Monday, November 30, 2009

Attention to Worship

Happy Monday to you all. If you haven't had a chance to read the comments on my previous post, please do so, and feel free to contribute to the conversation. I would like to comment on two issues, the first has to do with something one of the commenters raised, the second is a comment about the clergy sexual abuse mess.

The first issue. It's an age-old argument that one of the commenters put rather well: "What would detractors say the appropriate position should be? So long as there are poor, so long as there are abused, so long as there is war, so long as humanity is, well, humanity then it's inappropriate to give attention to worship? Or should we don vestments made from rags and say Mass in a pre-fab portable building instead of a Cathedral?"

A Mass celebrated in a cathedral with the finest, most expensive vestments and vessels; a Mass celebrated in a shack in the slums of Lima, Peru, with hand-me-down vestments and vessels donated by a wealthy American suburban parish; a Mass celebrated on the desert sands of Iraq or Afghanistan with a priest in camouflage vestments around a makeshift altar constructed beneath a tent; a Mass celebrated in a poor inner city parish around a cross with an image of an African Christ; a Mass celebrated in a prison using a makeshift altar and vessels from the chaplain's "Mass kit"; a Mass celebrated in a wealthy suburban parish with the best of vessels, vestments, and music—friends, these celebrations of the holy sacrifice of the Mass are what contribute to making us Catholic. I take exception to the final question posed by the commenter above. There are many places that serve over one billion of us Catholics that simply do not have a choice when it comes to where and with what liturgical items the Mass is celebrated. The attention that is given to worship in these places has—by necessity—more to do with the people who attend Mass than the vestments and vessels used. And I think this perhaps gets us to the crux of the argument. Allow me to quote from the late John Paul II. This is a paragraph from Mane Nobiscum Domine, his Apostolic Letter that inaugurated the Year of the Eucharist.

"Can we not make this Year of the Eucharist an occasion for diocesan and parish communities to commit themselves in a particular way to responding with fraternal solicitude to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world? I think for example of the tragedy of hunger which plagues hundreds of millions of human beings, the diseases which afflict developing countries, the loneliness of the elderly, the hardships faced by the unemployed, the struggles of immigrants. These are evils which are present—albeit to a different degree—even in areas of immense wealth. We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ (cf. Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged."

We must do all we can to be sure that our liturgical celebrations draw people into the paschal mystery; into a deep encounter with the death and resurrection of Christ. Only then do we have the possibility of a real change of heart. I think the late pontiff hit the nail right on the head with regard to this issue. Perhaps the Pope Benedict's new pastorale (gold pastoral staff) will lead people to a concern for those in need. That is my hope about all things liturgical. If the liturgy ends at the door, and produces little in the way of creating mutual love and concern for those in need, then we must question the authenticity of the Eucharistic celebration itself.

Now, the second issue. The clergy sex-abuse scandal and the scandal of the cover-ups has shaped some of us lay folks into a less-passive stance when it comes to Church matters. Some of those responsible for presiding at Mass were sexually abusing children. Some of those who were (are) our shepherds were (are) covering up these crimes and shifting these abusers from parish to parish; from one group of innocents to the next. It is the liturgy that is our only hope for real conversion of heart, mind, and action. Unfortunately, it was precisely those who were responsible to lead us in that prayer that is "source and summit" who fell into this heinous activity, which has cost the childhoods of many thousands and caused, in many cases, irreparable psychological damage. This is a hard fact that must be faced. We cannot celebrate Mass around the altar without imagining the thousands who were abused gathered with us around that same altar. And—and this is very difficult—we cannot celebrate Mass around the altar without also imagining the many priests and bishops who abused these children, or covered up the crimes. This is the paradox of the Eucharist. If we believe that it is the preeminent sacrament of reconciliation, then all—saints and sinners—must be there in order for this font to overflow with reconciliatory grace. And if all this happens surrounded by the finest gold, or the filthiest rags, so be it.

Ah, I have gone on enough today. Please know how much I am grateful for my Catholic life, for the Mass, and for God's abundant grace. In this Advent time, my hope is that you will know God's grace and peace.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Charles said...

"...this is very difficult—we cannot celebrate Mass around the altar without also imagining the many priests and bishops who abused these children, or covered up the crimes. This is the paradox of the Eucharist."

Jerry, I believe you misspoke with the last sentence. Didn't you mean "the paradox of the ordained?" There cannot possibly be any paradox in the Eucharist itself, it is an eminent gift from the Lord. Granting as how each and every celebrant remains both in persona Christi and alter Christus by virtue of their orders and office, every one of them (and us) are still under stain of original sin. Also granted are some measure of saints among them and ourselves who, by the grace of God, avoid the intent and occasion to sin, but they are the exception and we try to exalt and recognize them privately and publicly, as well as to emulate their example in our lives.
The Eucharist, with each communicant sufficiently prepared to receive through reconciliation, is not subject to human manipulation or, as you say, paradox. It is the very Lamb of God's Supper. If we must employ a "p" word, perhaps precursor or prelude would more adequately characterize its nature, though they are insufficient as well.
Pray well, sing well, Dr. Jerry, with confidence in God's purpose.

Anonymous said...

The point of the liturgical renewal was so that Catholics might understand their role as agents of social change in the world more fully. The liturgical language and ritual were changed at the Second Vatican Council so that the assembly would be able to grasp that fact more fully and be nourished in its understanding more easily.

While much work has been done on the change of the structure and content of the liturgy, the mission of social change, social justice, Catholics at work to make earth more like heaven has not had much emphasis or focused energy. The USCCB is now harnessing the liturgy and Catholics and making a difference in the health care debate. One example of what could happen if that same focus were given to poverty.

I was not surprised how little press was given to this paragraph of Mane ND when it came out, but thought it ironic how much attention was being paid to the reworking of how many cups, and when they could be filled, and who gets to touch them in preparation for the communion rite. I don't think it is an accident that this paragraph got little attention - who wants to wade into this unknown world when there is so much comfort in beautiful aesthetics and music and lovely ritual? However, I was amazed at how direct it was and yet a seemingly ignored directive. The year of St. Paul, now the year of the priest all have had ripple affects of programming... What would it look like for this paragraph to be implemented? The year of solidarity with the poor?

In a church sharing a commitment to live in solidarity with those in poverty, a gold staff or cross or vessel would most likely be immediately realized as out of place, not unlike a priest harming children or bishops complicent in their duplicity. Alternatively the heart behind an item of beauty in a poor parish, where all know the sacrifice on the part of the poor who may have raised the money, that sacrificial beauty can transcend any opulence.

In a church that continues to use ornateness and beauty as a skewed bench mark for "correct" liturgical theology and ritual, the staff becomes lost amid other surface toys, even if that is not the intent and even though it is able to express much sacred beauty.

Gnosticism still reigns in much of this separation of the poor and ornate Cathedrals and all the beauty and gold that is housed within them. Poverty is messy and not as controlled and clean as any aesthetic beauty we would choose to have present in our worship spaces. The statement still stands: If what happens inside the church is not making a difference to those living under the nearby bridge, then it doesn't matter what happens inside. "This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged." JPII

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Thanks for these comments. Charles, perhaps what I did write can be misinterpreted. When I said the paradox of the Eucharist, what I meant was to point to the fact that one receives the Eucharist, one comes in closer conformity to the Lord Jesus, a "sign of contradiction." Quoting here from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults:
"Thus formed, 'the newly converted set out on a spiritual journey. Already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, they pass from the old to a new nature made perfect in Christ. Since this transition brings with it a progressive change of outlook and conduct, it should become manifest by means of its social consequences and it should develop gradually during the period of the catechumenate. Since the Lord in whom they believe is a sign of contradiction, the newly converted often experience divisions and separations, but they also taste the joy that God gives without measure" (RCIA 75.2).
I believe that when the Lord forgave Peter the denier at the breakfast on the seashore, the reconciliatory nature of the Eucharist was made present. Here was the Lord Jesus, that "sign of contradiction," forgiving the one who ran out on him in his hour of need. This is something that we in this society simply cannot fathom. The Lord established a new way of thinking and acting, contradictory to what the accepted attitudes and behaviors were and are. Our participation in the Eucharist, our consuming the Lord's very body and blood, draws us into the paschal mystery—draws us into the cross, which we know is both a cross of pain and a cross of triumph. This is why we need to imagine all—abusers and abused—at that very post-resurrection breakfast on the seashore. And this is, I believe, an image we must carry to every altar at every Eucharist.

Charles said...

I appreciate the clarification, Jerry, nicely done. And the example(s) of how Christ both rebuked and reconciled with Peter particularly rings true for me; it's a marvelous mystery which provides hope for the hopeless, I would think.