Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Liturgy and The Whining

Sometimes when reading Catholic blogs and listening to all the complaints about the liturgy, I get visions of grown men behaving like Scarlett O'Hara on her knees when Rhett Butler is leaving her: Where shall I go? What shall I do? "What if the only church service I can attend is Novus Ordo, and the priest makes jokes on the altar? What if there are female extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist??!!! Wah, Wah, Wah!!!"

These are serious concerns, and I am not making light of them. (I've posted about it previously here, so please don't think I'm ignoring the experiential aspect of the liturgy, but at the same time those who honestly believe the Novus Ordo is automatically outright heretical are, IMO, off their rocker.) Rather I'm questioning the effectiveness and purpose of pronouncing it in the echo chamber of the internet, a medium which can often make things seem far worse than they are (it's far more sensational and noteworthy to complain than it is to praise). I'm baffled as to how individuals who one would think are well-read enough to know better, sometimes behave as if this is the first time in history bishops have done extremely strange, detrimental, and even heretical things! And I'm certainly questioning the whiny tone in which the criticisms are sometimes delivered, as if God should have dropped all manner of wonderful things in your lap, including the liturgy of one's preference. Please, let's not mistake aesthetic fetishism for spirituality.

And as for spirituality (since I've already played the gender card, it's only fair that I play the race card now), my grandparents lived in a place and time where they had to pay to attend Mass and then were usually not allowed to sit. Other black Catholics in this time period were not allowed to even stay to the end of Mass, so as to avoid any contact with the white congregation. Many black Catholics in southern Louisiana actually had no place to attend Mass, as they were banned from the white churches. Forget whether or not they were spiritually nourished in a Latin Mass, for they were not allowed to enter the Church. Thus, they lost their faith. That is grievous error, that is a Church hierarchy completely and lackadaisically disregarding the lowliest members of the community. Thanks be to God that I live in a time where I am not banned because of my race from attending a Catholic Mass! Thanks be to God that I do not live in a time and place where I would have to worship Him in a cave and risk being hung upside down if discovered! Thanks be to God that He has given me the opportunity to be literate, and read volumes of books, if I so choose, about the liturgy! Praise God for giving me access to the internet, where I can come on here and praise Him or whine about His Church! Thanks be to God for sparing me the suffering of impaired fingers due to motor disorders as I sit here and type this, and for preserving my fingers from mutilation for believing in Him that I would have suffered in previous centuries!

I have walked out of Masses, I have been surprised that my head hasn't spun 360 degrees during some, I have prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy rather than listen to a priest's homily, I have written letters to CCD directors, priests, and a bishop or two about the state of catechises and practice. Then again, I am a Novus Ordo baby, and can count on one hand the number of times I have attended the traditional Latin Mass. Perhaps what I post about on my blog is reflective of all the inherent problems in the Novus Ordo and the graces I haven't gained, or maybe that's just my personality and sinfulness. Either way, while I certainly acknowledge the pain of bad Masses, I think it's oh so much to get worked up about on the internet. Otherwise, I'd begin to suspect that Daniel got it wrong in his interpretation: Have It Your Way certainly must have been written by the finger of God on the wall of Belshazzar's palace, or maybe it was on the original tablets that Moses threw down in anger when he saw the Israelites with the golden calf.

The above is irreverent, but what really bothers me about the complaints is the hand-wringing. When reading them, I often think of Hamlet's line to his mother:
Leave wringing of your hands: peace; sit you down,
And let me wring your heart... Hamlet Act III, Scene IV
For that is what we should be inviting Christ to do. Instead of getting worked up about the current liturgical problems (to the point, for Heaven's sake, of going to a different rite or Church), why not pray to Christ for change, and for that change to begin with you? It's always baffling to me that the very same people who denounce the modern Catholic Church as ultramontanist seem to believe in a caricatured ultramontanist model of the Church most strongly - that other members of the Church have no input through the grace of the Holy Spirit in the body of the Church. That it would mean nothing to sit/stand/kneel through an awful Mass, offer up your suffering to God, and pray to His Blessed Mother and the saints for order in this chaos. That Romans 12 somehow no longer applies. Why not pray Galatians 2:20, for Christ to live in you, for His graces to pour into you to transform the Church Militant, which is in constant need of renewal? Why not stand with the saints who have loved this Church and instead of complaining to internet strangers for something to be done, pray to God "Why not me?"

Lucky for me on this ranting day is the beautiful Prayer of St. Patrick that implores Christ to enter our lives and surround us (the entire prayer can be found here):
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of
every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of
every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye of
every one who sees me,
Christ in every ear
that hears me. Amen.
St. Patrick, pray for us.
Happy St. Patrick's Day! (Rant over. And BTW, I'm right and feel no need to argue, so don't bother debating me.)


Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Yes, dear.

AG said...

Haha, only you, pseudo-iamblichus, only you. I don't want to emasculate you, so feel free to yell and scream in your comments.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Oh, I am ashamed to say that I have fallen into all of the traps and prejudices you mention in your post. First off, I would like to say in my defense that liturgy cannot be approached as a set of rules that must be carried out to the letter or the sky will fall on you. That is the classic Lefebvrist criticism of the New Mass as no longer accentuating the aspect of vicarious sacrifice in Eucharistic theology. In my liturgical travels, which have been extensive, I have found that one must approach the ancient liturgies as love poems. If I write a bad love poem, that means that I really don't care about someone. If I am going to address the beloved, I must address her with the best that I have. I always loved this Byzantine Lenten prayer:

"Open the gates of repentance to me, O Giver of Life, for my spirit rises early in the morning to your holy temple, bearing a temple of the body all defiled. But as you are full of pity, cleanse it by your compassionate mercy."

The tune of this still resounds in my head when I used to wail it at the kliros to prostopinje Tone 8. (Mea culpa, I changed rites!)

That is good poetry. That is what God deserves.

But before you throw a rheotrical frying pan at my head, I will say that I have given up seeking the perfect liturgy because liturgy is like life. It is sloppy, it is ugly at times, and it is living. I remember when I was still on hiatus from the Catholic Church, I went with my family to Mass at the local church in town, and instinctively waited my turn to dip my hand in the rather large, untraditional holy water font. It was then that I realized, but was not quite willing to accept, that this was the essence of liturgy. It was that tribal, almost instinctual action that is what ties us to the Church of the Apostles. There is something there that is beyond the words of the most eloquent theologian.

So much of what concerns Faith is routine, blessed routine. It is being in a place where you might criticize more than pray and that makes you feel profoundly uncomfortable. But the Church of God is uncomfortable because it is full of sinners like me. I am the problem, in the end.

That being said, I would still bend over backwards to go to a traditional Mass or a Byzantine Divine Liturgy. But that can be discussed later.

Fr. Greg said...

AG writes:

"Rant over. And BTW, I'm right and feel no need to argue, so don't bother debating me.)"

OMG, Arturo: there's some Irish genes there somewhere. I will pray for you.