Tuesday, July 22, 2003
HOWDYING UP AT COMMUNION II . . . Today in Maryland, a state not too long for driving through, looking over comment by faithful reader D. about having to communicate with one's friend the communion-giver while trying to do the same with one's Creator, who while closely related are not the same thing:
"Oy -- distracting as Hell. Ditto "Body of Christ, D------." [being addressed by name] Whaa? Am I supposed to respond, "Nice to see you, Gwendolyn"?
Yes, D., and ask about the kid in college too.
// posted by Jim @ 6:14 PM
THE SONG'S THE THING .
. . 12/26/02 -- Mass at St. Peter's In the Loop on Xmas Day, 9 a.m., was less mass than voice recital, featuring a tall, dark-haired young woman in a long white robe up front. She had a mike and we did not. She knew how to use it and had a nice voice and extensive repertoire. She became the focus.
True, there were altar and pulpit goings-on. A friar in brown probably from Australia sounded like Alfred Hitchock in his reading of Scripture, and another in mass-celebrating white etc., probably from the Midwest, did a Wilfred Brimley in mass-saying and preaching. Remember him as the bad-guy security chief for evil lawyers in "The Firm," starring Tom Cruise?
These two did nicely enough. I couldn't follow the readings, not speaking Australian, nor did I get the point the preacher-celebrant made (presider in today's liturgical lingo) in telling about the party he attended last week of 50 rich or near-rich benefactors of St. Bonaventure University. The lady of the house accused the man of losing his soul to mammon (he was too money-oriented, said she, in front of all). He defended himself, claiming his love of music and his religion saved him from that.
Did it save Renaissance popes? we might have asked. Or today's Vatican officials, who build a 3 1/2-story crib scene in St. Peter's Square every year in Rome. The St. Bonaventure party-goer was there and saw it and seemed to decry the extravagance. The message was that Xmas promotes poverty, but he was gone from the pulpit before he had cleared it up.
The singer was not gone from her near-central location at her microphone, however, looming from next to the altar and bellowing forth numerous verses, periodically waving her left hand like a linebacker trying to bring the home crowd into things during the big game. Like a very good linebacker, she dominated, let me tell you. Going up for Communion, we sang or listened to her sing "God rest ye merry gentlemen."
We merry gentlemen must have sounded sluggish, because she chided us before the last song, telling us it was our last chance to sing these songs for a while, so we should join in -- more loudly, that is, than we had done so far. If we did, I for one could not tell.
ROOM FOR STOICISM HERE . . . Consider mass on a recent Tuesday morning with Father John, of my mainstream-liberal Catholic church, who stops outside the sacristy on his way to the altar to say "Good morning." (Not necessary, Father John: How about "Repent, ye sinners," or "O Lord, hear my prayer," with us saying, "And let my cry come unto thee"?)
I have gotten my aged tail out of the sack at quarter to six and walked several blocks in the cold morning air to hear Father John wish me good morning? I don't think so. I have not got up early for some Worship Lite. This is the time instead for worship that puts hair on my chest.
He says "Good morning," and the good Catholics in the church, a dozen at most, answer back. The others, me included, say nothing. Then he announces the day's hymn and begins singing it as he walks to the altar, arms hanging at his sides, ambling, we might say slouching, toward the holy sacrifice.
Ah, but there's nothing to get too formal about here. Nobody here but us Catholics, with God (naturally) in our midst, mass or no. So if he or she is always there, what's to get excited about? Or overly intent, not to say intense. Hey. We're all in this together. Not all of us saunter -- that's the word -- to the altar in mass-saying garb, however. Not all of us decide the hymn. Not all of us comment on the day's Scripture.
THE PRESIDER . . . No, Father John does all these things. He reads the Scripture in due time, with all the emotion he can spare (none). With high pitch and languid air, he pronounces the words very well: you can't miss a syllable. Then he comments: This reading, at the end of the liturgical year, deals with the end of the world. It's a sample of apocalyptic literature, like the Book of Daniel, he explains.
He expands on that: It shows us that saving our soul is not the issue but rather helping to bring God's kingdom to earth. Nowhere in Scripture can one find the idea that individually we are given faith and saving grace, he tells us. (But what about "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8. 36? We guess not. Hmmm.)
Our task is (not to save our soul but) to bring the kingdom to earth, says Father John, to build up the kingdom. If we are concerned (solely) with saving our souls, we have already lost our souls. End of sermon. Bang. Just like that, atonal, a-everything but consigning to hell (on the spot!) us who take soul-saving as a good starting point that leads to and encompasses good deeds of all sorts. Forget heaven. We are lost already.
That does it for sermon-commentary. He walks back to his chair, arms again at side, lest he appear too involved. Reaching for the big red book, oh so relaxed, he reads the next thing. Later, at the altar, he faces us. If we want to look at the tabernacle, we can't. He's in the way. His head, blond wig and all, his face, impassive, eyes on us, is our focus. He, after all, is the presider.
SPEAKING FOR THE BIG GUY . . . Let us consider that sermon conclusion, delivered with as much feeling as if he were announcing the next train to Wheaton. We have lost our souls if we care too much about saving our souls. Neat, eh? We are to beware fixing up our personal relations with the Almighty, because it might distract us from our role in building the kingdom on earth.
Nobody seemed bothered by that. Eight or so joined him at the altar for the consecration, standing facing the rest of us. They seemed unmoved by what they had heard, his seeming to put cold water on personal relations with God, as if it's a no-no. His own demeanor was that of a holy clerk, blond wig and all, making sure trains run on time. What's this kingdom on earth business, anyhow? Maybe next time.
RUMINATION IN PROGRESS . . . A comment on worship: I recently heard discussed whether strict liturgical rules, as in the old Latin mass, correctly limits the tendency by the worship leader (priest) to overdo his own role. That's a thesis I intend to pursue.
The comment (by someone else) was that worship belongs to the community, which ideally gets what it wants. This undercuts the advisability of strict rules and argues for flexibility and creativity.
He meant local community, not "universal church" community, of course. Rules tend to come from the latter and are easier to ignore than the less formal strictures that come from the former. This attention to the wishes of the local community has its merits, of course.
But it can be overdone, as worshipers become overly aware of one another. They get together to talk about God (sing about him, etc.) and are comfortable with that. Talking to God is not their first choice. Instead, they find God primarily in their neighbor. Exclusively?
They are furthermore perhaps somewhat embarrassed to address God personally. Moreover, they would rather not be alone with him; so they cling to each other and turn to each other. They don't quite pray to each other, nor worship the community. But God becomes the sum total of what they want and -- yes? -- what they are. Whatever else he is, they leave to the experts.
RE: MASS AS PRAYER BREAKFAST . . . Reader D-1 adds "at Denny's." To which I say, Depends on the church. At Oak Park Country Club maybe, if it's well enough appointed.
RE: MASS AS CEMENTING COMMUNITY . . . Reader D-2 says he just read C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity and "got the impression that community is . . . different [from] exchanging peace signs, holding hands during the Pater Noster or nodding graciously to familiar faces in the vestibule." He read in Mere C. "something about unity with Christ is more important than 'being nice.' Either way, [he's] not in a mood for being nice to people who 'disrespect' the commUNITY by showing up in torn jeans. Then again, it's been a long time since [he's] been in church with any regularity, so the changes appear to [him] even more stark. And dismaying."
"Never mind me," he adds. "I'm just getting old and cranky."
To which I respond: None of that stuff. With age comes wisdom. Say that after me: With age comes wisdom . . .
RE: CHURCH AS REDECORATED . . . a not unrelated very sore point in some quarters, D-1 (same as above) reports one redone in "a rainbow of colors," including purple and pink and "new shades of blue-greens . . . all radiating from [a] once dramatically stark huge crucifix above the sanctuary, which now looks like a Divine Mercy wannabe, clashing with modern stained glass windows already there in bold blue, green and yellow.
"The 'liturgy committee' . . . saw autumn approaching and brought out last year's hangings on either side of the crucifix in vivid orange and yellow, with nosegays of artificial orange/yellow flowers. Streamers of artificial leaves cascade down the walls of the nave between stations of the cross.
"We have either become the Rainbow Coalition or been taken hostage by Puerto
Ricans. Not to say that would be such a BAD thing, but if you are not color blind you wish you were."
OLD-TIME RELIGION . . . . "It was . . . comfortable to have the celebrant's back to me," wrote columnist Dolores Madlener in the Catholic New World (8/4) about a Latin mass at St. Thomas More Church on Chicago's South Side. "He was doing his and our thing at the altar and the whole church was heading in the same direction."
As she and others knelt for communion at the altar railing (rather than stand where the railing used to be, as has been recent practice), "a sense of church was overwhelming."
Funny. Those two items -- priest facing people and people standing for communion like Christian soldiers -- were supposed to achieve what Madlener says was achieved by this old-style mass. Nor is it clear why one would achieve it and not the other, no matter what the liturgiologists say.
SHOPPING . . . "Pick church carefully," says head for letter in 8/26/02 Sun-Times by John Yataczyshyn (rhymes with Athison?), of West Ridge neighborhood, re 8/20 article, "Lutherans luring Hispanic Catholics?" about deceiving mass-goers. Y. cites other cases of potential misrepresentation: Byzantine or Ukrainian Catholic church looks like Orthodox, RC congregations sing Protestant hymns such as "Amazing Grace" and use guitars while "toning down the abundant statuary and candles in some churches," without complaints from Lutherans, Baptists, and "other Spiritual Christians." RCs aren't Spiritual Christians?
Moral: "Organized religion is big business," he says. These days it's buyer-beware time. "Nobody is going to take you by the hand to the 'right' church. Trust yourself," he says, addressing not bishops and pastors but us faith-based consumers.
I sure meander in the churchly supermarket, from the RC church of my youth and most of the rest of my life to (a) my neighborhood Episcopal church and (b) my neighborhood schismatic Latin-mass Catholic church, and back. I may yet be propelled across the street from (a) to (c) my neighborhood Evangelical church, which is obviously well run and packs them on on Sunday. Both (b) and (c) have their own day schools, by the way, as of course does my boyhood RC church.
TOP-DRAWER ADVICE . . . "Remember your last days, set enmity aside;/ remember death and decay, and cease from sin!/ Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; [think] of the Most High's covenant; and overlook faults." Good advice from the Book of Books, Sirach 27 & 28.
PAUL'S TAKE . . . "None of us lives . . . none of us dies as his own master. [Living] we are responsible to the Lord. [We die] as his servants . . . In life and death, we are the Lord's. That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living." That's Paul to the Romans, chap. 14.
RETRACTION . . . Have said a few times recently that standard current RC mass is nicest Rotary meeting you will attend. Am pulling back from that. It's the nicest prayer breakfast.