I try not to start paragraphs with the word; I. Self obsession is so unattractive, and yet there is no escaping from the fact that I indulge in it just as much as the worst practitioners. Anyway I’m very tired, very grumpy, very depressed and I’m altar serving in a few hours, I’m struck with the thought; how can I serve God is this awful mood? Depression is an affliction, but it often leads to the sufferer being exceptionally selfish and lazy. I often go to Church in this mood and the Mass lifts me from my self centered despair (Even if I or the priest make a liturgical mistake for me to obsess over for days afterwards).
My Mum’s church had ‘songs of praise’ in over this week. I have a confession to make, I hate that show with an unbridled passion. There is something about it I find deeply disturbing. Church isn’t something you watch, it is something you DO, you have to be there to participate in the Mass. I especially don’t like that it is a sanitised version of Church. They take numerous takes to get things note perfect, they use dry ice machines to soften the light. You don’t get the lunatic who sings enthusiastically at the top of their lungs, drowning everyone else out, the only problem being they are totally tone deaf. You don’t get the person with the electric wheelchair which beeps excruciatingly loudly when they turn up mid way through benediction. I’m not sure you even get the kids playing up or the mentally handicapped person making a lot of noise at awkward moments either, though to be honest I haven’t watched the program in years so I might be wrong about that.
Perhaps one reason why I hate it is that it seems to encourage a show of false happiness, a facade of propriety, a show of piety, when I often go to Church feeling like I’m dying inside. Perhaps mental illness is the leprosy of our age? we go to Christ for healing whilst society would be far more comfortable if we kept our illness to ourselves? I always leave Mass feeling better than when I arrived in church but heaven help me if my facial expressions, whilst I was sat in the choir stalls, were broadcast nation wide. Church isn’t there for us to show off, it is there for the dysfunctional people who need God, which is all of us by the way, to encounter God.
The other thing that irks me is that songs of praise reinforces the notion that the most important form of worship is singing. I know a lot of people love worshiping God in song, but a lot of people can’t sing. Also the music in Catholic parishes is often abysmal. Perhaps this is because the music actually competes with the Mass rather than compliments it, we have inducted the protestant practice of hymn singing over the Catholic tradition of Mass settings and chant. One reason I love being an altar server is that I can ignore the music and play a supporting role in the liturgy, rather than being sat in the pew trying to ignore the music and actively participate in the mass through prayer.
Finally ‘songs of praise’ seems to me to be an Anglican thing and perhaps I need to admit that I now pretty much loathe Anglicanism, I’m not proud of that, I’m well aware that it isn’t a very Christian sentiment. I have very dear Anglican friends and family. But yes I hate how the Anglican Church is all so respectable. There is something so worthy about it that it makes me worry whether some people are there courting respectability rather than Jesus. For example why is the creed or the lords prayer said at half speed? it doesn’t make it any more deep and meaningful… just tedious and pompous. I often think the majority of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales seek respectability and this is the exact reason most of them are thoroughly abysmal. They are obsessed with socialism and global warming and other worldly philosophies of our age, over the timeless spiritual needs of their flock.
Damien Thompson recently pointed out that Pope Francis says nothing revolutionary, until you try to put it into practice in your own life, then suddenly you become aware that actually Pope Francis is saying incredibly practical, challenging things of a deep spiritual nature. Yes indeed! and the reason why I love this Pope, just as much as the last two is that all three of them have well and truly ignored the lure of respectability in order to lead this global Church towards the person of Jesus.
Being Catholic in this country will probably never be respectable, the anti-Catholicism is so deeply ingrained that even atheists who don’t give a fig for any religion will always have an extra special hatred of Catholicism. Whilst the bigotry does upset me, perhaps it is a good thing, persecution will always follow the true faith. There is something special about the way the intellectual elite hate Catholicism because it ministers to the wayward and unwashed. There is something fantastic about the fact that Catholicism is a doing religion, not an intellectual religion, you really do not need to understand the theology to get the most from the Mass, all you need is faith and humility. This is why you need to be there, participating in the flesh and in prayer. A TV show of the Mass doesn’t fulfill your Sunday obligation!
Anyway, yes did I mention that I’m feeling very grumpy today?