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Clown Masses and Bloggers

Hmmm, apparently some Catholic bloggers are attempting to treat clown masses as if they were urban myths.  They are not.  My bride and I wrote a letter protesting such a Mass given at a diocesan get together in Springfield, Illinois back in 1984.  That was put together under the aegis of Bishop Daniel Ryan.  Go here to read about his colorful history.  Go here to read about a current example of a clown mass with an archbishop.

Now is a clown mass the biggest liturgical problem in the Church?  Of course not.  A far bigger problem is that around the globe the sacrifice of the Mass for the past half century has often been celebrated with all the awe and beauty of a Tupperware party held in a gymnasium.  However, the mentality of the clown mass is the same behind the banal ugliness that affects the Church today in regard to the Mass:  a loss of the sense of sacredness and awe that should surround everything we do at Mass as we worship the Creator of the Universe.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

44 Comments

  1. Must be a Midwest kind of thing. We had the same kind of thing with a coven of clowns that belonged to the Knights of Columbus back in this same period of time. Shameful!!! I actually withdrew from the Knights because of this and the fact that Ted Kennedy was a Knight of Columbus in good standing.

  2. God is leading us if we let Him. Clowns belong in a circus. Altar rails belong in the sanctuary.
    .
    Reverence for God, “You are men sacred to me, for I, the Lord, am sacred”, the priest is called reverend, the sacredness and dignity of the human person, respect for oneself and for our neighbor are betrayed. When Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper have a clown Mass, then it ought to be accepted. Popes before Francis never had a clown Mass, either. In respect for the church, eggs were not thrown.
    .
    If loving God and worshiping in church is praying for all mankind, why are those of us who require a place to encounter God in silence and contemplation and our sensibilities being ignored? The talking upon the conclusion of Mass is that of a marketplace, too. How does one converse with Jesus Christ, who is still in our bodies for about twenty minutes after receiving Holy Communion when the parishioners are discussing to what restaurant and what doctor they will now process. It is sort of like a cattle drive without cattle.
    .
    What are we teaching our children?

  3. Wow. I always thought the “Clown Mass” was just a metaphor for ugly Masses and sundry liturgical abuses.

  4. As many who have travelled “the Continent” (=Europe) already know, there is the full gamut of liturgical ritual, ranging from very reverent, thoughtful, prayerful N.O. Masses, as I have seen when I visit my daughter in Belgium, in the Brussels area at least—but also there is the other extreme, which makes it hard to believe one is part of the same Church. Some examples of continental down-right Kasper, er, clownishness, as one impish Italian blogger has painstakingly grouped together is:

    http://www.conciliovaticanosecondo.it/foto/#gallery/1358/515/0

    A mass of kasperen, er clowns, it appears.

  5. “Go here to read about a current example of a clown mass with an archbishop.”

    Wow, dude, of all the things I’ve been asked to do today, I’ve gotta say this is the least likely one to happen.

  6. What’s odd is that this is an incredibly easy layup for the likes of Shea…. if they were willing to abandon their snark.

    All they have to say is “yes, clown masses happen. Horrible abuses happen. Welcome to what happens when sinful human beings are given control of divine mysteries. That risk is always present.

    Yet at the same time, just as sinful humans rise up, so does the Spirit. And the Spirit has risen up with various movements that make a “reform of the reform.” Even if it’s not perfect, it looks to change the orientation of priests, and change the rubrics so that the chances of this stuff happening are less and less.

    That’s what the Spirit does. It doesn’t complain on blogs. It doesn’t nerd rage. It works for real change.”

    I never understood why Mark or Sherry didn’t just say that, instead of making statements that are easily proven false.

  7. Clown masses were real but I think/hope they are in the past now. Although I did see something on EWTN only a few years ago from Quebec that was a bit frightening with the really tall characters on stilts or on poles or something.
    We had a priest give us a sermon about receiving holy communion with respect and thoughtful prayerfulness. Then he proceeded to have a whole army of extraordinary lay people as communion ministers, which is, as you know, in the interest of a speedy dispatch. After communion we hurry to the end of mass when people visit as if they can’t wait to talk to each other.

  8. We had a priest give us a sermon about receiving holy communion with respect and thoughtful prayerfulness. Then he proceeded to have a whole army of extraordinary lay people as communion ministers, which is, as you know, in the interest of a speedy dispatch.
    Anzlyne

    Alas, I can testify that that priest is not unique.

  9. Although I did see something on EWTN only a few years ago from Quebec that was a bit frightening with the really tall characters on stilts or on poles or something

    I know that they’ve been showing up in processions and stuff, too– not exactly clown mass stuff, but creepy.

  10. Mark is apparently fighting a false-cause fallacy with a straw man. His point isn’t really that The Great Clown Mass Abomination isn’t a myth but that they’re not omnipresent, which is apparently what he’s getting from the extreme traditionalists who interpret Bp. Michael Olson’s suppression of the TLM at Fisher More College as an “attack”. But that’s not the argument at all; rather, the traditionalist argument is that you’ll find clowns, puppets and dancers only at NO Masses And because correlation is causation, the OF therefore causes liturgical abominations. Not all, or even most, traditionalists commit this fallacy, but I’ve seen it argued on Father Z’s blog and elsewhere. (It also turns out that the paragraph from Sherry Weddell was taken out of context, or so she says.)

  11. Actually it seems that Sherry, and Mark by agreeing, deny that there are such Masses. Its okay to point out the truth that they exist. It is also okay to point out that, as Botolph notes above, such would be sacrileges and thus mortal sins. Thus even a few should be cause for great concern. This, particularly given the fury that Mark devouted to even less common events that are grave sins particularly given the broad brush he then painted others with those events.

    But I agree that to use such as a denial of the ordinary form of the Mass would be wrong. Of course to attribute such motives to those who do not have them would also be morally wrong. Not that you are doing such. But some Catholic bloggers have been known to do so.

  12. Phillip: You have to follow the thread of the comments pretty far down (Mark posts his comments as “chezami”) to get the admission, but no, they don’t really deny the reality of the clown mass — they just deny that it’s that much of a problem. Which is where I agree with you and disagree with them: there’s no such thing as a “little sacrilege”.

  13. However, the mentality of the clown mass is the same behind the banal ugliness that affects the Church today in regard to the Mass: a loss of the sense of sacredness and awe that should surround everything we do at Mass as we worship the Creator of the Universe.

    Exactly, clown Masses are thankfully rare, but the loss of the sense of sacred space is palpable in many AmChurch parishes. In a sense, it’s worse than a clown Mass in the sense of Revelation 3: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot.” Banal is exactly the word to describe it.

  14. True enough about admitting they exist. But its not in the original post. The orignal post, which is the purpose of Don’s post, does deny such existence.

    But yes, there is no little sacrilege.

  15. Philip and Anthony,

    You are absolutely correct that there is no such thing as a little sacrilege. One so called ‘clown Mass’ celebrated-at any time and in any place, is one clown Mass way too many. They are a sacrilege. Period.

    Nonetheless, there are those who want to run with the existence of these clown Masses, who make them sound as if they are happening every place the OF is celebrated and frequently at that. Those who participate in and love the OF, like myself, find that kind of ‘ideological’ broad brushing as being both untrue and extremely painful.

    A person who loves the EF as the EF does not need to even speak of the OF. To speak of the OF as if the OF and clown Masses are one and the same is like speaking of holy matrimony and the various failures and sins committed against it are one and the same. Let’s trash holy matrimony because some have committed sins against it?

  16. Botolp,

    I don’t disagree with you. I have been to a multitude of reverently celebrated OF Masses which have edified me. I have been to some EF Masses out of need that I have found difficult to follow in part because I am not familiar with them. I suspect that if I were to become familiar with them they would still not move me in the same way as the OF when reverently celebrated. That is me.

    To paint the OF with the broad brush of clown masses and other abuses is wrong as you noted. My point is to note the ease with which some dismiss the actual desecration of the Mass even if occuring (present tense) rarely.

  17. Scott W.

    Actually the ideology behind the Clown Masses arises from the Protestant theologian Harvey Cox who at first celebrated the triumph of the secular over the sacred in his Secular City. he then turned aboutface in his ‘celebration of sacredness’ in the form of play-giving rise to the dated musical Godspel–>leaving some to concluded that the Eucharist is a ‘clown Mass’.

    In the Liturgical reforms leading to what is now known as the OF, the real emphasis was to return to the simplicity of the original form of the Roman Rite as it was celebrated roughly 400-600 AD. This ‘noble simplicity’ in form is what has surprised and even shocked many. However, with the Reform a different mentality set it which I would call bourgeoisification [making everything affable to the Middle Class, nice and homey, and as Father Robert Barron calls it, making everything beige]

    If I were to use a theological term I would call it: the domestication of Transcendence. What has taken place was not envisioned by the Liturgical Reform movement or Vatican II but is a cultural phenomenon which does indeed need to be addressed by those in the OF of the Roman Rite. We have everything ‘nice’ and ‘homey’, including the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Lord Himself. It is not the OF itself that is the issue, it is the expectations etc of those participating/celebrating the OF of the Mass. Those are what need to be reformed. After all in the words of CS Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He is not a tame Lion”-neither is His Mass!

  18. Botolph:

    “… [T]here are those who want to run with the existence of these clown Masses, who make them sound as if they are happening every place the OF is celebrated and frequently at that. Those who participate in and love the OF, like myself, find that kind of ‘ideological’ broad brushing as being both untrue and extremely painful.”

    I think both Phillip and I agree with you that the prevalence of such abuses is both exaggerated and used unfairly. My point is that answering the charge with the assertion “Oh, clown Masses and liturgical puppets are really very rare” doesn’t reach the root of the objection. The root is in the perception that Bugnini et al. constructed the NO Mass without any respect or reverence for the liturgy or its role in catechesis, and that this lack of reverence or respect is what associates these abominations with the NO. This is the objection we have to answer, without getting bogged down in the sidebar issue of the abuses’ prevalence.

  19. Anthony Layne,

    I believe we are agreed on the clown Masses. What I do not think we agree on yet is ‘the perception that Bugnini et al. constructed the NO Mass without any respect or reverence for Liturgy or its role in catechesis…”

    I would ask many reading these words and ready to pounce to give me a second to explain because it seems we never can get beyond this exact point. There are many commentaries and commentators on Bugnini, pro and con. However, the reform of the Roman Rite was approved and given full agreement in the Roman Missal of 1969 under Pope Paul VI. It was then slightly modified in the 1975 edition of the Roman Missal. In turn this was modified in the Roman Missal of 2002 by Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict made further modifications. There is a reason for this, and that never is addressed in all the criticisms etc raised against the OF. That reason is that the reforms are indeed seen as faithful to the Church’s teaching on Liturgy and the principles flowing from those in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

    At no time did any of these three popes undo or even significantly change the reforms of the Roman Rite. The OF is the ordinary, more commonly used form of the Roman Rite, while the EF is the less commonly used form of the Roman Rite. The two will continue to co-exist beyond any of our life-times. In time there may be more of a ‘cross-fertilization’ between the two (which was envisioned by Pope Benedict) or both might remain distinct and coexist much like the Roman and Ambrosian Rites coexist.

    I do not believe the reform for the Reform of the Liturgy (OF) has stopped or completed its renewal. However, I do see the hype about the OF coming from those who prefer (as is their privilege) the EF. I suppose some of this is to be expected as we begin to settle down and realize that neither form of the Roman Rite is going to disappear anytime soon, but it seems absurd if one looks at it from the perspective of all the rites in the Catholic Church. I don’t see those participating in the Byzantine rite yelling and screaming about the Roman RIte.

  20. Thank you Donald for the clarification. While I certainly have seen this Latin phrase and know what it means, I had never seen it in its QED form.

  21. After reading the linked article by Mr. Shea, I was under the impression that he was agreeing with the writer he quotes that clown Masses may exist, but that they are extremely rare. I believe that this may be a “tempest in a teapot”, although I do agree that in many parishes, the Mass is not given the solemn, prayerful participation it deserves.

  22. I am listening to the news on the Malaysia airliner while reading these comments – so was the reform of the liturgy sabotaged or hijacked?

  23. Anzlyne,

    Neither. However, occasionally some of the passengers or flight attendants, think they know better than the captain and the builders of the airplane.

  24. Does the Novus Ordo “cause” clown masses to happen? No. I think a mistake is made if/when traditionalists focus on such things because they don’t happen regularly. We can simply look to the everyday lack of reverence and sacredness. Arrogant, entitled laypeople in jeans and sneakers engaging in their self-righteous “participation”, bland, uninspiring music, lukewarm homilies, no dress code or standards, no confession time, post-modern art and architecture, the tabernacle hidden in some dark corner of the building…. we can also compare how the average traditionalist stacks up against the average mainstream Catholic in terms of catechesis. I don’t think those “95%” of “Catholics” who accept contraception or the 50+% who are ok with abortion and gay marriage are regular Latin Mass participants, I can tell you that. Maybe this or that Novus Ordo is better and this or that one is worse, but no one can complain about the traditional Latin Mass. It wasn’t broken, it didn’t need to be fixed, and in the process of trying to fix it, they broke it.

    So yeah, correlation isn’t causation – but that doesn’t mean correlation is worthless and tells us nothing about a relationship between two variables.

  25. Bonchamps,

    I am glad I have met many who love TLM but do not feel they can thank God while at Mass they are not like the rest of men……..

  26. 🙂 “Neither. However, occasionally some of the passengers or flight attendants, think they know better than the captain and the builders of the airplane.”
    Thanks Botoph! I guess it doesn’t matter how the reform of the liturgy has gone off course in so many dioceses, the question is what can help us worship in Spirit and in Truth.
    People (me) need all the help we can get to participate with our hearts and minds even when we go the EF or the Novus Ordo. Personal responsibility for that, right? Also voting with our feet. I really try to avoid distractions of horizontal masses.. I think I told you all about our experiences in Appleton when we were on our way to the shrine of Our Lady near Green Bay. We left one mass only to find the other available mass in town was also featuring the friendly idea that the True Presence is to be found in each other…and the homily given by the good sister.
    I don’t think Sacro Concil caused the problems– but I do think it has been hijacked by some priests and bishops who had ideas of their own and a license to fly! People, used to accepting what they are told by their priests, have gone right along with it.
    Right now it seems Cardinal Kaspar is hijacking the catechism

  27. Bonchamps:

    There’s also a fallacy known as “false correlation” or “cum hoc”. Now, obviously we can go ’round and ’round about whether a reform was needed for the Tridentine Mass, but it doesn’t follow that the loss of the sense of the sacred created or was responsible for the form of the OF. Basically, your argument is, “Because X% of Catholics lost that sense, and because Y% attend(ed) the OF, the reformers themselves must have been part of that X%” — hardly a valid inference. Nor is it a valid or necessary deduction that the OF of itself perpetuates that absence of sense.

    The loss of the sense of the sacred is the root problem, on that much we agree. Is the TLM the corrective? I doubt it, because the sense had been degrading for decades prior to Vatican II; the reformers and liberals who turned the Church in the West upside-down grew up and were educated in a Church that had mostly known only the Tridentine Mass. You have to have that sense before you can really begin to appreciate the EF. Rather, the sense was corroded in the West by the various “isms” that formed in the 19th century and began to take hold of the macro-culture in the early and mid-20th century. That’s what we need to fight against, in order to rebuild the sense of the sacred that will support a return to the TLM. (Although the NO Mass could benefit equally from it.)

  28. You have to hand it to the Orthodox; Eastern Christian spirituality is far more stable than its Western counterpart. Lex orandi, lex credendi; I have never attended an irreverent Orthodox divine liturgy.

    Catholics can and must learn from the Orthodox in this regard.

  29. And let me clarify my last statement by saying I’m sure there have been abuses in Orthodox divine worship. It’s just comforting to know that the Orthodox never opened their sacred worship and turned it into the wild and crazy circus that it has become in the West.

  30. Ben, right on target: we on occasion go to the services with the Greek Orthodox parish on special occasions (after attending a N.O. ‘clown’ mess, er mass) because we know a number of the families there and it is always spiritually uplifting and serious minded. One of the G.O. Church in the US’ points in their pamphlets is that “unlike other churches, our orthodoxy has never been compromised with modern secular values.” If the madness here in California and elsewhere continues (and I see no reason to expect it will abate in the Pope Francis’ New Catholic Church in the future), we too will be driven to go to a place with a demonstrably faithful prayer life, respect for the unborn, traditional marriage, valid sacraments and respectful worship (Canon 844.2, 1983 code)

  31. Anthony,

    I (usually) choose my words carefully and use them for reasons. I did not mean to imply that the things I listed were “because” of the NO. What I believe – what I would stake good money and reputation on – is that people who attend Latin Mass are not a part of the abysmal statistics reflecting the lack of catechesis in the US or elsewhere. It is only an opinion but a reasonable one based on experience. As for the loss of the sacred, again, this is based on experience, my own and others.

    I am well aware, sir, that the difference between a logical fallacy and an opinion is often the difference between one word – such as “because” or “necessary” or something like this. To be absolutely clear, these are informed opinions and nothing more. I have not done the empirical research nor do I believe it has been done. I strongly suspect and have good reason to believe that such research would bear out my suspicions. That is all.

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