While going through my library in order to decide which books to keep when I move back to New York, I cam across American Catholic Exodus, edited by John O’Connor (Washington: Corpus Books, 1968). Eleven chapters, written by Catholic “progressives” (the one exception, the Protestant Robert McAfee Brown) describe what the editor calls “a gigantic walkaway” of people who are not so much leaving the Church as “taking the Church with them. They feel they are the Church. What they are leaving behind, for the most part, are old forms, old structures, some old ideas and prejudices and postures, and, sad to say, some old men in moldy mitres…. Rather than being certain that they had God cornered in a tabernacle, guarded by canon lawyers and the flashing blades of those plumed samurai, the Knights of Columbus, they set out in search of him…. The result has been a breakthrough into a new and unknown land.”
A place-marker brought me to William Birmingham’s description of this land’s new style of liturgy. It’s worth reading as a reminder of the chaos that in more than one place erupted after the Council (this is within a couple of years of its close!, and before the promulgation of the New Order) and that made more than one person cling to the traditional rite of Mass.
Experimental liturgies….are meeting a need that is deeply felt; to give thanks in community. At one such liturgy in which I took part, the priest was twenty-eight. The liturgy of the Word had been prepared by a boy and girl of sixteen and seventeen. The opening was unfortunate: a Donovan song which could not be understood because the record player was momentarily broken. The readings which followed were taken from Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, Heinrich Hesse’s Damien, Ezra Pound’s ‘The Ballad of the Goodly Fere’, and the first epistle of John. It closed with the playing of “Suzanne’ sung by Judy Collins. The eucharistic prayer, composed for the occasion, though not by the teenagers, reflected the content of the readings. It was read seriatim by those present. The priest recited the narrative of institution and all together said the words of institution over the loaf of Italian bread and common wine. Following communion the celebration dissolved slowly into conversation among the thirty or so people who had taken part.
This kind of liturgy is not rare among the new generation. Ones like it can be found on many college campuses. I see the problems involved, of course. But I also see among the best of these young people an insistence on valid religious experience that has for a long time been rare in the Roman Church. And this is a sign of hope, of very great hope indeed.