Monday, December 21, 2015

Sexy church: Pros and cons

  • Dear Lord! This is the sexiest congregation in NYC. While it may seem sacrilegious to say it, the 7 p.m. Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Nolita is as sexy as church gets. The always-packed service has been drawing attractive young professionals since Old St. Pat’s added the evening liturgy six years ago. “There’s a cachet of cool. A lot of people have remarked to me about it particularly being a good-looking Mass,” says Ciolli, 37, who works in admissions at Fordham but looks like he was plucked from a Ralph Lauren ad. “It’s a good-looking bunch,” says Ashley Marchetta, a 28-year-old congregant with a career in finance. “You know you are going to see people you might want to get to know.” In fact, she’s even dated some of her fellow churchgoers. “Beyond that, being able to be around people with like-minded values is refreshing,” Marchetta adds.
Been to Old St. Patrick's but not to a service; wonderful church. Never heard the Nolita label before. I thought it was part of Little Italy, such as it is now (tourist restaurants), or SoHo. Also: its old chancery building is St. Michael's Russian Catholic Church, where I have been to several services and met the late Fr. Serge (Keleher), specifically as part of my journey back to the church; I like it very much. And Old St. Patrick's is a big part of cinematic American Catholicism: it's where the baptism in The Godfather was filmed.

Anyway. First off, of course beautiful women are wonderful (but lay off the compliments; they take them for granted). Evening Masses have been an option since Pius XII; sometimes I go to a Saturday-night Tridentine Mass in New Jersey. So an evening Mass where attractive singles meet is in itself great. High-church it or make it traditional to make it even better.

Now, what's wrong with it. This being a mainstream newspaper article, it's big on tiresome stuff such as the mention of how nice Pope Francis is, because he seems to prefer the ruling liberals to the church, and how clergy should pepper sermons with pop culture, which I'd think smart "young professionals" would find condescending, like a "teen Mass." It's OK but only up to a point. I mean, mainliners and I think evangelicals joke about how it doesn't really work. (By the way, the ruling American liberalism is repackaged New England Congregationalism, Presbyterianism's English cousin.)

When I was young, decades ago, I actually found a liberal high-church Catholic parish in America, in a city of course. Boomer/yuppie Catholicism by people with taste who got along well in mainstream society. Tempting. Of course that's not good Catholicism. It's imitating Episcopalianism in the wrong way. Figured that out soon enough and no, nothing bad happened to me there. It's not really a parish, where neighborhood Catholics, for example, go for the good of their souls; it's a private club (albeit one you can join), a boutique for "my set," bourgeois liberal culture congratulating itself. We have cultural (national) parishes, even separate rites with their own dioceses (the various Eastern Catholics), but this is different, dangerous.

As the American Catholic Church recovers from the mistake of Vatican II (I accept the strict-constructionist reading of the council), as those who don't believe drop out, as the old liberals die, and as the remaining young at church want more and more traditional things, this "sexy Mass" has potential. But be careful.


  1. "Evening Masses have been an option since Pius XII". Not correct. Pope Pius indeed allowed Mass to be said later in the day, where as before it had, with few exceptions be said before liturgical noon. However, it was the Mass proper to the respective day itself. So a Saturday Mass in the afternoon or evening would be the Mass for Saturday, not Sunday as is the practice with "anticipation" or wrongly called "vigil" Masses. The idea of a Sunday Mass on Saturday evening is largely a Novus Ordo construct. It was after Pius XII allowed daily Mass in the evening that he then reduced the communion fast to 3 hours, but encourage people when able to continue to observe the ancient midnight fast.

    1. Good point; thanks. Although the vigil Mass is new, of course it has a historical pedigree, I Vespers for the next day, harkening to the Jewish liturgical day starting at sundown.

      Then there are the places that flout that symbolism, I think canonically allowable, having Sunday-night Masses that still count for Sunday. My liberal Catholic college did, and I think my very much not liberal parish has one for the kids from St. Joe's University, many of whom live in the parish. Logically, given the Saturday-night Mass, these should be liturgically the next day's, Monday's feast or feria (no assigned feast; basically a repeat of Sunday's services but it's not Sunday). Ironically, that's like the old liturgical movement's criticism of church practice in many places (separating the people's Communions from Mass, for example, or an unintelligible liturgy so devotional piety took over); muddled symbolism but not heretical. Liturgical study is in itself good (I'm surprised we didn't do it centuries ago) and sometimes you need slight reforms, but the church's longtime approach to liturgy is if it isn't really broken (if it isn't heretical), don't try to fix it; we're not sure (priests didn't study the liturgy so they really didn't know where much of it came from) but maybe it's this way for a reason so let's not tinker with it. Just learn the rubrics, read the text, and pass it down to the next generation. There's something to that. The Holy Spirit being at work, grace was given and the faith taught through the text, generation after generation.

  2. From what I gather, the original idea for the Saturday evening service, was not in fact a Mass, but Vespers, or something akin to the Vigil in Orthodox and Eastern Rite churches. However, the Office being foreign to most laymen, the idea gradually morphed. Some of Sunday's Propers, and Readings were being read, so the attitude became "Well Father, since we hear this again tomorrow, why can't this count?". Thus the "vigil" or "anticipation" Mass. Far removed from the original idea.

    Yes, a Sunday evening Mass would count for Sunday as it is properly Sunday's Mass. By the same, Saturday evenings Mass would be properly that of Saturday and so on.

    I am not a fan of having the succeeding days Mass the evening before. It has furthered (along with societal trends) the erosion of the Sunday, and has brought forth a laziness amongst some Catholics I am afraid as they use Sunday for anything but what it is meant to be used for. Forgotten Sunday is God, but not the shopping mall, grocery store, the washing machine, or the lawn mower. (And yes, I do understand there may be legitimate circumstances in some folks lives such that they have to do some of these on a Sunday. Church law always permitted work on a Sunday if it would cause grave hardship.)Yes, some would likely do these anyway, but Sunday's Mass on Saturday has not been helpful in my opinion and observation.

    The Liturgical movement at it's start had many good and needed small reforms. St Pius X was a proponent of many. Sadly after him, the movement gradually went of it's trolley.

    As for tinkering, yes too much knowledge and tinkering can result. All in all, it would have been best to leave well enough alone. As they say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!". A few minor reforms are fine. The Novus Ordo was a mistake.


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