Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In Defense of the Clown Mass (But Not Really)

One would think that the liturgy police would know how...well....that they would know how liturgy works in our modern-day world. But it seems they don't.

Case in point: I got a short and sweet(?) comment on my blog yesterday, as concerns the "Rorate Caeli Can Kiss My Ass" post, which was:

"FYI: Google MISA DE NINOS 2011. 'nuff said"

So I did. Although I have to say, even before I did, I knew what I was going to find. I was going to find a "clown mass" being offered by our new pope, the Former Cardinal Bergoglio. And I was right. If you care, here it is:

Now, the subject of this blog post isn't necessarily to discuss "clown masses." (By the way, I put that term in quotations because Traditionalists like to label ANY mass they don't approve of as a clown mass.) Rather, this post is meant to discuss how priests, cardinals, and bishops end up presiding at "clown masses" in the first place.

So, I'm going to break it down here for the Blind and Unthinking Traditionalist. Here's how I think it works:

1. Office of [fill in the blank with whatever name you want] bishop gets a phone call or letter from a parish, group, or other Catholic organization, asking if the good bishop is able to preside over mass on a particular date.

2. Secretary or personal assistant to the bishop checks the very busy and often booked-up schedule of the bishop and pencils in the date, and then sends out a confirmation letter (or perhaps a phone call), indicating that the bishop will be at the requested event to offer mass.

3. On the appointed date, bishop is handed a daily schedule, which includes the confirmed mass at which he is the celebrant.

4. Bishop shows up to the event and presides over the mass.

Now, this is KEY - listen up all you would-be liturgy police! - guess what? THE BISHOP DID NOT PLAN THE MASS AT WHICH HE IS THE CELEBRANT! Isn't that amazing? He had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the mass at which he kindly came to preside over! 

So, let's think this through, shall we? If the mass has lousy music, the bishop didn't plan that lousy music. If the mass is being held in the most abominable post-modern church ever built, he didn't build that church or plan that the mass would be said there. If the organ is broken and the musicians have to switch over to guitars? Nope, not his fault. If the readings selected don't correspond with the liturgical calendar - out of his control! If there are colorful flags and helium balloons festooning the church when he arrives? Not his problem, since he wasn't on the committee that planned how the mass would be celebrated.

Anyone not understanding this?

Now, let's enter the mind of a staunch Traditionalist. The kind of person who, say, leaves a comment on my blog implying that the above-highlighted "clown mass" is an absolute indication that our new Pope is indeed an advocate of killing the Latin mass. Here's how I imagine such a person would respond to my explanation of how bishops and the like end up presiding over "clown masses":

"Well, then, if the bishop saw that such a mass was even a possibility - if he walked in and saw colorful flags and electric guitars and liturgical dancers - well, then, he should have refused to say mass, rather than allow such liturgical abuse to continue on unchecked."

And that, my friends, is the problem. The problem is that the staunch Traditionalist would have the bishop respond to such a mass as if he were Christ in the temple, over-turning the money lenders tables. He would rather "truth" triumph over charity. He would rather deprive people of a mass, risking the disappointment of innocent Catholics, than allow a consecrated bishop allow such a mass to continue. 

Here's the thing, though. Bishops don't do that. They don't show up to say mass and then decide once they get there to back out. Instead, if they sense something is "off" about the arrangement, they proceed with goodwill, love, charity, and respect for those attending, as well as those who hosted and planned the mass. 

To imply that the mass in that You Tube video is the brainchild and preference of our new Pope Francis is ludicrous. Not only because no one really knows, but mostly because the chances are about 100% that he was invited to preside over that mass unaware of the stylings that were planned for that mass, as determined by whoever sponsored it. 

Therefore, it is triple-ludicrous to imply that such a mass is "proof" that Pope Francis hates the TLM, is against it, wants to limit it, or is a big fan of watered-down, feel-good liturgy. Taking the most extreme example of a mass that he presided over as proof of anything shows desperation to prove a point that can't be proven via normal means.

This past week, the Catholic internet has featured many, many written pieces that wonder aloud at the near crazy responses the Traditionalists have had to Pope Francis. I add this blog post to the growing pile, wondering if Traditionalists of this bent realize what damage they are doing to their cause?

I'm no fan of "clown masses," but in this case, I have to defend one. 


  1. When my Bishop said a Mass for the homeschoolers his Master-of-Ceremonies type guy called to go over the Mass...see what we had planned, in detail...to OK it.

    1. Allison, I'm sure there are bishops who operate that way. But what about the bishops who don't? What about the bishop of a diocese (like, say, Buenos Aires) where there are MILLIONS of people in one diocese, with hundreds and hundreds of churches and organizations and dozens upon dozens of requests for the bishop in one week alone?

      What if that "clown mass" as a favor to someone in a high-up position? What if that "clown mass" was in response to a public criticism that bishop ignores Catholic youth organizations?

      What if the bishop's secretary or master-of-ceremonies screwed up that week? What if the youth mission pulled a fast one on the bishop?

      The point is that this ONE mass that the Traditionalists are harping about, and that is making its way around the Catholic internet, is just ONE mass. It represents nothing. There are videos like this of Cardinal Dolan, and he certainly isn't a lover of "clown masses," by any means, even if some idiot shows up here with a 15 year old picture of Cardinal Dolan wearing a cheese head at a mass one time. (Such photos exists.)

      They are scraping the bottom of the trash can to find dirt on Pope Francis and it's despicable. And by the way, this goes without saying, that doesn't include you, Allison. You are always wise and charitable and loving all the time - keep it up and smash all my stereotypes, please! : )

  2. ditto what Allison said.

    As to dreadful-looking modernist churches, well, I am sorry to report that even really good bishops approve the plans for them, and they get built on their watch.

    We have a surprising number of "in the round" Catholic churches in this diocese, with "worship spaces" indistinguishable from Protestant mega-churches'.

    1. Yes, but are those "in the round" buildings prohibited somewhere in the Catechism or other documents?


    2. Yes, but are those "in the round" buildings prohibited somewhere in the Catechism or other documents?

      Not at all. Otherwise churches like the Shrine of the Little Flower in Oak Park, MI St. Barbara's in Chicago (built around 1910),and the Renaissance-era Gesu in Rome would never have been built as they were, and the Pantheon (a former temple) would never have been turned into a church.

    3. @DaveP, good examples, that's what I thought, thanks. This is where I feel people who criticize things need to be careful about vocalizing preferences versus calling out things that are not allowed.


  3. For what it's worth, I just asked the headmaster of my son's school if, over the years, when Archbishop Dolan came here to say mass (which he did many times), and now Archbishop Listecki and Bishop Hying - if we've ever had their offices check with us about what we were planning for mass. The answer was "NO." Other than having to tell them if we have vestments here for them or not, or if we had unconsecrated hosts and wine on-site. He said he has never been questioned once.

    The truth is that some bishops offices are probably on top of this stuff, and some are not. We need to give priests and bishops a break, people, on some things.

  4. I was the music director in a Catholic parish for 7 years, so I planned several liturgies at which the bishop would be present and the diocesan liturgy office always had a pretty specific list of what was/was not acceptable. If our bishop offered a Mass like this, you can rest assured that the diocesan liturgy office (and probably he himself) approved of it. Maybe things are different in other dioceses, maybe not.

    That said, I haven't planned a liturgy for children in a few years, but I'm pretty sure that puppets, skits, and so on are allowed at Masses where the majority of the attendees will be children. I can't say I'm a fan, but what is allowed isn't an abuse.

  5. A very fair and balanced post. Thank you for this.
    Angela M.

  6. I think that's where you're supposed to post a Youtube video of Africans dancing at Mass and ask if that's a clown Mass too.

    The fact is there are things that must be done and then there are things that are a matter of preference. Same for Pope Francis' clothing choices, which seem to be causing quite a stir as well. Maybe he doesn't want to wear red shoes and there is nothing, anywhere, that says that he can't. That kind of thing.

    I go to a Mass that has guitars and Dan Schutte songs every week and I love it. My preference. Still the Mass, whether they like it or not!


    1. Catlady,
      I have found that for years now, Traditional Catholics won't or can't answer for the African masses. A few days ago, JMB observed that the obsession with the TLM seems to be a very western thing. Perhaps she is right?

    2. "Missa Luba" is one of the most exciting African masses I have ever heard, with catchy tunes that stay in your brain for weeks. I first heard it nearly 50 years ago andthought it was splendid then. So did everybody else; In those days one could just perform by singing - all the dancing and AV aids weren't necessary.

  7. The more I see Pope Francis, the more I like him!!!

  8. Question: if you are reading this on a smartphone or tablet, does the you tube video show up?

  9. From Kay, via email:

    "Insightful post and probably often true of some of liturgies our previous pontiffs have presided over. Also, some cultures have liturgical customs which seem really bizarre to us but which are very devout from their point of view. One had to wonder if the popes were gritting their teeth while acting gracious.

    We need to give Pope Francis a chance to get used to his role. It would be a pretty big change. I think the screaming and hollering could set back the progress that has been made in recent years. I try to avoid reading the negative stuff. Kay"

  10. Also, note that there are now people who say that clips aren't in order here - that the bit with the children happened BEFORE mass, not during it; that someone snipped it that way for effect - so this isn't a real representation of what happened.

    Tradofascists are the bane of one's existence in Oxford (mostly (un)converted AngloCatholics here, obsessed with lace, ceremony, each other and very little else). They are, interestingly, the most morally underdeveloped people I know - the comments on RCae about those who need govt assistance or who aren't as privileged as they are are horrifying. Also, it's interesting how childlike their concept of 'good' or 'love' is - it's all about being in agreement. You know how a 2 year old hates mommy if he doesn't get what he wants? Same deal - it's so narrow, so black and white. Their emotional lives are so stunted. When I'm charitable, I know they're afraid, in pain, angry, need the absolute certainty and order because they're trying to contain a complete mess of deep-seated, unresolved issues on the inside. Unfortunately, most of the time I suck at being charitable and am in complete agreement with my friend who said, 'I know it makes me a terrible person, but I want to make some popcorn and watch these morally bankrupt reactionaries ---- themselves.' I basically said, 'Pass it, babes.'

    BTW, found you when I googled 'Rorate Caeli ass' a fortnight ago. I was hesitant, because I AM a more liberal Catholic (who attends an NO Latin mass every week by preference, go figure!), but I'm loving it here. Thank you for being you - look forward to being here more!

    A blessed Triduum and Eastertide to you and yours - and all my fellow readers out here! xx

  11. I was too late to add a comment on your delightful Rorate Coeli blog,(in order to agree with your irreverent views!! LOL) but happy to contribute here.
    I am old enough to REMEMBER what it was like to go from the Mass with Latin missals (still have mine, stuffed with holy pictures) to the Mass in the vernacular. As a recent convert (family conversion) from CofE, I enjoyed both versions of the Mass, and guess what, I've sung plenty of Plainsong (Gregorian chant) since then and attended Latin masses.

    Regarding the many people who pontificate (sorry for the pun) on what Should or Should Not Be, and that Tradition is Best, my theory is that:
    a) these people are young, and not terrifically well educated;
    b) they haven't bothered to research the occasions when the traditional Mass (with the anti-Semite prayers correctly excised - Jesus Christ was a very good Jew) has been sanctioned and even encouraged;
    c) they oppose any change for any reason because they just don't understand that any institution that does not incline to adapt to the times will ossify and crumble away;
    d) they just like saying "No";
    but worst of all,
    if ever Jesus Christ were to come down to Earth and walk around in jeans, T shirt, Doc Martins and a backpack, he would not be recognised but be hounded by these very traditionalists.

    The emeritus Pope opened the doors for traditional rites to be revived Within Reason and with Due Control, and the current Pope would be the very first to recognise and worship a T-shirted returning Messiah. Who else would follow Francis' example? It would be a minority for a long while.

  12. Good job, "clown mass" vid, you convinced my close friend to convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church when nothing else would get the job done. Life is good...

  13. Gee you come across as angry and bitter as the 'Trads' you criticize. Do lighten up

  14. Errboday needs to calm down. Obviously, there are horrible abuses of the liturgy. Sure, but when hyper-scrupulous Catholics start freaking out about stuff like this video (which, watch the video again, there is no definitive evidence that says the cartoon-y figures were actually part of the mass- they could have been either before or after) it takes the focus off the real problems like, actual clown masses or Eucharistic prayers that have been so altered that transubstantiation isn't even happening, depriving Catholics of Holy Communion.

    Let's not all freak out about the possibility that our Pope *ghasp* might have been asked to celebrate a mass that happened to have some non-traditional elements surrounding it, which, as pointed out in this blog post, HE PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT.

    Perspective, people!

  15. >>>Here's the thing, though. Bishops don't do that. They don't show up to say mass and then decide once they get there to back out. Instead, if they sense something is "off" about the arrangement, they proceed with goodwill, love, charity, and respect for those attending, as well as those who hosted and planned the mass. <<<

    The Pope references Pinocchio in his homily.
    Pinocchio is present for said homily.

    Clearly, the pope has planned Pinocchio if he mentions Pinocchio...or does he have a speech writer as well as media/ limelight/ humility advisers? In any case, they all should be fired, the pope included.


    (I'll sign as anonymous because I don't have any of those accounts, but my name is Priscilla. Miss Bragg, if you're nasty.)