Some time last year year I ran into, if not precisely a set-back in my faith life, at the very least an unexpected (and, frankly, unwanted) change; following what has been a trend in many Catholic parishes, my church cancelled it’s early AM Sunday Mass.
Now the cancellation of the traditional early Sunday Mass as a rule is no small annoyance. There are plenty of reasons to prefer the early morning time; aside from the scheduling, a significant number of people (me among them) simply prefer the quieter, more stripped down service one typically finds at the early morning Masses (The early AM Mass is also useful come shooting season, allowing the observant firearms enthusiast to keep his obligations before driving out to make the typical 9:00 AM sign-in deadline).
Changing times, (supposedly) unswerving principles.
Those considerations apparently counted for little, the change coming on the weekend of St Valentine’s Day.
What was especially egregious in this case was how this was accomplished; aside from the vague sanctimony behind the finger-wagging ‘devoted member’ comment – after all, I’m not the one who asked for my preferred mass to be cancelled – there’s the broader issue of putting the matter up for a vote among the parish as a whole. To me this is a perfect example of the misapplication democracy, the majority deciding on something that’s only important to a minority; of course a majority of parishioners aren’t going to have a problem eliminating the most sparsely attended mass, but it’s still a matter of importance to the people who actually attend it.
The worst part of this in my eyes is how it goes against Catholic tradition. One of the truly laudable positions of the Church, historically speaking, has been its consistency in warning against the abuses of democracy and the dangers embedded in the idea of popular will. As Pius XII stated in his Allocution on Democracy:
[The] numberless, anonymous multitude is easily provoked to disorder; it surrenders blindly, passively, to the torrent that carries it away or to the whims of the currents that divide and divert it. Once it has become the plaything of the passions or interests of its agitators, as of its own illusions, it is no longer able to take root on the rock and stabilize itself to form a true people, that is, a living body with limbs and organs differentiated according to their respective forms and functions, yet working all together for its autonomous activity in order and unity.
Pope John Paul II expanded on this in his Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, tacitly rejecting the modernist presumption that popular will can be held as a form of, or substitute for, moral judgment:
Democracy is fundamentally a ‘system’ and as such is a means and not an end. Its ‘moral’ value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs.
As such, it was quite disappointing to see a Catholic parish default to using so-called ‘democratic’ means to determine something as basic and critical as when the mass will be celebrated; participation in the sacraments forms the very core of Catholic life and, as such, it is a legitimate use of clerical authority to protect such from the pressures of circumstance and not abandon such from the whims and convenience of the majority.
One argument the parochial church will use to defend such mass eliminations is to point at the priest shortage. Now that is – superficially at least – a legitimate point; most dioceses do indeed suffer from a shortage of priests and deacons. However reviewing the mass schedules in the surrounding parishes revealed a flaw in that premise; all of the local churches showed nearly identical schedules, three masses with one beginning in the 8:00 hour, a second in the 9:30-10:30 time frame and a third around Noon (Besides which, one would rationally think that keeping an early mass would, unlike a uniform schedule, allow greater flexibility when juggling assignments).
Out with the old, in with the new
At any rate I adapted, going to the 8:00AM and using the additional hour for spiritual reading (always nice) while keeping my eye open for alternatives (and unfortunately missing on occasion when shooting matches conflicted). Finally, while driving about on other business a brick bell tower caught my eye, leading me to the doorstep of Saint Mary of the Annunciation in Rockwood MI.
The building itself is a hall church basilica of brick construction with a single tower and cruciform floor plan – a classic form of Catholic parish church in America – with the parish center occupying a brick bungalow home immediately next door.
It was readily apparent that the parish was thriving; the doors and entry arch were in immaculate condition, no doubt restored at some point and maintained in good fit and finish.
Entry doors, main (left) and secondary (right). The excellent condition was a positive harbinger of what awaits inside.
The church was open so I took a look inside, quite impressed by the state of the decorations; the interior was also in excellent condition, well lit and giving a pleasing sense of space for such a small building.
View of the altar. Inscription over the arch is a reference to the Incarnation from the Vulgate’s Gospel According to John: ‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us’.
Stained glass of the Assumption (left) and the Apparition at Fatima (right).
From left: Blessed Margaret, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Maria Faustina and Saint Anne.
Example of the Stations of the Cross and portrait of Our Lady of All Nations (inscription in Dutch).
Portrait of the Annunciation (top) and La Pietà (bottom)
I made note of the schedule and made a point of attending mass the following week. This was even better; St. Mary’s is another parish that uses what I call the hybrid format, vernacular combined with the priest consecrating the gifts ad orientem with the option of taking the Host at the communion rail (The priest also got bonus points from me for mentioning St Augustine and using the word ‘concupiscence’ in his homily).
As it is, I could hardly be more pleased with my new parish; the religious events are excellent (two missions this Lenten Season), Rosary before every Mass and, especially dear to my heart, an excellent and continually updated selection of free reading materials readily available:
Top: Reading rack in entryway, Bottom Left: Prayer Card of Pere Jacques Hamel (French priest martyred by jihadists) Bottom Right: Various cards/pamphlets left freely available.
Best example is the Parish Handbook, a +70 page collection of prayers, litanies, Lives of Saints biographies, hymns etc. Best of all is that they have them available for purchase at the grand sum of $2.00 each (practically at cost given the paper, printing and binding).
Parish Handbook: Cover (Left), Table of Contents (Center), Hymn Guide (Right)
Aside from the Mass and reading materials, the location itself is pleasing. I’ve always been partial to these old brick churches with their traditional floorplans and decorations plus there is the matter of the neighborhood itself; a working class neighborhood just outside the southern boundary of Wayne County, in the run-up to the election there were Trump signs everywhere, with many people leaving them up right to the inauguration (as if the Pere Hamel prayer card wasn’t evidence enough, Rockwood proper was an extremely loyal municipality in the last election, Trump garnering nearly 60% of the vote there).