Monday, June 05, 2006


Liturgical exile, I suppose one could term it.

I've been to two Sunday evening liturgies so far. And Oh gosh, how I miss the Church in the US! The parish here is ... I don't know ... there's nothing going on! Well, apart from Mass.

No bulletin. I was seriously hoping for a Bible Study or something. But there's nothing! Or at least there doesn't appear to be! Last week someone handed out a magazine, "Vachanotsavam" full of stories about healings and miracles. Nothing wrong with that. I decided I'm quite firmly a skeptic Westerner when it comes to these things when I read one testimony that averred that someone was healed by having this magazine placed on their head.

No hymnals. (Which doesn't deter the small youth choir from announcing each hymn with "turn to hymn no. x" ... but there aren't any hymnals in sight!. No procession. The priest appears and disappears from behind the altar, so I don't even know who the pastor is. No altar servers.
And the music! Oh my sweet goodness! It's like a slow night at the Bandra Gym -- artificial drums and stuff from an electric keyboard, an electric guitar and hymns that sound like bad advertisement jingles. I'd forgotten about this part of the urban Indian church. [Yep, that was the music back when I was involved in the Church in Bombay. Before I was baptized. I guess I just ignored it.]. I wonder if this is supposed to be the "youth Mass."

No one sings! No one! (No wonder.) (Except this week. The homilist -- a young priest who emerged from behind the tile wall for the homily, vested in an alb and stole, then disappeared behind it -- intoned the Gospel dialogue. And the whole darn place chanted it. Hey, can someone get a clue? Oh, it seems to be the custom that the Doxology as well as the Great Amen are chanted together by priest and congregation. The priest invited us to sing it yesterday. Don't know if that's rubrically proscribed or not, but, oh it felt good. To have the people sing!)

This week I saw some sheets lying at the back of the church. Looked like someone had left them behind. A song-sheet! Yes! Except. They didn't use it! No! That would be too darn easy wouldn't it! "Please turn to hymn no. 62" as I gnashed my teeth.

Commentaries introduce each reading. A reflection is read after Communion. All from a little pamphlet called "The Sunday Liturgy." The lectionary is purely decorative, it seems. (I've noticed a similar hegemony of weekly handouts in Italy as well.) The priest's sacramentary is most certainly not decorative. It's thoroughly tattered.

For Pentecost -- bright orange styrofoam cutout letters on the tile wall behind the altar (the church is one of those 1960s modern things. Apparently India wasn't immune from bad taste in church architecture): "Come Holy Spirit."

For the second reading the Lector starts reading the Gospel. No one seems to notice. Not even the priest. The "MC" (the person who introduces the Mass and reads the introductions to the readings and so on) nudges the lector and we get the correct reading from 1 Corinthians.
Needless to say: No sequence.

Homily: I'm afraid I don't remember much. He certainly spoke loudly. Ok. He shouted. One story remains. How some young girl "who was very rude to her parents and was doing drugs and the dance" was convicted by the Holy Spirit "while dancing at a bar" and turned her life to God. [It was less amusing than last week, the Ascension, when the priest -- different priest. There's certainly no shortage of priests here! --- talked about the Incarnation, the Crucixicion and the Ascension in these terms -- Jesus became a "cave man" then a "mountain man" and then a "space man." I kid not!]

After the final blessing, but before the recessional hymn, the Regina Caeli is said (in English.)
Mass starts out with the church largely empty. By the time the Liturgy of the Eucharist starts, it's almost full. Maybe the people are onto something. Maybe they sense that the "real deal" is
the Eucharist, and everything else is fluff. At least it's celebrated that way.

All through Mass yesterday I tried so darn hard to stay calm, and to focus on prayer and to tell myself to shut up, to stop being so critical, to focus on the Presence of Our Lord. I failed miserably.
Until the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When I finally shut my stupid, arrogant self up to pray, to prepare, oh so meagerly, to receive Our Lord in Communion.

[And then, I said Vespers on returning home. Which finally calmed me down.]

Am I being unreasonable? Maybe I'm not getting something. Maybe I'm expecting too much from a parish.

Anyway. I need to figure out when Confession is (oh yah. Definitely need that!) [The board on the front of the church only gives Mass times, that I could make out. It was completely obscured by overhanging tree branches. And as I said, no bulletin. I was going to ask the gentleman next to me where he got a "Sunday Liturgy" and hopefully start a conversation, but he disappeared super-fast as soon as Mass was over]

So, if I get a chance this week (not sure I will. Dad's next round of chemo is mid-week), I'll head to the parish office and see if I can talk to a priest. Find out if I can volunteer as a lector, say. And if there is anything going on in the parish.

Last year I visited Commonweal columnist Jo McGowan at her home in Dehradun, and I recall clearly her lament about the sorry state of parish life at her parish. She'd even written the Bishop, to no avail. I sympathize most completely. I don't recall my parish days in Bombay this way. But really, when I think about it -- I had a close-knit group of friends, and didn't do anything in the parish apart from attend Mass. My "RCIA year" in Pune was different, because I was involved in the Youth Group. Two weeks after I was baptized, I moved to the US. So practically, my entire life as a baptized Catholic has been in the Church in the US. Most of it at one parish.
Which I miss so much right now!

:: Update:: Just saw this long quote from Fr. Neuhaus at Pontifications. Most of it seems apropos!


IndianCatholic said...

Is this parish in Delhi or Baroda?

BTW Vachanolsavam is available online.

Old issues are available here.
There is even an article by Bishop Valerian D'souza of Pune in one of them.

Vachanolsavam is an offshoot of the Potta ministry - the largest catholic retreat center in the world. The emphasis is on preaching the kerygma. Millions of people, including yours truly, have attended retreats there.

For most people, simple effective preaching of the kerygma as in the apostolic times is sometimes what is needed.

But maybe you should be paying a visit to the Opus Dei center in Delhi or Bombay. And this may be a good piece to read during the exile!

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Gashwin writes: So practically, my entire life as a baptized Catholic has been in the Church in the US. Most of it at one parish. Which I miss so much right now!

You are missed. Just wanted you to know we're raising $$ to buy an artificial drum set.... ;-)

Seriously, I had my first exposure, that I recall, to the commentaries on the readings at a small parish in the mountains weekend before last.

Is this a common thing, to read an explanation and summary before each Scripture reading?

In this particular church, the lector didn't vary her voice or delivery (kinda flat, though not a drone) between the commentary and the reading. I guess I wanted a "signal" to let me know when to begin paying closer attention. The missalettes in the church were the full year plus hymnal variety, with no text of the readings, so no way to read along.

Glad you're thinking of ways to be part of the solution, as in lectoring. I'm guessing you're not volunteering for the Youth Choir?

Finally, Jesus as mountain/cave/space man is too much(!) to even comment on--too bad many of the "outstanding Catholics" might have missed it.

hoping Amy sees/links to this one.

Gashwin said...

Indian Catholic: thanks for the encouragement and links. The parish is in Baroda. It's the only one I could find.

A visit to the Opus Center the next time I'm in Bombay or Delhi (and I'll be there almost certainly at some point during this visit) is a great idea.

I've heard of the Potta ministry. A friend of mine from Bombay actually made a retreat there a few years back and it changed his life. I agree with you wholeheartedly about preaching the kerygma. Another way of putting it is that our Catholic people need to hear the Gospel afresh, to be evangelized (instead of just sacramentalized, which we do rather well, sometimes almost perfunctorily). I wasn't criticizing Vachanolsavam -- just pointing out one story that struck me (as a dyed-in-the-wool Westerner, in this context!) as rather over-the top.

St. Eliz: a drum set! Woah. Oh man --- y'all need to get Newman to use that! I have to let Peter know -- he'll go nuts.

The commentaries are not that common in the US, in my experience but ubiquitous in India and, it seems Italy. In my opinion: get rid of them! Let the Word speak directly, without unnecessary adornment and distraction.

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

FYI: On the drum set--not so much, no, not really, uh-uh.

Gotta remember to find a ::not:: emoticon. Apparently the wink ;-) wasn't sufficient.

Seriously--can you see drums in our tiny Chapel? We'd have to stand up the street to be able to hear anything....

LOVED the Neuhaus quote: After the Council, the general Catholic experience was very different. They went from the linguistic obscurity of the Latin to the linguistic barbarism of the New Order without passing through civilized English.

Shakespeare as translated/interpreted by hippies. Great description of why so many are upset. Thanks for sharing!

angelmeg said...


that could have been any Saturday night Mass at the parish where I worked except for the presider chanting. We called it "the Mass of the Dead" because no one sang!

Maybe you are asking too much of that particular parish. or that particular congregation at that mass.


Gashwin said...

St. Liz: darnit! I missed the wink. Oh well. A drum-set would have been cool for some good praise & woship. [And no, the music I was lamenting here wasn't that at all!]

Maggie: yah, maybe. I've been to "dead" Masses and parishes in the US before. A friend from the US also sent me an email asking whether "does anything go on here" might be a legitimate question for many US parishes. Quite true.

This feels different. Anyway, I'm going to try and talk to the pastoral leadership. And check out the other English Mass. It's at 8 friggin am, but oh well. It's worth a shot. :)

Oh --- and this is the Cathedral parish.

Anonymous said...


Is the homesickness part of why you're blogging so darn much. Man, I can't read all this. How do you have time to read all that other stuff and then react to it?

Fr. Neuhaus is responding to a book that Lizzy read several years ago. I don't think she mentioned that. Glad the good Fr. has finally caught up to my lovely wife.

Hope the parish is just hiding from you and is actually active.

whom blogger is telling has a password problem

Old Zhou said...

Dear Gashwin,

Well, the US is a big place.
If you had spent all your Catholic life in my area, you would feel right at home in your parish in Bombay (or Mumbai?).

At my local parish in the Oakland Diocese, we regularly enjoy electric guitars, keyboards, drums, and "cantors" singing pop melodies into cordless mics like "American Idol."

And at my monastic community in the same Diocese, we all regularly join the priest in the Doxology before the Great Amen. (And never, never kneel).

I don't know what part of the US you have been in, but California is a lot closer to India.

Relax. Enjoy it.
Heck, maybe join the choir.
Apparently you won't have these opportunities for "enrichment" when you go back to your US location.

Gashwin said...

Izzy: yah I'm homesick! :) But, also, I know no one apart from the 'rents here --- so I have tons of time. And I enjoy blogging! I also read. And I'm praying more which is good. Now to reverse that order.

Old Zhou --- yup. Relax is good advice.

Just to clarify: I actually quite enjoy "praise & worship" style music (though am a little ambivalent about its use at Mass). Yep, I enjoy P&W and chant. I'm freakish.

The music here was basically an electric guitar and a keyboard -- the drum sounds were programed from the keyboard. It wasn't like any P&W band I've experienced in the US. Sorry to say, it sucked.

Gashwin said...

PS: Old Zhou -- my US experience has been almost entirely in South Carolina. :) The parish is not traditionalist music wise --- guitar based folk music with the occasional chanting and stuff. But it's a warm place and a real community. I guess I miss that.

assiniboine said...

Ahem. You are missing MUSIC and SINGING at a [North] American Catholic church?

Surely you jest.

Baroda must be just godawful. “Ahem, Father, you appear not to have chosen any hymns again for the MAIN Sunday morning Mass.”

“Oh well, let’s have “Sing of Mary pure and lowly,” shall we?”

“But it’s a Protestant hymn and it has nothing to do with today’s lections and we have had it for the past three Sundays…”

“Ah but never mind, sure and begorrah, it’s a Canadian Protestant hymn so it’s fine, sure and it’s fine at all at all…at least we’ll not be having any American foolishness.”

“All right then, I guess for the gradual hymn we can have “The Lord’s my shepherd,” yet again, even though it’s Psalm 23 and there is going to be a psalm read 2 seconds afterwards?”

“Oh you are such a fussbudget. Of course, of course…”

“And for the Offertory? “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”? Again?

“Ah sure ‘tis a grand hymn, by the blessed hair of the Venerable Barney O’Lunacey, at all at all.”

“We did have that for the past three weeks, Father, you may recall…”

“Oh now what are you taxing me with, me lad…and let’s not bother about the recessional hymn, at all (at all)…the good folk will have left long since by the time you start with that foolishness…”

(And they did too.)

WHAT are you complaining about in Baroda?

Gashwin said...

Assiniboine ... trust me, it's a world of difference. I'd take the line up you mentioned any day. And our little chapel back in SC isn't all that terrible ... besides, the people sing!

Frankly, I'd be surprised if the choir met with the priest to even talk about these matters.


Georgette said...

Hi, Gashwin!

Sounds like you described my regular Sunday Mass here in Hyderabad! The music, ditto. The announcing of hymn numbers in non-exisitant hymnals, ditto. The whole congregation echoing the introduction to the Gospel, ditto. (I had never heard of that one before I came here, but now I am used to it and kind of like it, as it reinforces a little bible memorization, somewhat.) Even the doxology repeated by teh whole congregation--that was a ditto until recently when I think the bishop must have sent word around for priests to tell their congregants that that part is for the priest only.

But there are some really wonderful things about Mass here, too.

Our parish has copies of the bible in all the pews. When the reader and the priest read the readings and gospel they first give the page number and everyone follows along! I think this is great. I am pretty sure it came about as somebody's idea to quiet the accusations that Catholics don't read the bible from the growing number of american protestant churches and televangelists in the city and on television. But isn't this a great idea? Gets folks familiar with the bible and also reiterates the fact that the Mass is indeed Scripturally based!

Another thing I really like here is that one side of the church (the bride's side, fittingly) is for women, the other side is for men or families who want to sit together. It is an Indian pracice to provide ladies sections everywhere from train station waiting rooms to lines at the post office (although I am sad to see this "ladies' privilege" disappearing at an alarming rate in just the short six years we have lived here). For my daughter and myself who attend Mass alone, there is a 'safe' feeling from being able to sit with the ladies section. Most of the women also cover their heads, if not for the whole Mass, then they do it for the processional (we have it at the parishes we attend), for the Gospel reading and for the Consecration and going up for Commmunion. Not any separate veil, just the palloo (sp?) of their saree or they slide up to their heads the dupattas which are already around their shoulders. Ironically, the only women I see who do NOT cover their heads are the religious sisters.

I have been tempted to cover my head with my duppatta,once or twice, but I felt self-conscious about it. Maybe it is a cultural thing, I dunno.

For Confession, you just have to grab the priest (who's walking around making himself available) in the minutes before Mass and he'll take you aside to the "confessional" which is a screen/kneeler that the priest sits on the other side of. I usually do not see too many folks confessing most weekends, but I've noticed that once I have gone, many other folks take advantage of him sitting there and go to confession as well. For this reason, going to confession is a way of encouraging others to do it too!
Great post!

God bless!

Gashwin said...

Georgette: I've been meaning to email you to ask of your experience in Hyderabad so thanks for sharing this!

The ladies section sounds neat. The concept doesn't exist (in Church) in Bombay, or Delhi, or Baroda (the only places in India that I've been to Mass recently). I wonder if it's influenced by Hyderabad's strong Muslim culture, where segregation by sex in public places (especially places of worship) is the norm.

The head-covering is pretty common in my experience across the religious spectrum in India, as a sign of respect. (In my family, often, the women will cover their heads with the dupatta or the pallu when an elder is present, or at least on certain occasions. Not that common in westernized Bombay or Delhi, more so in Baroda.) Again, in Hyderabad, there might be some Muslim influence. As for you, I'd say just do it without being too self-conscious.

The ladies section in the suburban trains is alive and well in Bombay. It's a necessity, given the crushing mass of humanity that uses the trains!