“Nothing changes” is one definition of ritual. And top to bottom the Mass is still a ritual, with little room for deviation. The priest now does a few things he did not do before Vatican II, but the list of changes is quite small and the essence of the liturgy is unaltered. Nothing in the Mass is likely to take you by surprise.
The sign of peace is the same sign—the same phrase—every time: one more routine within a routine. Sometimes I wish I were allowed to do more than just say “Peace be with you” and shake hands. Sometimes the rote formulas seem inadequate, even false. Is it any wonder that people at Mass often seem to fall into an enervating stupor? Do those on the other side of the altar really expect this ritual to come alive in our hearts?
These are important questions, and I ask them all the time, because I am inclined to revolt against anything that threatens to bore me. Boredom actually angers me. First I get angry with the person or event that occasions the boredom; then I start to get angry with myself. How can I be bored? We are born into the world out of nowhere. We are going God knows where. Or as Nabokov put it, “Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” How can I be bored? But I am bored, and so I rebuke myself. I become an outlaw in my own head, impatient with every boring, automatic moment, impatient with my own capacity for boredom.
Yet I continue to go to Mass, often, almost every day in...