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This isn’t Mass

Ben Nickol | Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Last Sunday morning, I did what any God-fearing, young Catholic ought to do: I rose at 9:00, showered, shaved, buttoned my shirt to the stiff collar and parted my hair. It was time for Mass. My friends and I arrived at the crowded Basilica a few minutes early, just as the priest took the podium to begin the service.

“This Mass is televised on the Hallmark Cable Channel,” he said, “and whereas the cameras primarily focus on the altar and the choir, they do occasionally pan the congregation. So I encourage you to participate and to sing, not to yawn or check your watches.”

Something seemed incongruous. I had always been told that I should sing at Mass, but not once had I been told to do so in order to boost ratings. But I didn’t have much time to contemplate it. The digital clock countdown next to the altar showed that Mass would begin in 1 minute, 38 seconds, and we had to look for a seat. There were none left, and even the steps leading to the altar were already claimed. We shrugged and decided to go eat breakfast and come back for the 11:45 service.

As we were leaving through the side door, we stepped aside as a young handicapped man on crutches struggled through the doorway and into the Church. His progress was slow, but the game clock still had about 25 seconds left on it, so he had time. Just as he got inside, however, a lady wearing an usher nametag walked briskly up to the man and his family and said in a stern voice, “The cameras are on. This door can’t be open; you need to close it immediately.” No offer to help the poor guy up the steps or to find him a seat. I am sure she would ordinarily have extended this courtesy, but show biz doesn’t stop for anyone, right? The show must go on. Maybe she found him a seat during the commercial break; I never did find out.

Frankly, something about all this is downright wrong. Mass on television? I have no problem with a closed-circuit broadcast for the infirm who cannot attend services, but even this begs the question: Do the sick and elderly not attend because they are too ill or because the ushers are too busy testing the light and doing sound checks to find them a seat?

Additionally, there is no need to trivialize our faith by asking a substantial body of believers to act pious for the cameras, nor is there a need to have a digital clock reminding the priest he had better consecrate the hosts more quickly because revivalism reruns start at 11. I wonder if they roll the credits during the final blessing. I will honestly not be surprised if there is a boom-microphone being held over me when I take communion next week. Maybe after I accept the holy sacrificed body of our savior and am reminded of my salvation, the director will yell, “Cut!” and ask us to shoot it again so that he can explore another camera angle. This isn’t holy, this is disgusting, and this isn’t Mass.

Oh, and one more thing: in Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus flies into righteous anger at the money-changers who are secularizing his Father’s house. Funny how the gospel still applies to everyday life.

Ben NickolsophomoreKnott HallNov. 10