What do I do when a priest does something at mass that I don’t like?

First, ask yourself who died and left you in charge of making such judgments of taste? Remember the old Latin phrase, “de gustibus non disputatem est” (there’s no accounting for taste). I would bet $100 that what you “don’t like” someone else in the congregation “does like.”

A story: One lady got mad at me once because I didn’t urge people to receive on the tongue. When I tried to point out to her the church’s clear teaching on the option of receiving in the hand, I had the distinct impression that she was one day going to be telling someone about this priest, i.e., me, who didn’t do what she “likes.” Most people like it when I play the guitar to emphasize a point in a homily at a college Mass. One or two people over the years have complained that a “guitar playing priest is an abomination to the Lord.”

Second, ask yourself, “So what?” Does this really matter? Do I really want to choose and have my contact with God in the Eucharist affected by what the priest does or does not do about “x” or “y” or “z”? I mean, unless the guy is consecrating pizza and beer, there’s not a whole lot a priest can do to radically change the Mass. It’s still the readings, the prayers, communion. And many people have been ignoring homilies forever, so how can a homily alone ruin the Mass for someone?

Third, lighten up. People can get so bent out of shape about things that really aren’t all that important. If you don’t “like” some priest’s style or sermonizing, go to another church where the priest’s style and sermonizing are more to your liking. In other words, go where you are spiritually fed.

Really, I am getting more strident in telling all the warring cultural factions in our church to chill out. The liturgy wars, the bitter debates on Catholic Social Teaching, the neuralgic issues like the ordination of women and married men, the never ending smugness of those who proudly oppose abortion and loudly complain of those who take note of other justice issues, like the death penalty and war: all these fights have taken their toll. Many young people I know have experienced a church of old aunts and uncles complaining, complaining, and complaining. No wonder our young Catholics don’t want to be a part of our “celebrations.”

We need to start talking about what we like in our church, or we will find there will be no church or priests to complain about. The fact that a woefully small number of people contemplate becoming priests may be connected to this open range attitude that anything the priest does is subject to anyone’s disparaging dislikes.

Richard G. Malloy, SJ

Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., is Vice President for University Ministries, the University of Scranton, Scranton, PA, and author of A Faith That Frees (Orbis Books).


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