Saturday, November 13, 2010
Unforgettable Lessons from My Youth
Today, my Alma Mater, a Salesian School, marked its diamond jubilee. I spent nine years at the school, from pre-kinder to the eighth grade. The nuns practiced fidelity to a fault. They taught us how to love the liturgy, stressed the importance of making habitual visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, regular recitation of the Rosary and strict adherence to the teachings and practices of the Church. While my parents and my paternal grandmother were my first teachers in the faith, I also owe a great deal of my formation to the nuns of that era, in particular, my fifth/sixth (she stayed with us for two years) and eighth grade teachers.
When I was at school, we were still not quite sure-footed as far as music in the Mass was concerned. Unfortunately, while the secular world had pretty much left the dawn of Aquarius, the Church (at least the one in the United States) was still basking in the glow. Hence, we were unwittingly drawn into the fray of the St. Louis Jesuits and whatever else the early vestiges of OCP were firing away. However, in spite of the bad music, not once did the nuns take any liberties with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The entrance procession, despite the music, was solemn. The altar servers and the lectors (my fellow students) were well trained. The Mass was as by-the-GIRM as you can get.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned about the liturgy came, not from textbooks, but, from the nuns, themselves. During my last three years at school, my father would drop me off at the chapel at the ungodly hour of 6:30AM, just as the nuns were reciting their Office and then assisting at Mass. It was tough for a bleary-eyed kid to try to follow along. I only regained full consciousness once Mass was finished. One of the sisters would have me come and help her put the liturgical implements away. She taught me how to tell the difference between the Lectionary and the Roman Missal (the one without the tabs is the Lectionary and that goes on the ambo and one with the tabs is the Roman Missal and that goes on the altar). She also taught me about the various types of altar linens used and, since I was taller than she, I would help her change out the sanctuary lamp when the candle was in its final stages. She also taught me about the different liturgical colors of the season and would let me set out the chasuble for the priest to wear for the following morning's Mass. I actually started looking forward to the early morning drop-offs, even though I was still sleepy. These were my own small catechesis on the liturgy. Sister let me share in her tasks and, in doing so, taught me how to love the liturgy and to respect it.
Sadly, times changed and a new generation of nuns took over. They introduced elements into the Mass that simply have no place there. Two such novelties they brought with them were "dance" and the Protestant Praise and Worship genre. As the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated (when it was known as the Congregation for Sacred Rites), there is no tradition for dance in the Latin church. The kind of dance performed here is not some indigenous ritual (like the Matachines); rather, it involves girls sashaying down the aisle in some quasi-ballet performance. As for the music, it certainly does not fit any of what the authoritative documents of the Church recommend. In fact, it falls more along the lines of what the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist deemed as problematic. The genre is more along the lines of pop rock and is not at all fitting for the Mass.
When I addressed this issue with the nuns some time back, one of them told me that the Directory for Masses with Children allows some latitude. I read through that document to see if dancing and Protestant Praise and Worship music was allowed. It does not speak at all to these things. In fact, it would take a really liberal reading of the text to justify the inclusion of these elements into the Mass. While I admire and respect the fact that these nuns, both the generation that educated me and the succeeding ones, have dedicated themselves completely to the Church and to the education of the young, their well-meaning attempts at liturgical "creativity" seem to be misplaced. These elements might be helpful to the students, but, these should be done away and apart from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
St. John Bosco used many means of attracting the youth to his oratory and, ultimately, to Christ and His Church. However, tinkering with the integrity of the Mass was not one of them. He preached and taught fidelity to the Church. He was not one to take the Mass as his own personal property and do with it as he pleased. Such a practice would have run contrary to everything he believed in and taught. I often wonder if Don Bosco were to suddenly appear in the midst of the crowd at Mass what his reaction would be. While I would not suspect him to take whips and cords and drive the bad elements out of the Mass, I do think that he would have much to say about this both to the priests and nuns of the order that so consumed his life.
I have fond memories of the nuns who taught me during my nine years at my Alma Mater. Some of them have gone on to their reward. I was able to catch up with three of my survivng former teachers today. Visiting with them about old times gave me some joy and a wish that the current student body could have shared in my experiences. Perhaps, I suppose, I am very much of product of the orthodoxy I received both from the sisters from those days of yore and my family.
What saddens me is that these unforgettable lessons from my youth are really being lost on today's generation. When these students join me in the ranks of the alumni, what kind of liturgical experience will they be expecting? Will they be suddenly "bored" at Mass because there is no dance and the music does not sound like something out of their regular pop stations? Will they grow out of this and hopeful develop a true Sensus Fidei? Time will be the judge of that..