Hidden Tabernacles and 8 More Liturgical Crotchets

“The Mystery of the Eucharist is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum)

(photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

Two years ago I wrote a piece in the Register (“9 of My Liturgical Crotchets—and Yours”) about things that distract me at Mass. While none of these are “diriment impediments,” I do find them disturbing. For example:

1. Uncentered tabernacles. Time was once that the central tabernacle was, to no one’s surprise, centrally located in Catholic church sanctuaries. In the post-Vatican II era, tabernacles often were relegated to side altars and separate chapels. None of these has a real convincing argument behind (or in front of) it, and perhaps that is why more and more tabernacles seem to be re-locating back to the center of the sanctuary. Which is only right and just.

2. Priests wearing chasubles but deacons not wearing dalmatics. For years I edited books of all stripes by, for and about deacons. One deacon wrote quite simply, “If a priest is wearing a chasuble at Mass, there is no reason for the deacon not to wear the diaconal dalmatic.” Yes, it is that simple. However, the norm seems to be the priest wears the chasuble, but the deacon wears an alb and his diaconal stole, with no dalmatic in sight. Speaking of stoles…

3. Priests wearing stoles OVER chasubles. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV, but this is pretty much black-letter law as they say: in the order of the vestments, the stole goes underneath the chasuble. The End. However, in a holdover from the 1970s (not the Church’s high-water mark of sartorial taste), some priests still wear a stole over the chasuble, where it tends to fly about like a loose scarf, or, worse…

4. Priests not wearing chasubles at Mass. When fully vested for Holy Mass a priest puts on, first, the amice, especially if he’s not wearing a cassock or a priest’s collared shirt. Next, the alb. Third, the cincture, which, in an ideal world is crossed in front and interlaced with the cincture, literally tying all of this together; and then on top of everything, the chasuble. However, not infrequently I been distracted at Mass by the main celebrant wearing only an alb and stole and cincture. Or worse just the stole and alb. Perhaps this is considered necessary on the equator but as Pope St. John XXIII once noted, “even there the lions wear their coats.”

5. Using the “short form” of the Sunday (or weekday) readings. I have yet to find a good reason why the “short form” of any reading from the Old or New Testament should be used. I suppose if this is done by a military chaplain in the field under a torrential rain or in the midst of a sandstorm, it would make sense. But just because it’s summer, I don’t think the short form of a reading adds anything to the numinous experience of Holy Mass. In fact, by its very nature it takes away something: the larger context of the reading itself.

6. Priests reading aloud the prayers to remain silent. “Read the black, do the red” is the mantra of the Roman Missal. That is, the bishop, priest and deacon should “do” what the red print says, and pray, often aloud, what the black print tells them. However, there are certain prayers that are meant to be silent or said “quietly”: the priest’s prayers after the Agnus Dei are to be said quietly. However, at a recent Mass a priest felt compelled not only to say this prayer aloud, but to add aspirational prayers at the major elevation of the Host: “My Lord and My God!” and at the chalice “Precious Blood of Jesus have mercy on us!” After Holy Communion, when the hymn was finished, the priest prayed aloud during the cleansing of the vessels, “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord…” Since he’d been doing this since at least the end of the Gospel when he prayed aloud “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away,” I’d given up the thought that perhaps he didn’t know his microphone was on so high. But since he wasn’t yelling at the top of his lungs for the rest of the Mass I can only surmise he had some aversion to Sacred Silence, perhaps.

7. Applause at Mass. This never makes sense to me. We don’t applaud at the consecration. We don’t applaud when we receive Holy Communion. We don’t applaud after the reading of the Holy Gospel. However, depending on the occasion, I’ve heard applause (a) after a particularly stirring sermon; (b) after the granting of secular awards on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day—this year I received a “Holy Tire Pressure Gauge” along with all the other fathers, to much clapping; (c) after a really well-sung “Ave Maria” aria after Communion. Maybe there’s a good time to clap during Holy Mass, but I still haven’t found it.

8. Holding hands at the Our Father. Although there’s nothing in the Roman Missal to prevent it, there’s nothing saying that holding hands at the Our Father is de rigueur, either. I can only guess that since the priest is “to extend his hands,” some parishioners feel compelled to extend their hands as well—though there’s no directive on that, either—until they are holding hands. Not only is this unnecessary, it’s unhealthy as well, especially during these torrid summer months when we are all sweating.

9. The readers who obviously hasn’t practiced the readings. Lay readers have my every sympathy, as I, too, used to read at Mass in college and grad school. They are doing a job reserved for specialists—in the minor orders these men were called, to no one’s shock, “Lectors.” Lectors had studied Scripture, commentaries on the Scriptures, done hours of lectio divina, and were much more familiar with the Sacred Texts than I, or anyone not in Holy Orders, could be expected to be. And simply because a lay reader has a sonorous voice and a command of the English language, does not mean he is a “good” reader. I actually feel bad for readers who, during their reading, start tripping over those difficult Old Testament names, or some of those surreal passages from Revelation, or St. Paul’s occasionally dense prose-poems. None of these are easy to read.

On the other hand, not preparing by reading and re-reading again and again (aloud, alone, and in front of a critic) is just good advice for any public speaker—let alone one who is about to proclaim the Word of the Lord.

Coda: “Don’t we, as a Church, have more important problems than these?” Yes, of course. But if we, as a Church, conduct our liturgy in a slipshod fashion, what does that say about our own respect for the source and summit of our faith?