Yesterday I had the pleasure of serving at a wedding Mass. It was the first time for to even attend a wedding Mass, let alone be a server at one. The soon-to-be-weds had brought their own priest, as far I understood a friend of the family.
When introducing myself to him and discussing some points of the Mass, he seemed surprised that there would be servers, but pleasantly surprised, and he asked me what our duties would be. Well, just the usual ones: preparing the altar, carrying the gifts, assisting with a few other things, and also the washing of the hands before the Consecration. “Oh, I never do that”, he replied. I nearly raised an eyebrow and asked him why on earth not? I didn’t though, merely mumbled something that we do do that here, and he seemed okay with that.
Anyway, that by way of introduction, because that little occurence led me to fear that the wedding Mass that the priest would celebrate would suffer from what I call a DIY liturgy. And that fear was confirmed. The experience was rather paradoxical for me: on the one hand the liturgy bothered me, and on the other hand the clear happiness of the bride and groom and their friends and family made me happy as well.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder what lies at the root at this urge (if it is an urge) to adapt the liturgy to your own personal preferences. In this case the Mass was valid (the priest used a proper Eucharistic prayer and so on), but the introduction of extra prayer within the Eucharistic prayer, the involvement of the congregation in the various prayers of the priest, the priest’s apparent lack of awareness of certain rituals and their meaning, and, worst of all, the invitation to everyone who felt spiritually close to the bride and groom to receive Communion, led not only to a vague service (which is what the priest consistently called it instead of Eucharist or Mass) but also allowed a number of abuses to take place. I assisted the priest in giving Communion and I am certain that a number of non-Catholics received the Body of Christ from my hands. Maybe I am responsible for that or the priest is, I don’t know, but during the celebration of Mass I tend to defer to the priest: any disagreements and questions may be raised afterwards. So I gave Communion to those who presented themselves.
The liturgy of the Mass, with all its rules and rituals, is the product of a development of centuries. It has been codified numerous times, most recently following the Second Vatican Council. That codification has a reason: it unifies the celebration of the sacraments in the entire Church and so also its members. Being people of head and heart, the rituals, gestures, visuals et cetera, serves to provide us with a more exalted worship; Mass is not like sitting down with friends and have a chin wag: it is the communion with God, which deserves, even needs its own language. In the language and gestures of the liturgy we are exalted also, and so we are enabled to meet God, despite all our human failings. If the liturgy is brought down to us, we bring God down to us (an impossibility): the opposite of what He asks from us. Liturgy is also a teaching tool: the language, gestures and rituals show us who God is, that we are able to come into His presence despite the fact that He is so far out of our reach.
DIY liturgy is a dangerous business, but paradoxically an understandable one as well. Yesterday wedding Mass was an enormously joyous occasion for everyone involved, and I don’t begrudge anyone that. But the Mass barely transcended the level of a social gathering, but the couple did consciously choose to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony. The (subconscious) need to remove God as much as possible from the picture amazes me. In words we still acknowledge Him, but that is where we draw the line. It is as if we have become people of the head only: our heart and soul is not in it.