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Where has the Reverence Gone? 

Posted on November 28, 2023 in: Reflections

Where has the Reverence Gone? 

As I begin writing this piece, I am suddenly aware of the fact that this will raise some eyebrows, but here goes: Where has the awe and devotion gone at Mass?

A picture is worth a thousand words, but as Jesus well understood, a story can often get one’s point across very effectively. My story is of a dear friend of mine named Gloria. Some years ago, Gloria and her husband relocated from Connecticut to Atlanta, Georgia. She is a devout Catholic and since, at that time in Atlanta, Catholic parishes were few and far between, she spent some time searching for one. Thankfully, there was a parish less than 20 miles from her home that had a beautiful church, wonderful ministries and a fabulous pastor. 

Sunday Mass at that church was a real blessing for her, especially in an area where Catholics were a distinct minority. Not only was the church itself very beautiful, but the music and especially the pastor’s homilies were inspiring. Gloria and her family made Sunday Mass a special event, dressing in a special way, enjoying the ride in the country to church and savoring the Sunday brunch after Mass. She enjoyed it so much that she wanted to share it with others.

At some point, she invited a Baptist friend of hers to accompany her to Sunday Mass. All during the drive there, Gloria waxed poetic about Mass at her church, and that Sunday’s Mass, in Gloria’s estimation, did not disappoint. The church was beautifully decorated (it was Easter season), the music was exemplary and, as usual, the pastor’s homily was spiritually uplifting. Gloria was beaming.

After Mass, she couldn’t wait to ask her friend what she thought of her first experience attending a Catholic Mass. “What did you think of the Mass?” Gloria asked. The response from her friend was not at all what Gloria had expected. Her friend’s response was abrupt and acerbic. “You Catholics are hypocrites,” she said. Gloria was breathless for a moment, but after regaining some composure asked her friend what she meant. She responded, “If we Baptists believed that Jesus is truly present in that little box (tabernacle), we would enter and leave the church on our knees, never turning our back on Him. When we first walked into your church, the noise level was so high, with talking and laughing, that it reminded me of what it sounds like in the stands before an Atlanta Braves game. And the way some of you are dressed, it’s more like you are going to a state fair than coming into the presence of the Lord!” Gloria was cut to the quick and made no more invitations.

Gloria’s story had a profound effect on me, because it touched on an issue that I had been struggling with for some time, namely: Where has all the reverence gone? The observations of Gloria’s friend on veneration for Jesus in the tabernacle and the pre-Mass noise level are confirmed today, in countless churches. Many times, I have observed persons taking seats in church without any acknowledgement to Jesus in the tabernacle: no genuflection, no bow, not even a nod in Jesus’ direction. As for the noise level, I’ll leave that for you to determine when next you attend Mass. And to her comments on dressing, I’m old enough to remember the Protestant expression, “Sunday going to meeting clothes,” and how it also applied to Catholics attending Mass. We dressed up, often in our “Sunday best” clothes. After all, we are going to be in the presence of God!

I’m not suggesting that we should come into and leave church on our knees. Neither am I suggesting that men wear a tuxedo and women a gown. So what’s the answer? Well, certainly there is no simple one, but perhaps a fantasy may help us. Let’s fantasize about going to a job interview. Certainly, we would dress smartly, and our demeanor would be respectful, attentive, perhaps even somewhat humble. Doesn’t Jesus deserve at least that? 

By Deacon Benedict LoCasto

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