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Drifters & Deserters

Another question raised was one suggested in my letter to Bishop Daly of March 1989, informing him that I had attended a second Sunday Mass in Wangaratta after being scandalised by Fr. W. Judging by Fr. M 13 January performance and the parishioner retention problem, a large slice of the Team’s congregation must have been asking themselves and their families and friends the same question — “When is the Mass not a Mass?”

After decades of Modernist mayhem, the validity or other­wise of the Holy Mass as offered by newchurch clerics remains one of the most common and vexed questions discussed among rank-and-file Catholics. It has produced the Drifter-syndrome in dioceses across the country — itinerant Catholics who drift from parish to parish, often over long distances, in search of a decent Mass. This is a great tragedy and one of the worst fruits of the current liberal attack within the Church. Apart from anything else, it has deprived Catholics of a share in the grace, stability and support normally provided by their local parish. Many younger Catholics, whose own families have been cut-off from the parish family in this way, have never experienced the familiarity and involvement associated with parish life which, to earlier generations, was as natural as breathing. They have become strangers in their own Catholic neighbourhood.

‘Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of the “pressure that every moment weighs heavily upon a man such as today’s priest, who is so often called to swim against the current. Such a man, in the end, can grow weary of resisting, with his words and even more with his life-style, the seemingly so reasonable realities that are accepted as a matter of course and that characterize our culture.”— Mes­sori, op.cit., p.58

Anne Roche Muggeridge observes that the impermanence of a place to go to a decent Mass revives the ancient heresy of Donatism, “whereby one finds oneself sitting out Holy Commu­nion if one has doubts about the validity of the Mass in progress, and judging the validity of the Mass by the way the priest says it 2

In its Catholic sense validity means:

Having not only legal force but actually producing the ef­fect intended. Applied to the sacraments, it refers to the conditions of matter, form, and circumstances required for valid administrations.3

In other words, the Mass is valid if said according to the mind of the Church. And on that basis, who would seriously dispute the contention that a priest singing a pop-hymn in lieu of the Eucharistic Prayer has significantly deviated from the prescribed rule of worship? In which case on 13 January 1990, to cite a parishioners aforementioned example, Fr. McCarthy surely did not offer a valid Mass.

Faced with this kind of liturgical anarchy, a growing number of parishioners sought to fulfill their Sunday obligation elsewhere. The nearby towns of Glenrowan, Moyhu, Euroa and Wangaratta and more distant places such as Mansfield became the Sunday destinations of Benalla Drifters. In the words of an early casualty:

I was alarmed early on. I always went to early morning Mass, so when I stopped going a friend asked me why and I told her, “because I am so upset about the way Mass is being said.” They weren’t saying Mass as I believe Mass should have been said. With not wearing vestments, taking the microphone and walking around the church and the like, the whole thing was just not Mass as I knew it.

2Roche Muggeridge, op.cit., pp.134-35
3John A. Hardon, S.J., Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Image: New York, 1985, p.446