All choices have consequences. This is an unfortunate reality for my children. Yeah, I’m that kind of mom. I love parenting (teaching) through natural consequences. I make sure my children see the clear connection between their failure to observe good judgment and obey their parents (4th commandment) and the unhappy consequences of early bedtimes and loss of beloved snack and TV privileges.
You choose the behavior and you therefore choose the consequences – a frequent declaration often heard in my home and psychology office. Patients sometimes spend repeated therapy hours pondering the mystery of a failed marriage or wayward children especially after one or more parents have been dedicating endless hours absorbed in an addiction to work, alcohol, or an extramarital affair. If I fail to water a plant – it will die. Clear?
The same truth applies to the spiritual life.
On a recent weekend out of town, my husband and I attended a Catholic parish near our hotel. This was an unfamiliar area and our options were limited as is common in most of the southern US. I was actually a little bit excited to attend a Catholic Church built by some of the earliest Catholics in the south! Pictures from the webpage included a beautiful back altar recently restored with a spectacular tabernacle flanked with six enormous altar candles displaying delicate carvings gilded in gold. The white marble altar encased the real presence of Jesus in the most beautiful antique tabernacle.
All this was enough to thrill this Catholic girl, until the doors swung open. Clear from the back of the long aisle I could see them! Not one but TWO giant projector screens hanging down in front of the stained glass windows and the exquisite back altar, obscuring nearly all but the golden tabernacle.
Taking our seats near the front, I found myself sitting next to a young man who’s flip-flops and swim trunks made a fairly odd contrast to my black chapel veil, but the woman sitting in the front row wearing a baseball cap throughout Mass may have rounded out the odd picture underneath the jumbotrons flagging the altar.
Prayer time before Mass included all the Matt Maher lyrics streamed across the projector screens. Silence was apparently not acceptable. Hymnal books or Missals were not needed as all prayers and music lyrics were provided via electronic media. The historic building had been renovated to the tune of about 1.8 million dollars according to their bulletin and although the building actually possessed a choir loft, the choir and all the instruments were placed next to the altar for some inexplicable reason. The sanctuary looked more like a concert stage with a band and video screens (no this was not a protestant church). Worshiptainment at it’s finest.
When finally the priest stood behind the ambo to deliver the homily I felt a wave of reassurance come over me. It was Transfiguration Sunday! The priest began with a cogent message and dynamic delivery and then three minutes into the homily he turned from the ambo after declaring, “And now watch this.” Down went the lights and the entire congregation sat through a five minute Youtube video about an Olympic runner. There was an audible gasp (that came from my mouth). The tears were flowing and the parishioners were stirred by the images on the screen. None of it, and I mean none of it had anything to do with the readings for that Sunday.
When the lights came back on it was hard to adjust. Was I in a movie theater? Someone’s living room? Now I understood the swim trunks and ball cap in the first row.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist began and I made an effort to focus on what was happening. The constant streaming of every prayer and response on the screen was stealing my attention so much so that I kept taking my eyes from the altar to look to the screens above. Children ran back and forth on both sides of the altar throughout the consecration (living room again?).
As Communion began and parishioners filed out of the pews (ball cap lady removed her hat), ushers positioned themselves in front of every door. The sanctuary included side doors just off the front rows, a few steps from the center aisle. And then I saw it. Moments after receiving the Eucharist with Jesus not yet dissolved on their tongue, parishioner after parishioner approached the doors only to be stopped by the ushers from leaving without consuming the Host. Instead of turning from the doors and returning to their pew for prayer they merely stood at the door waiting to be released. The show was over.
Mass quickly concluded and my husband and I kneeled once again in a prayer of thanksgiving only to watch a crowd of people meander about the altar in loud casual conversation. Not one person reverenced the altar or the tabernacle. Living rooms don’t have a need for such things.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is perfection. The consequence of worshiptainment supplanting this perfection is a Church full of people looking for the show and the nearest and quickest exit. The Eucharist becomes a sideshow, and not the Source and Summit of our faith. Ushers to block the doors for a people who no longer remember Who they are receiving in the Eucharist becomes the consequence of a worship that entertains, but is devoid of Love.