Six years ago, somewhat desperate to find Sunday Mass whilst on holiday in Spain (a harder task than we’d anticipated) we stumbled into a neat, new but reassuringly classically designed church that seemed to be under the care of the Passionists. My heart leaps for joy when I see the Passionist badge and a cassocked priest with said badge greeted us at the door, I felt reassured.
The rest of the congregation were all German ex-pats; well dressed, well groomed and monied. We were made to feel at home, though perhaps they were too friendly as before we’d even sat down we’d been co-opted to read at the Mass. The readings would be in English but the rest of the Mass would be in German. The next outburst of friendliness came when one of the parish helpers came round with what can only be described as a box of toys (I was the youngest in the congregation). From this box was produced a squeaky plastic orange for my husband, I was given two well polished blocks of wood and my intrepid mother-in-law was given a maraca. Every member of the congregation had some such object.
Mass started. The “toys” were for shaking/banging/squeezing during the Gloria and the Sanctus. It was probably one of the most bizarre liturgical experiences of my life.
It was obviously a parish where (for what ever reason) every subtlety and nuance had been beaten out of the phrase “active participation” with a large assortment of noisy plastic fruit.
Staggeringly, I still felt like I’d been to Mass and did not feel I could not attend that church again. Mother-in-law had the casting vote however and as the timing of their Mass meant some discomfort due to her taking of “water tablets”, we managed to find a Spanish, Spanish Catholic church the following Sunday evening to suit her bladder.
Sadly, I feel that these days with my more refined view of the liturgy, I’d have been outraged by that Mass. Has all this searching for liturgical perfection done anything but make me intolerant; too easily shocked, too easily offended and too dissatisfied with the Mass as I find it. Indeed, is intolerance and outrage ever the right response, even to indefensible puppet, teddy bear, football and clown masses? What is the point self-righteous indignation? I will end up worse than a dog chasing its own tail, at least the dog derives some pleasure from its activities.