Last week I shared a video on social media that went viral (with more than 59,000 views at last count). What was this video? Was it a cat doing a cute trick? Or a Karen going crazy at an unmasked man? No, it was a boomer priest hamming it up for the camera and engaging in centering prayer and other abuses during his parish’s online Mass.
When I shared the video, I knew it would be controversial, although I didn’t think it would go that viral. Normally I don’t find helpful the “look at this terrible Novus Ordo Mass” videos that pop up periodically on social media, but this one is different.
On January 25, Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice (Florida) issued a letter to his priests essentially forbidding them to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass “ad orientem” (although he misspelled it “ad orientum,” which led to much online mockery). He stated that a priest who celebrates ad orientem (which literally means “toward the East” and liturgically refers to the priest facing the same direction as the people during the Mass) is inserting his “private choice” into the liturgy, which is not appropriate for the celebration of the Eucharist.
This raised my hackles. You see, I lived in the Diocese of Venice for five years. In fact, I worked directly for Bishop Dewane as the diocese’s Director of Evangelization during that time. Part of my job included visiting the parishes, which often meant attending Mass at those parishes. So I am intimately familiar with how Mass is typically celebrated throughout the diocese. And aside from a few solid (mostly young) priests, the celebrating priest’s “private choices” dominated at those Masses. Personal preference ruled the day, and although Bishop Dewane did not seem to like the abuses, I never saw him do anything about it.
When I first arrived at the Diocese of Venice, my family were happy Novus Ordo-attending Catholics. We explored the parishes around us, but what we found were variations on the same theme: the priest was a performer, celebrating the Mass to please the congregation and to boost his ego. This is the reason we first started attending the traditional Latin Mass—we couldn’t find a reverent Novus Ordo within driving distance and didn’t want our kids exposed to such dismally-celebrated liturgies. We needed an escape from the insanity.
So when Bishop Dewane forbade the ancient liturgical form of ad orientem (which has been the norm since the early Church and is still standard in the Eastern churches) as a priest’s “private choice,” I couldn’t help but think, “What about all those Masses in the diocese dominated by priests’ personal preferences? Why weren’t they ever curtailed?”
After his letter came out, it didn’t take long for me to find a current example to confirm abuses were still rampant. Just a few miles south of where I lived (and at a parish I visited more than once when working for the diocese) is Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, Florida and pastor Fr. Jerry Kaywell. This parish streams magnificently-produced online Masses, and their YouTube channel has quite a following.
Looking just at the most recent Mass, I found a performance dominated by the personal preferences of Fr. Jerry. And this wasn’t a one-time incident—all the Masses the parish put online are similar. Every aspect of the production (it almost can’t be called a “liturgy”) reflects all the abuses of the liturgy that Pope Francis claims to be concerned about but lay Catholics have endured for 50 years now.
When it came to sharing these egregious abuses on social media, I picked one particular part to highlight: Father Jerry replaced the Penitential Rite with centering prayer spiritual breaths. From my experience, I can tell you that centering prayer is very popular in the diocese, so it didn’t surprise me that it was integrated into the Mass. But this was just one of many abuses in 45 minutes filled with them.
Needless to say, faithful Catholics who saw this were outraged. A bishop who forbids an ancient Christian practice—one that Vatican II did not forbid and is in fact assumed in the rubrics of the New Mass—allows these types of practices at his diocese’s liturgies? (And again, this might be one of the more egregious examples, but it’s not far outside the norm for the diocese. I have stories….)
The above comes from a Jan. 31 posting on Crisis magazine.