I spent some time this evening watching my DVRed version of The Eternal Gift, which is the film of the celebration of the Easter Sunday mass at Our Lady of Sorrows in Chicago, circa 1940 (youtube version here). I recorded it when it appeared on EWTN on the same day as the celebration of the Extraordinary Rite by the FSSP for the EWTN special. (FWIW, I recorded that mass too, but could only bring myself to watch it once all the way through, the incessant high-pitched nun-singing during the mass grated on my nerves - but I digress).
The film is scratchy black and white, and the audio flutters and wows, but I can still watch it and transport myself back in time to when it was happening. It is truly amazing to do and to feel. But one of the things that is unmistakable is how deeply people believed then. Sure there were no doubt some louts and philanders and what all in the congregation, just as there are today, but people by and large believed unhesitatingly. You can see in the faces - hear in the voices - such unadulterated and heartfelt joy and pleading and just raw emotion. Not in a pentecostal kind of way, but in a more sincere, reasoned, and true-believing way. The people were there talking to God in a way that one would talk to - say - a Judge on the Bench, or the President of the US, or the Holy Father. As if they were in a room with Greatness and Power, and had a chance to address the All Powerful One directly.
Absent completely is the careless off-handedness one sees today. The attitude of "ho-hum, gimme my host so I can get out of here" that is EVERYWHERE today in the Catholic Church. And I am not talking about some stupid puppet mass, I mean a properly celebrated by-the-book novus ordo mass. People plain and simple, don't CARE. I'm not questioning their fundamental beliefs or motives - God forbid I should do that - but their slouchy attitude. What I'm saying is, I know they believe something, or else they'd be at St. Mattress every Sunday morning, but it is not possible to reconcile their attitude and behavior with a sincere belief in and understanding of the sacrifice of the mass and the real presence of GOD HIMSELF in the tabernacle - or on the altar.
So what happened???? I know that society in general is rapidly deteriorating to the point where clean cargo shorts and t-shirts are considered "business attire". But is what we see representative of that decline? Or is it something different? Well, to use an inapproriate but telling business technique, let's check out the competition! In the more mainstream protestant churches, never (nearly) does one see men go to Sunday Service in anything but a suit, or at the very least a jacket and tie. But in OUR church, such attire is a rarity! At each mass there are a few suits, yes, but about 80% of the congregation looks like they are dressed for a round of golf, at best, or a Jimmy Buffet concert, at worst. In fact, here in the south, I have often heard people (protestants) point out that Catholics "wear anything" to church!
My Latin basically is nonexistent, consisting of one year at Page High School in '75, so I can't translate this. But, as the church, and Pope Benedict in particular says "as we pray, so we believe" (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi), I would like to add "how we act and dress is how we believe". And I speak with personal experience. Looking Back over the years at my own behavior, there were times when I went to church in a ratty t-shirt, holey, dirty jeans, and old sneakers. Only now, with the clarity of hindsight, do I realize that those were the same times when I was just "going though the motions". It may be unfair or unreasonable to extrapolate that out to the Catholic world in general, but I don't think it is. I think it's the only logical choice.
The question for the ages is, how did we get here? And how do we get out? The first half is easy. We got here because we were put here. A whole generation of priests came out of Vatican II with the attitude of "Jesus is COOL man!!!" "He Loves you no matter what you wear". Combined with their own laissez-faire attitude toward reverence and respect, they dumbed us all down.
The answer to the second is harder, and it will be the topic of my next post....
Tune in again tomorrow!!!!