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Clerical narcissism and Lent


Since the introduction of the new liturgical texts this past November, I've attended Mass in Australia, California, New York, Rome, Washington and Phoenix, and in none of these venues have I detected any of the calamities confidently predicted by opponents of the new texts. Not only has there been no visible distress over "consubstantial"; the People of God seem to have rather quickly and painlessly adjusted to the changes, so that, three months into the process, it's a rare "And also with you" that escapes the lips of an unthinking congregant. In fact, most of the people who've spoken to me about the changes have applauded them.

Things are not-quite-the-same with priests.

One implicit purpose of the new translations, with their deliberate recovery of a sacral vocabulary and their adoption of a more formal literary rhythm, was to discipline the tendency of priests to turn the Mass into an expression of the celebrant's personality. The difficulties some priests have had with adjusting to the changes suggests that this tendency was, in fact, a real problem in implementing the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Prominent Catholic psychologist Paul Vitz once wrote of this as a problem of "clerical narcissism," and while the phrase undoubtedly stings, there's something to it--something that needs correcting.

At Mass in the cathedral church of a major American city recently, I ran headlong into the problem in a rather striking way. The celebrant in question seemed not to understand that the invitation to the penitential rite is now prescribed, and not a matter for personal chattiness. Having failed to set up the Missal properly before Mass, he nattered on about his difficulty with "new books" while searching for the collect of the day. He belted out those parts of the Offertory that the Missal prescribes as being said "quietly." He rearranged several phrases in Eucharistic Prayer II to his liking. And he prefaced the Prayer after Communion with another voluble commentary on the difficulty of finding the right page.

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