, , , ,

In essence, if not in every detail, this liturgical talk-fest fitted the new, transformed St. Joseph’s parish Mass of 1989. Self-expression, self-commitment and participation had suddenly re­placed the O’Reilly era of self-effacement, recollection and adher­ence. Bishop Forester, the fictitious, repentant prelate of Mitre and Crook, might well have been addressing Benalla’s new-look liturgy when he opined:

On the Divine side, the sacrifice is doubtless the same but not on the human. Access to Calvary has been forbidden. Trespassers are prosecuted. Over a microphone the guide explains something to the tourists. We sit and weep.’

With copious amounts of commentating, story-telling, hand­shaking all-round, constant “participation” and noise at every level, the Team seemed to view the Mass as ‘mediating religion to the people’. Bishop Forester, on the other hand, viewed the Mass as “mediating the religion of the people to God”‘ in which case “there is nothing for it but silence” He wrote:

After a bit of backchat, Epistles and Gospels and things, I uncover the instruments of my craft and lay on the sacrifice of Man’s Redemption in much the same way as a plumber lays on water. Yes, but the people? They start subsid­ing. Some meditate for a moment but soon give up; some thumb a prayer book without much conviction; some finger a rosary without thinking; … They have their distractions, of course, but as far as they are able they are recollected … Human activity is reduced to its minimum. Then the mir­acle occurs … They adore or rather, to be more accurate, the Holy Ghost adores within them … How often have I been almost deafened by the piety of the faithful, now, alas, struck dumb by sing-songs.”

This profound Catholic understanding of interior participation in the Holy Sacrifice and the unassuming, workman-like role attributed to the priest is indefensible and even incomprehensi­ble from a newchurch viewpoint. Under the Team’s guidance, therefore, it had fast become a distant memory of bygone days. Whereas Monsignor O’Reilly’s own personality never intruded on the Mass, being “merely the animator of a set of vestments and manipulator of the sacred tools”, the Team “presider” now roamed far-and-wide with his cordless microphone, assuming a self-importance foreign to the Catholic understanding of priest­hood.11

But it was not only the priest who had lost his anonymity, so had the Benalla congregation as activity was increased to its maximum rather than reduced to its minimum. Suddenly, the faithful were meant to be up and doing, to participate, to express their personalities and be conscious of the community around them. Of old, the Mass had provided almost the only time and place in all the world where one could get away from oneself, get lost. The expressions “lost in prayer,” “lost in won­der,” “lost in adoration” and the like are perfectly accurate. Of old, distractions had been the problem. Now, distraction was organised and continuous. The problem had become how to get lost.12

All the while, the Team was utilising self-centred liturgical experimentation to reinforce its architectural propaganda no­tices. Warning bells were ringing for those with ears to hear, yet parishioners who tried to alert others were derided as alarmist for their trouble. But by mid-September, Fr. W had vindicated their position.


11.Cardinal Ratzinger has said of the priest: “Only by letting himself become unimportant can he become truly important, because, in that way, he becomes the gateway of the Lord into this world” — Ratzinger, op.cit., p.284