- When is a Mass not a Mass?
- What happens if the priest has an empty chalice?
- When is a Consecration invalid?
Important? Not important? -+- Says Peter Biddlecombe
I’ve seen Mass said by all kinds of priests in all kinds of languages in all kinds of places in practically every country of the world. I’m not kidding. I’ve been to over 200 countries. Most of them, many times over.
But I’ve never seen Mass said the way priests say Mass in Ireland.
Forget women giving not sermons but commentaries on the readings and the saccharine sanctimoniousness of Lady Eucharistic ministers going around blessing all and sundry.
I mean priests. Real priests, who can tell the difference between a Renaissance Italian Neoplatonist and a chocolate ice cream
Priests saying Mass without any candles. Either lit or unlit.
Priests wearing all kinds of different colour vestments on all kinds of different occasions. Regardless of the rules.
Priests, struggling with the hi-tech world of clockwork, who insist on playing their scratchy pre-historic recordings of the best of Count John McCormack on their Jurassic Walkmans throughout Mass. Not only that but playing the wrong hymns at the wrong time. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard Silent scratch scratch Night, Holy scratch scratch Night in the middle of summer.
Priests, who pray so fast it’s impossible to tell whether they are praying in English, Irish, Ukrainian or a mixture of all three. Not only that, they pray so fast prayers all merge into one. “Name of … daily bread … love and serve the Lord. Amen. Have a good day.”
Priests at the beginning of Mass claiming that Christ “manifests Himself in the Eucharist.” Surely, that’s not true, is against everything the Catholic Church stands for, has been the cause of wars and deaths and martyrdoms and so on for untold generations.
Or am I over-reacting?
What does it say in the Catechism. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. The Eucharist is, repeat, is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. It is not a manifestation, a representation, a likeness, an indication of anything. Christ does not appear or manifest Himself in it. It is the very body and blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.
But that’s not all.
Priests, who forget to read the Gospel.
Priests, who give sermons on Daniel and Goliath, tell us that “on the third day Christ descended into Heaven” and who never cease to bring tears to my eyes when they not only boast they have the “biggest, most powerful organ in the diocese” but go on to talk about the joy it has brought to people of all races and nationalities throughout the world.
Priests, who suddenly have a coughing fit during Mass, forget where they are and jump from the Sanctus to the Our Father leaving out the consecration altogether.
Years ago, I went to a Funeral where we had the Funeral but no Mass. The priest coughed twice and jumped from the prayers of the faithful to the prayers of commital. The family of the deceased were hopping mad. The Mass was over before it had hardly started. Everybody got to the reception way ahead of schedule. Worse still, they drank three/four times more than they should have done. The cost practically bankrupted the family for generations.
Priests, who break the Sacred Host just before Communion and then brush their hands together as if they were, for all the world, in the kitchen and brushing the flour off their hands before putting yet another bun in the oven.
Priests, who forget, come Communion, to break the corner off the Host and drop it into the chalice.
And then last week, Heaven Help Us, pull up your fainting with embarrassment couch, I discovered priests saying Mass with an empty chalice. I mean, how in the name of everything that is Catholic, can priests say Mass with an empty chalice?
How can they realise the chalice in front of them is empty and carry on saying Mass?
How can they encourage us, as Thomas a Kempis says, to drink “of the Cup of His Passion” when they know there is nothing in it?
How can they say the Offertory prayer?
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”
How can they say the words of consecration over an empty chalice?
“In a similar way, when supper was ended, He takes the chalice and, holding it slightly raised above the altar, continues: he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying: He bows slightly. TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT, FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT, WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.”
How can they raise it above their heads and proclaim the great Mystery of Faith?
And so it goes on.
How can they dip the sacred host into an empty chalice?
How, for the Love of God, can they pass an empty chalice from one to another pretending to drink the Blood of Christ?
How can the priests at Communion take the chalice and say quietly, “May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.” And then reverently consume not the Blood of Christ but an empty chalice?
And if all that is not enough, how can the priests then say the Eucharistic Prayer, “We offer you His body and blood, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world.”?
It might have been textbook post-modernism gone mad. But was it a Mass? Did members of the congregation actually fulfil their obligation to hear Mass? I’m no expert. But I can remember my catechism. “The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which he instituted to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until his return in glory.”
On that basis, it clearly wasn’t a Mass. And if it wasn’t a Mass, members of the congregation could not have fulfilled their obligation to hear Mass.
Everybody makes mistakes, I admit. But surely there are mistakes that should never be made – and if they are made, they should be quickly admitted and corrected. But to carry on what can only be called a sacred charade is to make a mockery of everything we hold holy.
But, I hear you cry, what about Intention? Even Gertrude Anscombe, the Limerick-born British analytic philosopher and worldwide expert on the philosophy of Intention, mind, action, logic and language not to mention an international authority on the de-ontological, utilitarian and consequentialist fault lines of modern Catholic moral theology, a prominent figure of analytical Thomism, a Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and one of the leading Catholic philosophers of the 20th Century, would struggle to prove the priests’ intention was not to deceive. Surely, as soon as it was realised the chalice was empty, the priests could have either dramatically or discreetly called a halt to proceedings or just sent a deacon back to the sacristy to bring back a chalice complete with the necessary wine. Nobody would have noticed. Except the old lady in the front row, who notices everything and writes to the bishop about the things she doesn’t like. But they did not. They carried on as if the chalice was full. If that is not a blatant Intention to deceive then Gertrude Anscombe is not one of the greatest modern Catholic philosophers.
I was once in a cathedral when the bishop saying Mass suddenly realised he had forgotten his false teeth. Instead of carrying on and mumbling his way through Mass, he turned it into a grand ecclesiastical occasion. With a wonderful, old-fashioned flourish, he despatched his Master of Ceremonies back to his Residence to retrieve the said dentures while he led us in, what he called, the Five Glowariff Missiesh ohfth Wosri. Back came the Master of Ceremonies not discreetly, not with said dentures in an ordinary plastic tumbler but in an enormous cut-glass crystal bowl, which, with organ pounding away in the background, he paraded down the central nave of the cathedral as if it was for all the world one of the greatest relics of all time.
None of us never make mistakes. None of us is infallible except, perhaps, one man. And then only on special occasions.
Fr Joe McDonald in his book, Why the Irish Church Deserves to Die, quotes a young seminarian telling him, “I’m out of here. I have been here nearly a year and I have not seen Holy Mass celebrated properly even once.” (Why the Irish Church Deserves to Die, Joe McDonald, p 28, Columba Press 2017)
What makes the whole affair of the empty chalice so shocking is not just the enormity of the mistake but the deliberate intention to mislead. Not by just a single priest. But by a group of priests. When I tried to raise the matter, I was told I was making a big issue out of nothing. These things happen. Move on.
Trouble is the more you analyse it, the worse it gets.
If the priests had concealed what had happened or not happened, brought in a new chalice nobody would have noticed. Mass would have gone ahead. No problem.
If they had openly admitted it. Explained everything to the congregation. Apologised. Brought in another chalice. Nobody would have got up and walked out of church in disgust.
But they didn’t. They brushed it to one side. They considered it of no importance. They went ahead as if nothing had happened.
Am I an old grump? Am I making a fuss about nothing?
“Does an empty chalice mean the whole Mass was invalid?” I asked a priest, who is supposed to be some kind of expert on church liturgy.
He told me – I’m not kidding - that when he was in Rome, studying theology, he gave a chocolate-coated orange to a Korean student the night the Berlin Wall came down on May 31 1991. It didn’t. It came down on November 9 1989. But, hey, what are facts when we are talking about such things as the consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ? In any case, what’s that got to do with the fact priests said mass with an empty chalice? I have no idea. But then I’m not an expert of church liturgy.
Another priest, who had not given a chocolate-coated orange to a Korean or even a Chinese student, as much as said, “So. Have you see how the congregation behave? They comb their hair. They do their make-up. They chew gum. What’s the difference?”
Yet another priest with the effortless genius of a theology professor, suggested we forgot the wahalla about the Mass altogether. We ignored all the fuss about 24 Hour Prayer Cycles. Instead, he said, we should have, what he called, a Weekly Prayer Storm. A single prayer said by a single person, he maintained, was not enough. Two was better. Three/Four/Five thousand people all saying the same prayer at the same time was better still. The bigger the impact, the better the chance of getting through all the other billions of prayers being offered up by people every hour of every day. What’s more, he said, all Three/Four/Five thousand of us should all pray at the same time on a Wednesday afternoon when we stood more chance of being heard because God wasn’t as busy then as He was on Sunday mornings dealing with everybody else.
I tried another approach. What would have happened if a priest tried to say Mass without a host? What would people have said if, at the elevation, he raised up an invisible host for us to worship? Would they have smiled quietly to themselves and said, Well. We all forget things sometimes?
No, of course, they wouldn’t. Even the most ancient of altar boys would have, at least, coughed twice. Some might even have had a heart murmur. As for the old lady in the front row, who spots everything, she would have first, written to the bishop and then had a full-blown heart attack.
OK. I’m not a control freak. I’m not addicted to the false theology of perfectionism. I’m not saying one day you Vatican and one day you Vatican’t.
What I’m saying is, I can forgive priests who barely know who Aquinas was let alone Anscombe.
I can just about forgive priests suffering from Sunday morning attacks of kenophobia – the fear of wide-open empty spaces - wrestling with new ways of filling the pews.
But I find it hard to forgive priests who knowingly celebrate Mass with an empty chalice.
If we Catholics cannot go to Mass, the source and summit of Christian life and rely on our priests to genuinely consecrate the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ made truly present once again on the altar, what can we rely on?
Maybe the Pope was on to something when he went to Canada, skipped Mass and, instead, took part in religious services which involved whistling four times through bone instruments, dancing up and down the aisle and asking his grandmother to give us access to the sacred circle of spirits.
Sic biscuitus disintegrate.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles.