Mass in the mass

There really are no good options, should one wish to celebrate the Feast of Saint Matthew Evangelist with a few hundred thousand other people in the middle of Havana. It will have to be in the Plaza de la Revolución, under a ten-storey monument to Che Guevara, with the dreadful, “Orwellian,” Ministry of the Interior to back it up. To say nothing of Batista’s surviving thirty-storey monument to that wildly overrated hack, José Martí.

I have seen this square only in photographs, and understand from the Wikipaedians that it is the thirty-first largest public square in the world, a mere one-sixth the size of Tiananmen, and about even with Sükhbaatar Square in Ulan Bator; or Red Square in Moscow — which looked a little small for its pretensions when I saw it. Say, four cricket fields at most. One million identically rapturous people will fit in such an area, to be sure; but push that to two, and there will be terrible queues for the lavatory.

The idea of the vast public square, for rallies, is endemic to revolutionary regimes, and as a Tory and pundit of some architectural cognizance, I condemn the whole genre. I should be careful here, however (I should often be more careful), for I would not wish my criticism to extend to such large public spaces as Sanam Luang in Bangkok, or Charles Square in Prague, which antecede “post-modern history” commendably, and which were in their nature never meant for speechifying, but instead as marketplace or fairground.

As ever, technology — in this case the bullhorn and its descendants — is capable, for a modest price, of transforming one thing into another.


I know a lady who, while working in “public affairs” on behalf of a large, soulless, multinational corporation, did something clever. The eco types were planning a big demonstration for the extensive car park in front of the building where the shareholders would be meeting. Learning of this, she sent her office staff to rent all the bullhorns from all the Rent-a-Bullhorn shops for a hundred miles around. This made for a fairly silent demonstration.

A brilliant girl, she also cordoned the shareholders with an all-female security detail, so that when the thugs from Greenpeace came to push their way in, they could all begin crying, “I’m a woman and you’re hurting me!” This mantra was sustained for the duration of the encounter — leaving the frustrated CBC film crew with no footage whatever that could be used for the usual leftist propaganda purposes on the evening news.

So that by end of day the score was: Corporate Scum 2, Commie Scum 0.

It was a small victory, but it made me happy.


Should one have a Mass for more people than will fit in Saint Peter’s Basilica? Or even Saint Peter’s Square? (Which is less than one-third the size of that Revolution Square in Havana.)

This is a question no one ever seems to ask — defining “no one” to exclude me and some of my gentle readers. For it appears to me the very idea of the Sacrifice of the Mass is compromised, once concessions are made to the post-modern phenomena of “mass man.”

I should specify that this question has been occurring to me for a long time, and is not intended as a way of sniping at any Roman pontiff in particular. Unless, perhaps, at Blessed Paul VI, whose “modernizations” of the papacy included massive travelling road shows (arguably inspired by innovations of the two popes preceding).

The idea of a pope “progressing” in regalia through crowds, distributing his blessings — on precedents established by Jesus Christ Himself — has never, so to say, “bothered” me. This is indeed among the few kinds of “progress” by which I can be pleased.

It is rather the aping of the great totalitarian public rallies that strikes me as somehow accessible to doubt. For in my (cruelly limited) sense of the mode and mission of Holy Church, we are not competing with the Fidels and Ches, the Adolfs and others, and should never appear to be offering an alternative “brand.” For our religion is different in kind from what the world offers.

Perhaps my own, by now well-documented, objection to the Novus Ordo — along with the rest of the “Spirit of Vatican II” — comes down to this observation. For the nature of our bugninified congregational Responses is, speaking with one mechanical voice. There is a kindergarten quality about it; teacher speaks and the children reply in a way not musical but, in its very conception, monotonous and cacophanous. It is ugly, and worse, it was intended to be ugly. It changes the nature of the individual’s participation in the Mass, when he is made one atom in a mass. It overwrites, or overshouts, the hidden, prayerful responses.

The harmony of music was alluded to, for I do not wish in any way to endorse some notion of “rugged individualism,” or “personality,” or “spontaneity” — please, no, never. Rather I am trying awkwardly to relate a distinction between the Body of Christ, and a political body or statistical “community” of Catholic Christians. By subtle but continuous increments, we are addressed not as living souls, but as a demographic.

I might even suggest that the decline of the family, within even the Catholic fold, has been abetted within the liturgical offices by this atomization, this reduction, of the Body of Christ to “the people of God.” For we are not “the people,” but persons in our own right, which includes our relations to each other; and the Mystery of our Union is inadequately represented by a huge faceless crowd, gathered to cheer Our Leader.