Thursday, February 11, 2010

5 Things I Sort of Kind of Don't Really Like About You Sometimes

I hate to get all grr and kvetchy when we're talking about the eucharistic prayer. Seems sort of counter to the whole praise and thanksgiving point, no?

Having said that -- there are a few little things that I see occur in the eucharistic prayer from time to time that sort of kind of well drive me batty. Come with me now, as I share them with you.

I am told in German culture the teddy bear is an authority figure that warns children of the dangers of constipation. Which is sort of not that far from what we're talking about today. Call it a spiritual constipation. Yeah, that's the ticket.

1) Jazzin' It Up -- The downside to having a set prayer for the eucharist is that, well, it's a set prayer. The words, they're all pretty much there. The presider's job is basically to read them.

But every once in a while, you get somebody who says, hey, I want this to be special and personal and intimate, because hey, this is a prayer. And if you push it, they're probably also saying, this is my prayer, hey. (They really like to say "hey.")
So rather than praying the prayer of the church, these guys end up adding sort of jazz riffs. They change the wordings of passages, they add original material; they turn simple transitions into little homilettes. You've seen it. It's all very well-intentioned, and totally and completely disastrous. Because it pulls focus. Instead of praying, we're suddenly paying attention to the presider, and wondering what the heck just happened, and what else might happen.

The eucharistic prayer is the community's prayer, not the presider's. And as such, the presider has a responsibility to be true to it. There are a few very small places where the community accepts some variation -- like at the very end, where we're praying for the Pope and the bishops and the clergy, to add something like "and all God's people" is not uncommon. But in general, it is not to be tampered with.

Father, you are very special, you really are. But leave my prayer alone.

2) I Vant to Suck Your Blood -- Guys do the institution narrative in different ways. Some look straight ahead the whole time. Others will slowly turn their gaze over the congregation as each element is offered up and the words of Jesus are said. "Take this, all of you, and eat it..."

Now, I've seen it work just fine either way. But I've also seen some presiders get a bit too into casting their gaze upon the congregation. You know the types, the ones who insist on making deep and personal eye contact with every single person. These are often the same ones who want to make changes to the prayer, surprise surprise.

Trying to recreate the sense of intimacy of the Last Supper -- a great idea. But go too far and suddenly it looks like you're trying to hypnotize people.

Father, I love that you want me to have that sense of Jesus being present as a friend, offering the bread and wine to me. But right now your eyes are so big I feel like you're about to put the host down and come embrace me. Please stop.

Seriously, Father, this is what you look like.

3) For Whom Does the Bell Toll? Please, God, Not For Me. -- Just to reiterate: not a fan of the bells rung during the institution narrative. Partially, that's because it makes it seem like the institution is the only or the most important part of the eucharistic prayer, the part where stuff "happens." And that's just not correct.

And partially, it's because usually they're wrung with no sense of the occasion. Seriously, there have been times the servers rang those bells so vigorously I thought there was an ambulance in the church. Seriously. Which is way cool for the servers -- really, what kid is going to pass up the opportunity to make noise and not get in trouble for it? Come on. But in the eucharistic prayer, umm, not really the effect we're going for.

The bells are a remnant of a time when the Mass is Latin and the congregation couldn't understand what was going on up there. Today, it's all in the vernacular, the priest faces us -- thanks much, we got it, save the bells for Christmas. Or if you absolutely have to have them, ring them during the great Amen at the end of the doxology. Make them part of that song. At least then it makes sense.

And I'm less likely to drop the elements as I leap out of my skin.

Kids -- step away from the bell. Step away from the bells.

You, too, child of God. Give the bell back. Go harass your mother.

4) The Balance Beam -- I have seen presiders take the cup during the institution narrative and the doxology and hold it up in the palm of one hand. Not hoisted around the stem like a pint of your finest ale, yo ho ho. No, balanced on the palm. I kid you not.

Who holds a glass like that? A magician, maybe, before they cover it with a hankerchief and turn it into a dove. But otherwise, uh, nobody. And there's a good reason - you're just asking for the cup to spill. Which is bad enough if you're sitting on mom's new white couch. But when you're dealing with the blood of Jesus: little bit worse. Seriously, I spend those Masses watching that hand and worrying.

Father, I'm sure you're very dextrous. But do me a favor and hold the chalice, for God's sake. It's not a show, it's the blood of Christ.

Even the evil German guy in the Indiana Jones movie knows how to hold the chalice. Come on!

5) The Bread Whisperer -- Lastly, there are those who spend the institution narrative with their head down mumbling the words directly to the bread and the wine. Have you seen this? I notice it mostly among younger priests, and my suspicion is, it's their interpretation of what the prayer calls for.

Normally, they're absolutely right and I'm wrong. But you know, I've read through the prayers many times, and nowhere do I see a place where it says, "Now the presider ignores the congregation and whispers directly to the bread." Or any less snarky version of the same.

And the reason it doesn't ask for that is because again, to do so doesn't fit the occasion. We're remembering the Last Supper; doesn't seem likely Jesus spent that meal whispering to the bread and the wine, now does it? The guys who do it would seem to have a thinly veiled magic spell theology of the eucharist, or, if they don't, their acts nonetheless make such a view seem valid. Look, Joan, Father's casting the spell. Poof! Eucharist.

Father: What are you doing? Seriously. Right now. What. Are. You. Doing?

The common denominator to a lot of these points is this: your choices and actions must suit the occasion.

And also, Father, I hate to be the one to tell you, but this Mass, it's not revolving around you. Your needs, your desire for self-expression, your theology -- all good, but not here. (Sorry.)

Probably better leave the scary crucifix tattoos at home, too. But the blood smears are always festive.


KenerationX said...

SOMEbody's got his Irish up. (Brilliant!) Can I add one that doesn't have anything to do with the Eucharistic prayer? (And you may be fixing to address this.) It has to do with the dishes... specifically doing the dishes. In our congregation, after we're all done with the Eucharist and the tabernacle has been closed, our congregation insists on continuing to kneel--and it's because our priest takes that moment to clean up the dishes. Right there. With his back to the congregation. But with the tabernacle closed, it looks like we're now focused on kneeling toward the priest (even though I know we're still supposed to be praying). Should I be righteously indignant? Before answering that, let me add something: at this point, while the priest is doing the dishes and folks are kneeling, our ushers come down with baskets for whatever the second collection is this week (and there's one every week). Tabernacle closed. Priest doing dishes. Congregation kneeling. Ushers collecting. What gives?
Miffed in the Midwest

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Your parish's situation begs the question -- why are we kneeling? Is it a posture of prayerful reception, in which one might understand why it's being done. Is it about the presence of the eucharist, in which case, the closing of the tabernacle should be a moment of transition?

Frankly, it sounds instead like your parish is still doing the old school kneel until the priest sits down. And I think you are right to ask, what is the correlation?

The fact that you also have ushers wandering the aisles while people are still kneeling in prayer amounts to liturgical cacophany. Makes no liturgical sense at all.

Someone there needs to ask the question, why are we doing what we're doing?

KenerationX said...

Then I will be that someone.

kb said...

I usually hate the "doing the dishes" thing. But once, I went to a parish where the priest, facing the congregation, always gave them a wipe-down as the assembly was singing the last verse of the communion song. And something about his posture, his attitude, and his carriage made it different; he was saying, "let me just get a start on the washing up while we're here together," instead of, "these things are much more important than you and your prayer." And it clicked all of a sudden for me -- it made the dominant metaphor "meal," and the priest, "host," rather than magic. This is why celebration isn't a science, I guess?