All Saints’ Day in Brooklyn

I went around the corner to the closest Catholic church to do the day-of-obligation thing. It was the first English mass I had been to for a while, and I found it hard to adjust completely.

I do prefer the old Latin mass. Still, everything should be the best of what it is. For example, I wish people would sing the hymns when the modern service makes such a point of them. It’s awkward—you claim it’s a big celebration and then it turns out that no one’s interested in joining in. Maybe that’s a problem when renewal is planned by committees and experts.

Congregational hymn-singing is a kind of lay participation I like. I don’t understand why people think they have to have some function up around the altar. The whole point of showing up at church is that you think there’s something special going on, so why make it look like something you could just as well do yourself? One reason the People of God have a unity that is greater than the unity any pile of things has is that they have different roles. Singing is fun, and it’s a way for the laity to join in that adds to the specialness of the occasion and to the unity-in-ordered-diversity that gives it a particular character. It gives the ceremony a bit of what a concerto has, with the orchestral parts and the soloist parts.

The celebrant was a young priest who took it all quite seriously. He made a little joke at the beginning about being the only one singing but that was the end of the humor. His homily compared saints to space aliens but I liked it for all that. There’s lots of room for weird analogies in explaining things and this one did work in some ways. The saints in icons do resemble some versions of what aliens look like—big heads, big eyes, enlongated bodies and so on.

He did the Roman Canon with all the saints’ names, which I think is unusual at an 9 a.m. weekday service, but maybe it was special for All Saints’ Day. I won’t add to the complaints about the translations, since everyone who cares has no doubt heard them, but I agree with all of them. Still, the Church is a big family, which means that you don’t have to be pleased with everything everybody does. And there’s certainly some value in participating in the version of the mass that most people do even if I think some other version is really better.

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