Recently, fellow contributor Tim Shaughnessy wrote an interesting post on the idea of being “too picky” in choosing a Mass, specifically when travelling. He likened it to “Rolling the Dice”, taking your chances when walking into an unfamiliar church and hoping for the best. In a way, I know how he feels. However, of the two options he offers, i. e. either accepting that as long as nothing is actually wrong with the celebration of the Mass then all is well or searching out some mythical perfection of the Mass and being satisfied with nothing else, I choose the former, and I’ll explain why.
I have been a member of the same parish for all 32 years of my life. I count myself very fortunate in this, as it is not, now, a common thing to receive all of one’s sacraments in the same church (not to mention, through a strange twist of the “12 year rule”, receiving First Holy Communion, being married by, and having one’s first child Baptized by that same pastor). It’s comforting to me to know that my parish, my spiritual home and family, have been as constant a part of my life as my physical family. Perhaps this isn’t so important to some, but I’m glad to have the experience of it.
That being said, our parish isn’t perfect. There was a time when canon law was outright violated, and, as members of a loving family should, people in the parish (including my father) pointed out the violations to the pastor, pressed for conformity, and worked towards change. Eventually, the situation sorted itself out, but for a time, there was strife. In a family though, you don’t turn your back on the people who are causing trouble. You tell them what they’re doing wrong and you pray for them, and offer to help them change. You don’t keep your mouth shut to keep the peace or “support” them in wrong behavior, but you do stick with them.
Can. 518 As a general rule, a parish is to be territorial, that is, it is to embrace all Christ’s faithful of a given territory. Where it is useful however, personal parishes are to be established, determined by reason of the rite, language or nationality of the faithful of a certain territory, or on some other basis. — Code of Canon Law
In essence, a parish is meant to be a territorial thing, unless there are special circumstances. Most of us live inside the confines of a specific, territorial parish, and unless I’m mistaken, we’re supposed to attend and support that parish. Will they always be perfect? No. Of course not. Far from it, at times. But, your parish is your parish is your parish (at least, that’s what I was always taught, and Canon Law seems to support this).
So much for parish hopping for petty things (like disliking the pastor or the music or the missalettes or the over-use of the quiet room or the ugly architecture or a million other non-Mass related things). What about issues with the Mass itself though? Here is where I believe we need to draw the proverbial line in the sand. On one side of this line we have the majors, and on the other side, the minors. An infraction against the former is something which, could I not affect a change, and after exhausting all avenues, would cause me to leave my parish and seek out a new one. An infraction against the latter, such as not sharing the same tastes as the music director or personally feeling that the priest’s reverence does not meet with my standards (which, by the by, may be an issue with your own pride and not his reverence) is not necessarily a reason go shopping for a new place to call home. It may, in fact, simply be a reason to re-examine what we are looking to “get out” of the Mass (that term in and of itself is something to examine). Are we attending out of both our Catholic obligation and a sincere love of Christ, the Eucharist, and His Church? If so, then we need to accept that while the Church is infallible, She is made up of very fallible individuals, from many cultures and walks of life, and that our Holy Mother allows for these differences within reason, whether or not we like it.
All of this is my very circuitous way of saying that I favor of the first of Tim’s two options. The Mass is the Mass, so long as the requirements are all met. Strive for perfection, but don’t allow personal aesthetics to interfere with fully participating in it.