When one whines to God — in that self-indulgent, obsessively self-referential, and spiritually self-serving, “Why me?” sort of way — it seems that God ignores one, for a while. But keep it up, and He starts piling on. As the years pass, we become the more convinced that this may be the Divine Policy, and that a scheme of private prayer that persistently omits thanksgiving and rejoicing is therefore provocative and deeply unwise. (Perhaps this may even apply to whole nations.)
In a mood approximating to desolation this morning, about one little thing and another, I decided only the Tridentine Mass would do — designed, as it were, to lift one out of one’s condition and point one, with the orientation of the priest, towards God. But I am an incurably absent-minded person, who doesn’t read parish bulletins with attention, and set out immediately on a long walk, to the wrong church.
The Mass is the Mass is the Mass: make no mistake here. But on this of all Sundays, the Gaudete — that rejoicing lift in the middle of Advent, with the magnificent passage from Philippians that concludes in “the peace which passeth all understanding,” and the Gospel with John Baptist’s exhilarating replies to the earnest questions of “normal people” — I was longing for the usus antiquior.
Longing e.g. for an acoustical environment in which e.g. good Christian secular music such as popular hymns and carols were replaced by actual Church Music, and e.g. we would not feel obliged to participate in the dreary muttering of a congregation, attempting cumbersome long English responses in unison like a kindergarten class.
And another little point in passing, from a penny recently dropped. No matter how good the organist, no matter how good the choir, put them together and the result is grim: a kind of three-legged race to nowhere. Surely we should leave that sort of thing to the Protestants; for an organ itself has breath, and is voices, and if by anything should be accompanied by an orchestra.
(I am an authority on nothing. Feel free to deride my opinions.)
But I had instead walked into the Sung English of the (“new improved”) Novus Ordo. Again, nothing wrong with this, some people apparently still want it, and the Mass is the Mass, however depressing. And as the entire system of Catholic seminary training promptly collapsed in response to Vatican II, there is to this day a telling shortage of priests who can handle anything in Latin, let alone the Mass of the Ages. But we must start from where we are.
I emerged still feeling sorry for myself, and with other obligations still on my dance card, filling me with dread.
Nevertheless, with John Baptist’s answers, to variations on the question, “What should we do?” And those answers rather ironically surprising. For what we should do, in almost every situation, is dead obvious. It was dead obvious, even before Christ, who came to tell us more than the dead obvious; who raises what should already be dead obviousinto another dimension, down here on Earth. To which John Baptist refers in a dead obvious way: by pointing to Our Lord.
“What should we do?” Sometimes the answer doesn’t need to wait for Christmas. It could be something simple, like, “Stop whining.”