Matthew Schmitz, over at First Things, has a thoughtful piece up concerning the limits of papal celebrity. It indirectly reminded me of this October 3, 1979 entry from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s journals, which is one of my favorites.
The Pope of Rome [John Paul II] is in New York. We watched him on television in Yankee Stadium. A mixed impression. On one hand, an unquestionably good man and full of light. Wonderful smile. Very genuine — a man of God. But, on the other hand, there are some “buts”! First of all, the Mass itself. The first impression is how liturgically impoverished the Catholic Church has become. In 1965, I watched the service performed by Pope Paul VI in the same Yankee Stadium. Despite everything, it was the presence, the appearance on earth of the eternal, the “super earthly.” Whereas yesterday I had the feeling that the main thing was the “message.”
This message is, again and again, “peace and justice,” “human family,” “social work,” etc. An opportunity was given, a fantastic chance to tell millions and millions of people about God, to reveal to them that more than anything else they need God! But here, on the contrary, the whole goal, it seemed, consisted in proving that the Church also can speak the jargon of the United Nations. All the symbols point the same way: the reading of the Scriptures by some lay people with bright ties, etc. And a horrible translation: I never suspected that a translation could be a heresy: Grace — “abiding love”!
Crowds — their joy and excitement. Quite genuine, but at the same time, it is clear that there is an element of mass psychosis. “Peoples’ Pope . . .” What does this really mean? I don’t know. I am not sure. Does one have to serve Mass in Yankee Stadium? But if it’s possible and needed, shouldn’t the Mass be, so to say, “super-earthly,” separated from the secular world, in order to show in the world — the Kingdom of God?