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.