Well it wasn’t a Clown MASS exactly.
When I was a young Anglican priest in the mid 1980s we had this liturgy in the parish called a “Family Service”. It was essentially a modified form of the Anglican Morning Prayer liturgy, but we jazzed it up with some trendy hymns and maybe got the kids to do a dramatized Bible reading and we tried to use illustrations and visual aids to make the homily more accessible.
To make a long story short I made up this story about a clown who was rejected by the sour faced, self righteous townspeople and taken outside and killed, but then he rose again and continued to spread his good cheer. I don’t remember the details, but I think I got someone to read the story and I played the clown–miming the part.
Yes its true, and I don’t repent of it because it illustrates the way such creativity can be used in the church. It was used as an attempt to catechize and evangelize. The situation was that everyone in England was assumed to be Church of England, but not many went to church and the Family Service was a monthly, accessible and pleasant way to encourage them to come to church and bring their kids.
It was successful too. Folks went from there very often to renew their faith, join a confirmation class and make their way back to a more full commitment to their faith.
Which brings me to the point of clown masses proper. The problem in the Catholic Church is that we don’t have non-Eucharistic worship like the Anglicans and other Protestants. The use of non Eucharistic worship is that it can have an evangelistic and catechetical aim. Yes, true worship is going on, but it can focus on the needs of the people as well as the worship of Almighty God.
The liturgy of the Mass, however, is not primarily catechetical, creative or evangelizing. The liturgy of the Mass is a solemn and reverent worship of God and the celebration and re-presentation of Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross. This is the complete focus. Even the ministry of the word (which has a catechetical dimension) is oriented towards the worship of God and the action of the altar.
Clowns and puppets and liturgical dance and jugglers and flat screen TVs and Christian rock bands and you name it can all be perfectly fine in the context of youth or children’s conferences, praise and worship sessions and other Christian events, but they are not suitable for the Mass–not only because the solemn sacrifice of the Mass demands a higher level of dignity and simple reverence, but because these other forms of music and media are actually best suited to catechesis, evangelization and fellowship events.
In this age when so many Catholics are drifting away from the church and there are so many others who are genuinely interested in the Catholic faith, I wish we had some form of non-Eucharistic worship where we could evangelize and catechize effectively. This would also provide a way for Catholics who, for whatever reason, cannot receive communion to belong to the church and worship God while they are working out how they can be full members of the church. These forms of worship would also get around the clericalism in the church because they could be conducted by laypeople–both men and women.
It would be pretty radical, but what if once a month we actually put in place a simple, dignified act of worship which was not a Mass? In one parish here in Greenville the pastor has instituted a custom of Vespers at 5pm on Sundays during Advent and Lent.
Of course the eminent Fr Newman will not be introducing clowns, jugglers and the odd unicyclist at Vespers, but it is interesting that he is bringing in a form of Sunday worship that is not a Mass.
If this is possible, then perhaps more creative forms of non Eucharistic Catholic worship like an adapted form of Lauds could be introduced which have as their aim catechesis and evangelization. This doesn’t dictate the use of clowns, but such a liturgy could be open to some forms of creativity in communications and music.
Then the question would be, “Father, does going to the parish Lauds Family Celebration count for my Sunday obligation?”
Uh. ‘Fraid not.