Sunday, November 08, 2009

Leaving Before Mass Ends

Catholics have lots of bad habits that are just in plain-old bad taste. One that bothers me is their tendency to walk out during the organ postlude. Here we have a organist performing a serious piece of music following Mass, an offering of talent to God and the community, but instead of listening and reflecting, regarding it as a special time of the week, many people just grab their stuff and fly out.

This practice really must change. It reflects poorly on our communities. It is also an insult to the organist. It says: I don't care what you are playing. You music and your efforts mean nothing to do me as compared with my own selfish desires to get the heck out of this place. It is even worse when people have loud conversations during the organ postlude, sometimes shouting over the organ so that they can hear each other. When a quiet spot in the music appears, you can suddenly hear a roar of conversation.

But as you read this, I know what you are thinking: this is only the beginning of the trouble we face at the end of Mass. Catholics have also developed the habit of leaving Mass even before the celebrant says "The Mass is ended." They receive and skedaddle, like consumers at a take-out buffet. This offends the celebrant and the entire community gathered. It is dismissive of everyone's efforts, and, especially, disrespectful toward the mystery of the Eucharist and the astonishing privilege of receiving.

The result is that during the postcommunion period of reflection, when the entire nave is quiet and contemplative, knelling in prayer, you can hear the door to the outside the Church slamming and slamming and slamming, as people bolt for the cars and race out of the parking lots while others are still inside praying. Ouch. The person is long gone but the sting for everyone else remains.

For the person who does this, it usually begins with a small decision on the margin. One particularly busy Sunday, there are relatives coming into town or a pot-roast in the oven and the person is a bit panicked to get out of there. The person leaves early with reluctance. But then the upside appears: the person gains a new appreciation for what it means not to have to fight traffic. There seems to be no great downside.

A couple of weeks later, following communion, the same person is faced with the decision to go back to the pew or head for the exit. The exit door suddenly beckons. It is easy and there is an immediate time payoff. Maybe no one will notice. And what if they do notice? You will already be gone and won't have to explain yourself anyway. So you do it again. And again. And again. Then others catch on. And pretty soon it becomes quite the thing, sweeping through the whole community.

After a time, only two-thirds of the parishioners remain even to watch the recession take place. By the time the organ postlude is finished, the whole place is a ghost town. Everyone who has worked so hard to make the liturgy beautiful has some sense that their efforts are not appreciated in the slightest. The entire spiritual dimension of the liturgy in which time is suspended is offended.

Now, contrast this with what one most likely would have experienced several decades ago. Following communion, everyone would return to the pew. They would stay kneeling in prayer. They would hear "The Mass is ended" is Latin. The recession of the celebrant and servers would take place, accompanied by a hymn, an organ piece, or a hymn. Then people would kneel again. They would stay for 5 to 10 minutes in prayer and silence.

To be sure, I wasn't around back then. But one gains a sense of the practice by attending parishes where there has been an uninterrupted tradition from preconciliar times. In every one I've attended, this is the tendency and it is fairly uniform, and very impressive. People stagger their leaving long after silence is regained. It strikes me that this is the Catholic way.

How to revive it? Start doing this yourself. Suggest it to others. Suggest it even to the pastor. It would only take one or two announcements in the homily to make the difference. The bottom line is that Mass is no time for impiety and rudeness. And rude and impious is exactly how I would describe the practice of bolting before Mass is over or before the postlude has finished.

If you have finished praying, there is no downside to just sitting in the pew for a few minutes in silence. It is only 5 extra minutes every week. Surely we owe it to the liturgy and the efforts of everyone involved, and surely our faith is important enough in our lives, to offer this one small thing.

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