There is an unfortunate tendency in some liturgies to try to be relevant. The understanding that the Paschal Mystery is what is being celebrated is often lost and when this happens all too often the priest is left trying to be trendy or fashionable. While the Church must constantly try to reach out to those who do not believe or practice, we need to be aware of the trap of being evangelized by secular society and not evangelize it.
An example of this was seen in a recent Mass in Ireland, where the priest finished with the anthem of Liverpool FC, an English Premier League football team that has recently won the championship for the first time in thirty years. The video is available here:
Some secular media outlets were impressed by the priest’s use of a recording of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as what he called a “final hymn” of the Mass. The US based Irish-American news site lauded the priest saying how “during his mass on June 27, which was live-streamed due to coronavirus restrictions, Father Tobin seamlessly segued politics into sport, into religion – truly, a talented orator!” While the celebrant could comment on politics and sport as a prophetic ministry in the homily, it is absolutely wrong for him to do so at the end of Mass as an act of entertainment. The liturgy has its own meaning – Jesus Christ. He is what we celebrate. His triumph over death is vastly more relevant and important than Liverpool winning the Premier League or the Irish Green party forming part of a new government.
When I watched the video of the end of the Mass that is available on YouTube, I’m afraid that I was not impressed. Unlike many priests in Ireland, I am not particularly interested in sport. While I think some sporting examples can easily be worked into the homily (and St. Paul has left us with some mentions of sport in the New Testament itself), I really don’t think it ought to have much other influence on our liturgies. I definitely don’t think that a priest telling supporters of rival teams to “suck that up” is in keeping with the dignity and decorum of a liturgical celebration.
The temptation to be popular or one of the lads and the desire to fit are real temptations. But if we lose sight of the fact that we have the most relevant message in the history of humanity, then we run the real risk of selling our birthright for a plate of lentils.