9 of My Liturgical Crotchets—and Yours

When we ignore the small things at Mass it makes it easier to ignore the big things, too.

Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1852–1929), “The Last Supper”
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1852–1929), “The Last Supper” (photo: Public Domain)

The wonderful writer and arbiter of all things grammatical, James J. Kilpatrick had a section of his book Fine Print entitled: “My Crotchets and Your Crotchets” where he acted as judge, jury and executioner on all aspects of the writer’s art. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a “Crotchet” is:

A whimsical fancy; a perverse conceit; a peculiar notion on some point (usually considered unimportant) held by an individual in opposition to common opinion.

When it comes to the Liturgy—whether Holy Mass or the Hours—nothing should be whimsical fancy, of course. However, with that caveat, let us examine the following:


1. Pipe organ present but never used

Two of my great aunts were phenomenal organists (one of them was a Franciscan nun), and could play that omnipresent church instrument with aplomb. While it must be more (and more) difficult to find a pipe organ virtuoso for every Mass, it’s even more mind-bending to imagine that one cannot be found at all. The real sin here is that an organ is an incredibly expensive instrument—and also a very beautiful one, both to behold and to listen to—and is part of our long and storied liturgical heritage. However, finding a Sunday Mass with the pipe organ in use is, or at least seems to be, a real rarity these days. As is…


2. The choir loft

This one makes no sense to me. The choir loft is built to hold the aforementioned pipe organ and, to no one’s surprise, the choir itself. However, more often than not, the choir is now shoved into a corner of the sanctuary, while no one is in the loft. In worse news: the sanctuary-stationed choir is often accompanied by…


3. Guitars and drums and the occasional grand piano

These instruments are regularly used (to the opportunity cost of the pipe organ) despite no permission from bishop and lack of congruity with the texts of most of the (ancient, and in most cases, better) sacred songs.


4. Eulogies at funerals

In all fairness, most bishops are now getting the message out to their clergy that eulogies (and elegies, for you poets out there) have no place at a Catholic Mass: they belong to the funeral repast open mic, or possibly as a quick opening statement before the actual Mass while still at the funeral home. Still, it’s not uncommon to be subject to a seemingly unending list of “can-you-top-this” story-telling in place of the Post-Communion antiphon at a Mass of Christian Burial.


5. Not telling mixed congregations that only Catholics in a state of grace may receive Holy Communion

At one of my friend’s wedding rehearsals, the monsignor said, “After this rehearsal, and tomorrow before the wedding, I will be available to hear confessions.” That quieted the group down. Then came the other shoe: “As you all know, only Catholics in a state of grace can receive Holy Communion—so please feel free to avail yourself of the sacrament of penance.”

At the wedding Mass the next day, before the distribution of Holy Communion, the pastor reiterated not only that Catholics alone (in a state of grace) can receive the Eucharist, but that members of other congregations could not. However, he asked that they join in prayer with us during this sacred time.

Regrettably, that’s the one and only time I’ve heard a priest take the time to make this important clarification.


6. Using the Apostle’s Creed at Mass

I’ve never seen—or heard—this one work. Though I’ve heard celebrants basically warn the congregation, “Today, we will recite the Apostle’s Creed, which can be found on page…”, invariably it turns into a glossolalia of the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. For the thirty seconds of time saved, it hardly seems worth the confusion.


7. Opening up the floor for general intentions: The Prayers of the Faithful, the Bidding Prayers, the Universal prayers — call them what you like — should be five in number, the last reserved for the dead. Though I’m glad to report that I find this less frequent, it is not totally uncommon to hear the priest or, worse, the lay reader, open up the floor with “Please add your own intentions — aloud or in the silence of your hearts” thus opening the gates for a “when-will-it-end?” ad hoc speak-your-mind litany of what’s wrong with the world, from praying for the repose of the soul of Prince, to peace in the Middle East.


8. Taking Holy Communion in the hand, despite this not being the worldwide norm 

This has been written about in the National Catholic Register by better and more qualified writers than I. However, echoing their sentiments: the normative reception of Holy Communion is on the tongue—and preferably, if at all possible, while on your knees. Reception in the hand—which in addition to equating consuming the Eucharist to eating a finger-food, especially sans a server with a paten, leads to too many cases of the Blessed Sacrament falling to the floor.


9. The permanent corporal 

The whole point of the corporal (the square linen cloth laid on the altar) is to catch the fragments of the Holy Eucharist when confected. Why any priest or deacon would allow the corporal to remain there after Mass makes no sense, liturgically or otherwise. Still, on more than one occasion when I’ve popped into an empty church to visit the Blessed Sacrament  I’ve found the corporal still on the altar, though Mass had finished hours ago.

I can already hear the complaining: “Don’t we have more important things to worry about than this list of captious cavils?” Maybe. But when we ignore the small things at Mass it makes it easier to ignore the big things, too. And to this end, good liturgy—whether that means traditional music from a pipe organ to reverently folding the corporal after its use—inspires us, rather than makes us wonder why such simple measures to preserve our spiritual heritage have been misused.