Very recently at St. Francis Church in Portland, Oregon, a group of parishioners thought it would be a good idea to stage a protest during Holy Mass.
The main issue revolves around Fr. George Kuforiji, a priest who came from Nigeria to take over the parish. In the year he has spent there, Fr. Kuforiji has rolled back a number of liturgical practices. He removed the de-gendered language from mass. He no longer used a number of parish vestments and decorations. He discontinued a community commitment that was recited after the Nicene Creed.
I am not here to praise of criticize Fr. Kuforiji’s choices in this article. There could be much more to the story than initial news services have uncovered. However, the issue at hand are not Fr. Kuforiji’s reforms, but the response of some of the parishioners.
During Holy Mass on June 20th of this year, many parishioners entered holding protest signs. They shouted during the liturgy. They recited the banned community prayer. Someone shouted a lecture from the pews. After Mass, this same person went up to the pulpit and gave another speech while Fr. Kuforiji stood in the back, hands folded in prayer, smiling and waiting to greet his parishioners.
A lot of words have already been written online either in condemnation or support for their position. Regardless, these parishioners are not necessarily in the wrong because they protested the authorities.
They are in the wrong because they protested at Mass.
When I was younger, I used to get bored at Mass all the time. After my conversion experience at 17-years-old, I have never once been bored by the Mass. A fundamental Copernican shift in my soul took place thanks to the Grace of God through Fr. Larry Richards. What happened was that my eyes were opened as to what the Mass truly is: It is the great miracle of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. At Mass space and time fold in on itself and we are transported to the Last Supper, Calvary, and the Empty Tomb. In that time, the Lord makes Himself present in the appearance of bread and wine. And the deepest mystery of all is that I get to become one with Him at Communion.
Lumen Gentium states that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian Life.” (LM 11) It is the source because Christ, the source of our life, is present in a substantial way at the Mass. It is the summit, because our lives are oriented towards union with Christ, which is what happens at Mass.
When we enter the Holy Mass, we enter into the presence of a miracle. That is why I have never been bored since. How can anyone in their right mind find miracles boring?
Have I encountered homilies I don’t like? Of course. Have I witnessed liturgical practices that made me uneasy? Yes. But even the masses where something illicit occurred, it was still valid. Therefore, I could not help but show reverence.
The main problem with the protestors is their irreverence.
CS Lewis, who was not Catholic, understood the necessity for for reverence at Liturgy. He wrote, “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping… “ (CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm).
The protestors, as demonstrated by their actions, are taking the focus off of Christ and onto themselves. They become the center of the activity. In all of my research, I could find no one who argued that Christ was not made present at that altar. But instead of helping each other reverence the Lord, they attempted to drown out His voice.
How can we possibly see God when we are only looking at ourselves?
I am not saying that there is never a time to protest. I have protest outside abortion clinics as a witness to the sanctity of life. Now let us say that there is an irreverent priest who speaks out in favor of abortion and I happen to be at a Mass he is celebrating. Even if I was incensed by his words, it would not occur to me to protest at Mass. St. Augustine made clear that the effectiveness of the sacrament is in no way determined by the holiness of the priest. Even if he is committing terrible heresy, as long as he follows the essential liturgical formulas, that Mass is still valid. No matter how righteous I might feel, I would never protest during the Holy Mass.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I have the sneaking suspicion that disruptions at Mass are going to become more frequent. Protestors demand attention and can tend towards the outrageous. I can particularly see this as the Church takes more heat for our belief in God’s design of male and female sexuality. If this kind of protest is not thoroughly and unequivocally condemned, I fear repetition and eventual escalation. We must stand up to them with charity and with truth.
Outside of Mass there are many options for redressing perceived wrongs. But in Mass, protesting shows a lack of reverence for the miracle that is occurring. After Mass, Fr. Kuforiji told a protester, “We have reverence for God.” Our reverence is itself a kind of protest against the forces of the world.
So let us together protest the irreverence of the world by our reverence at Mass.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson