunday extolled the virtues of the lyric “you make me feel like I’ve been locked out of heaven” by Bruno Mars. I guess he missed the first part of the song that says “The sex takes me to paradise”. This is scandalizing the faithful and there is nothing more or less you an say about it. He should be removed for “contemplation”. We don’t need a clown mass when we have clowns saying mass.

    • JPeterman

      Correction, diocese of St Pete, my apologies.

  • Eerie de Veré

    Mark, David and others. If you visit St. Martha parish website, you can see some old black and white photos of Ringling Brothers circus talent performing their circus arts just outside the parish doors:

    You can also visit their traditional Blessed Sacrament chapel where I believe the TLM may now be celebrated (in my day it was offered in the main worship space) as well as join their Gregorian Choir:

    • Eerie de Veré

      Catching up on parish history, looks like the Bishop moved St. Martha’s TLM community over to its own church at Christ the King. Makes sense, as St. Martha was always an extremely busy parish under Fr. Fausto, although it appears St Martha has kept its Gregorian Choir.

      Nevertheless, I find it a bit saddening in a nostalgic kind of way. Of all the TLM communities I to which I belonged, with the exception of Paroisse St Mathieu in Northern Ontario where I first experienced the TLM as a teen, St Martha is still my favourite TLM community. Part of what made it great is that we had strong support from the broader parish, including the pastor who was very well respected in the diocese. But we were also part of the broader parish that included social justice, Eucharistic adoration, ministry to migrant workers and to refugees. It was a total blend of orthodox Catholicism.

      Put another way, take all the best qualities and interests of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. Merge them into one parish priest. This was our pastor Fr Fausto.


    The focus of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Jesus and the Church Triumphant,not the priest or the people or the secular. It is a glimpse of Heaven on earth. We as individuals are there to solemnly and prayerfully participate in this Holy Sacrifice, to contemplate what it means for us and the world, to worship and Glorify The Holy Trinity in it and to pray for forgiveness,ask for graces and offer thanksgiving. Masses that incorporate secular themes like clowns, football, Native American, etc, are attempting to unite the faithful with that theme, thereby distracting them from God. It is the same as when priests use the Homily to do book reviews,or as a stand up comic routine, etc. The point is these things attempt to put some secular sentiment or distraction into the heart of the faithful so that they are focused on that. Thus they tune God out and thereby miss His message for them. Remember “You shall have no strange god before Me”.

    • Eerie de Veré

      The liturgy has always had some flexibility to adapt themes and practices from local culture. Otherwise the entire western liturgical Tradition – both TLM and NOM – stand condemned by the First Ecumenical Council for permitting kneeling on Sundays and during the Easter/Pentecost season.

  • Rod Treat

    If you don’t believe that extreme liturgical abuses occur frequently and that the Church is in serious trouble, check out what’s been going on this weekend at the LA Religious Education Congress: They’ve had liturgical dancers twirling around during Mass processions and speakers like Jim Wallis, a non-Catholic heretic and spiritual advisor to Barack Obama and Rev. Ronald Rolheiser, a dissident Catholic priest. Yeah, we’re all good.

    • fredx2

      I saw that and it was weird. But I thought, well, maybe this does something for the people who are attending. Maybe this does inspire them. But then it got a little weird. There is a sort of “book worship” that takes place, which people think is OK, because, after all, how can you object to venerating the gospels? But then I realized. The tendency to venerate inanimate objects is something that pagan religions do – they venerate the spirits in trees, in water, etc. That’s whay this veneration of the book itself, and not the God behind it, kind of bothered me. Later, the emphasis on what appeared to be pagan maidens offering sacrifice was also a bit heavy on the pagan influence, i thought.

  • fredx2

    Well, it wasn’t a clown mass, but it was a “son of clown mass”. This was about 6 months ago. I was traveling and sought out a local church. The priest informed us that he was videotaping this mass for a “Come join us” video. During the mass, a baby was baptized. Then, in an inexplicable bit of showmanship, the priest walked up and down the aisles – every single aisle of this in the round church – about five of them, swinging the baby and displaying the baby to the congregation, as if we were supposed to say “Hey baby, we welcome you into the church” This took about 10-15 minutes. Not only was the behavior liturgically stupid, it was dangerous to swing and hoist a baby all over the place for no reason other than he was videotaping himself. It was self agrandizement. Kind of like Deacon Sandy. In the same state, too.

    The point is, it need not necesarily be a clown mass, which has become shorthand for liturgical abuse. It is any number of “innovations” in which the sacrifice of the mass is obscured in favor of a broadway show tune attitude – that the mass is an opportunity for various “artists” to put on a show.

    Just search youtube for “clown mass” or liturgical abuse

    Look at this one.

    • Dan C

      No. The point is that you discuss a minor matter of perhaps liturgical non-compliance. Not abuse. This Mass is valid, and you lack perspective.

    • Eerie de Veré

      Yeah, that’s a pretty good example of the type of liturgy that traumatized me as a child. I have not seen anything this “interesting” since the last liturgical conference I attended at Notre Dame about 20 years ago.

    • Ciaran in Ireland

      Yuck! This mess makes the average parish Mass in Ireland seem solemn by comparison.

  • Eerie de Veré

    P.S. Mark, since you asked for proof of the “infamous” clown Mass. Here is an old black and white photo, I believe from 1951, of Ringling Brothers talent performing circus tricks in front of St Martha Parish in Sarasota, I believe in anticipation of the annual blessing of the circus train.

  • John Drake
    • disqus_Qmc7pDyHTl


  • John Hobson

    We all heard of masses where beer and pretzels were consecrated, but AFAIK, no one ever actually attended one.