Friday, May 16, 2014

Mass Backwards: The Missed Opportunity of Mass Mobs

In principle, I love this:

I love it because I love flash mobs - those seemingly spontaneous but actually choreographed public demonstrations. Some of them are violent or criminal, but most of them are enormously creative, a bit subversive and even, when the stars align just right, redemptive.

So in principle, I love the idea of a "mass mob," in which the liturgy of the church is presented to a far larger congregation than is normally the case. And yet the more I think about it, the more I think the organizers missed the point almost entirely. Here's a description of the movement by Clarissa Aljentera, coordinator of adult faith formation and social media resources for the Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Mass mobs were created to intentionally invite strangers to attend Mass at a designated church. ... Some may have attended elementary school there. Others have relatives who were married in that parish. A few are drawn to church architecture that marks a different era when some Catholic churches were constructed in the Gothic style. Mass mobs might be encouragement for former neighborhood residents or even former parishioners to make a visit to a place they once considered home.
It's a nice sentiment, but it strikes me as a bit ... sentimental. It's not so much a flash mob applied to church as it is an e-vite that assumes everyone is a lapsed Catholic. (I suppose, in a sense, everyone is.) The mass becomes something we don't participate in but merely observe - an artifact we pass by, take note of and move on from. It's a nostalgic experience, even a melancholy one, as we remember auld acquaintances we forgot when we took our leave of this old place, as we return to a neighborhood that's seen better days, as we reinforce our mild suspicion that the church is an institution of a bygone era rather than a living, breathing and culture-shaping movement of today.

Mass mobs, as they're currently conceived, remind me of "cash mobs," another thing I like. Some friends of mine and I cash-mobbed our way through the Christmas season last year. I blogged about it here. Cash mobs are organized outings to places of business that have suffered the move of the economy into virtual space or that have been shoved to the margins by franchises and mega-malls. There's a nostalgia to cash mobs as well, but the act of participating at least maintains some subversiveness: with at least this transaction, with at least these few dollars, we'll stand with the little guy against the big guy. We will privilege the real world over the virtual one. We will link our fate to that of our local place.

Mass mobs, at least as currently conceived, lack this stand-taking. Participants will likely throw a few shekels in the offering basket, but that's not what church is about, is it?

What I would like to see is a priest, an altar boy or girl, some lectors, some ministers of the eucharist and a healthy bunch of pew-sitters take to the streets. I'd like to see the body and blood of Christ blessed and distributed outside the walls of the church. I'd like to see confessionals on the corner, the sign of the cross next to the stop sign. I'd like to see peace passed to passers by. I'd like to see a mass mob in reverse.

Do you miss passing the peace? I do. Read why here.
The thing about the church is that it's not dying; it's living, because it follows in the footsteps of the living God. The mass is the visualization of Jesus' empowering mandate given to his followers:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
If all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, then all ground is sacred, the domain of the mass. As such, the mass has always had a subversive, mobby quality to it - at least in theory. It is the public declaration that Jesus is Lord and Caesar, or Napoleon, or the President, or whoever, is not. Somewhere along the way this mob took their mass inside, and they, and it, got just a wee bit domesticated. And now they have to beg people to mob them. It's sad in the way most nostalgia is sad. It's a look behind by people who have to be reminded to care. It's mass backwards, as my sainted grandmother might have put it.

TWEET THIS: The church is not dying; it's living, because it follows in the footsteps of the living God. http://ctt.ec/vA85V+

If a mass mob comes anywhere near me, I may go, simply because I'm as nostalgic as the next guy, and in principle I like stuff like this. But a mass mob so conceived is a missed opportunity, and I hope someone somewhere has the eyes to see it and the moxie to flip it around. A mass mob so conceived will be creative, subversive, even redemptive; it will be worth the name and worth the God out in front of it.

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