Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Narcissism to Blame for Liturgical Abuse

Oh that every priest in America would read this essay on our narcissistic culture. Reading through this article I am constantly reminded of my own parish. Here's an excerpt:

In 1990 Thomas Day, in Why Catholic Can’t Sing, gave some clear examples of the narcissistic phenomenon in the Catholic liturgy — a phenomenon that he calls “Ego Renewal.”

“It is Holy Thursday and we are at the solemn evening mass in a mid-western parish. The moment comes for the celebrant of the Mass, the pastor, to wash the feet of twelve parishioners, just as Christ washed the feet of the apostles at the last Supper. During this deeply moving ceremony, the choir sings motets and alternates with the congregation, which sings hymns. Finally, this part of the liturgy comes to a close with the washing of the last foot. The music ends; you can almost sense that the congregation wants to weep for joy. Then, Father Hank (this is what the pastor wishes to be called) walks over to a microphone, smiles, and says, “Boy, that was great! Let’s give these twelve parishioners a hand.”

A stunned and somewhat reluctant congregation applauds weakly. Father Hank continues….

One by one, Father Hank goes down the row of twelve parishioners; each one gets a little testimonial and applause. With that job out of the way, Father, Hank, visibly pleased with himself, resumes the liturgy, while the congregation, visibly annoyed, contemplates various methods of strangulation.”

This is a narcissistic example of “personalizing” the liturgy, and Day points out that “Father Hank’s” antics, far from being selfless, are fundamentally intended to draw attention to himself. Any psychologist would be aware of Father Hank’s underlying insecurity and consequent need for personal affirmation, and we can see this same psychology on a lesser scale when the celebrant leaves the sanctuary to shake hands during the sign of peace and nods and glad-hands his way through the congregation during the recessional as though he were a local politician running for office. Day displays acute awareness of the narcissism underlying many liturgical problems, and aptly refers to it as “Ego Renewal.” A similar, real-life example of this personalizing of the liturgy in a way that detracts from its spiritual significance occurred at a large Mass, attended by the junior author, in which the main celebrant introduced each of over twenty other concelebrants at the start of the mass, inviting applause for each as they were introduced.

With rare exceptions the introduction of applause within the Mass is a display of the ego needs of the priest or priests who are modeling the mass on show business and on public demonstrations of emotional support at the expense of Christ and reverence.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.


japhy said...

I read Day's book last month. It hurt at times. But I agree with the vast majority of what he said, and his conclusions are accurate.

As my friend (who suggested I read the book) pointed out to me, I will find it harder and harder to sing some of the banal songs at Mass now.

One example from the book: the tune of "Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night." is frighteningly similar to that of "Here's the story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls..."

Tim A. Troutman said...

I never realized that but now that you mention it....

I need to read that book too. It's been on my list for a while now.