Messing with the Mass: The problem of priestly narcissism todayPAUL VITZ & DANIEL C. VITZ
It has been frequently noted that the mass since Vatican II has fallen victim to various kinds of irregularities.
We propose that the primary motivation behind many of these changes derives from underlying narcissistic motives — that is, extreme self love — found in many people in contemporary culture. This is especially the case with the relatively small changes introduced in an idiosyncratic way into the Mass. We first summarize and describe the nature of this narcissism, then apply it to the situation found among priests.
Beginning in the 1970’s, a number of major social critics noted and criticized this country’s increasingly narcissistic — that is, self-preoccupied — character. Tom Wolfe’s article “The Me Decade” opened this critique, and many others followed it. Perhaps the most extensive treatment was Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism. The first book-length critique of American’s narcissism was written by one of the present authors (PCV), Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship (1977, 1994). Vitz explicitly addressed the basic anti-Christian (though not the anti-Catholic) significance of contemporary cultural narcissism. Robert Bellah and colleagues’ Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life in 1985 continued such critiques. We briefly summarize here key points made by these authors to allow their insights to be applied to the psychology of many American priests.
Lasch emphasized the decline of the “sense of historical time.” (p. 1) Narcissism as a mental framework is easier for individuals and societies when they are no longer connected to the past. It is the past that provides a framework for judging contemporary behavior as good or bad, as appropriate or inappropriate, as traditional or novel. The historical past, with its heroes and its lessons, is a person’s link to family and cultural traditions; it provides norms of behavior and moral strictures. Lasch makes it clear that as the past has faded from American consciousness, the capacity for narcissistic self-indulgence has grown substantially.