Sunday, August 23, 2009
The Starving Children of God
Consider: how many times have you perhaps been, say, complaining about a particular liturgical abuse at your parish or one you visited, or perhaps about the music? Perhaps you are speaking to a friend or acquaintance and that person clearly doesn't like what you're saying, so pipes up with, "Well, at least we CAN go to mass! There are people all over the world that can't go to Mass at all!"
Certainly they have a point, and none of us disagrees that this is the case.
HOWEVER, it's an illogical response to the problems at hand. The comment to redirect one to the liturgical equivalent of "the starving children in Africa" is designed to shut down the complaints.
Granted, sometimes we do need to pipe down and air our greviances to the appropriate party, that being the Pastor or perhaps the Bishop if the Pastor has not responded.
Let's break this down a little, though, in order to explain why we should not be cowed by someone who doesn't like our rant against their favorite "liturgical" music composers, or liturgical dancing or creative Eucharistic prayers. There are a few things we all need to understand, just for a foundation:
1. The Liturgy does not belong to the presiding priest, it does not belong to us as individuals and it does not belong to the individual parish.
A parish is NOT a "closed community" of worshippers in a single place and time. The Mass belongs to the Church as a whole, during which the original sacrifice of Calvary is made present, inserted into OUR place and time, no matter where we are when it is celebrated. It is fully universal, and each movement or prayer that takes place in the Mass has meaning. Everything is designed to bring us more fully into the Paschal Mystery.
If, for example, we are focused on an amazing soloist in the choir, no matter how holy the song, if our attention isn't directed to God but rather to that person, then it is not effective and shouldn't take place during the Mass.
Any time we are directed to human accomplishment, we take our attention from God who should be front and center since He is condescending to make Himself present among us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
We do not go to Mass to be entertained; we go to experience Heaven.
2. The Faithful have a Canonical Right to a properly celebrated Mass.
Canon 214 states: The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church [this does not mean individual parish Pastors, but magisterial leadership] and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church. [i.e. legitimate spiritual life is CATHOLIC spiritual life, which means you can't replace scripture readings with verses from the Koran or poetry from Robert Frost, etc.]
Under the Code of Canon Law, NO ONE has the right to tweak the Mass such that they leave the rubrics behind. Each and every movent in the liturgy has significant meaning, and the fact that we may not understand that meaning does not render that part of the Mass insignificant; rather it means we have a moral obligation to seek out that which we do not understand. Eliminating it or trashing it in some way is an outright offense to God and to the rest of the Church.
3. The Hymns chosen for Mass are important
Our professor made an interesting point this weekend, one I've heard before but it bears repeating:
When people leave Mass, are they most often meditating on things stated in the homily or in the readings, or are they singing one of the songs used during Mass?
Music is powerful and it catches our attention and imagination. The heretics in the early Church, and even since that time, realized this and have long used hymns to spread their heresies. In fact, the Arians were the first to do this but they were far from the last.
When we consider the music done in a Catholic Mass, we must also consider the words being used, for they are important and they are powerful. What we sing we are more likely to internalize, and at Mass, it is actually a prayer.
Lex orandi, lex credendi: We believe as we pray. If we are praying something that is NOT Catholic teaching, we become indoctrinated into something false.
This falsity removes us from the Paschal Mystery and keeps us from experiencing it as deeply as we could if we were actually being presented with and given the opportunity to receive the proper theology.
In charity and truth, we MUST, therefore, protest the use of music that is not true and does not contribute to the proper prayers of the Mass.
4. The "starving children" logical fallacy
The fact that people in some other parts of the world aren't given the great gift of Mass (oppressive regimes, plagues, priest shortages caused by the former, etc.) should not be taken to mean that we should be subjected to illicit (and even invalid!) liturgical practices.
Because children are starving in the Sudan, does that mean we should put bugs in our food here so that we can get dysentary, too?
Or would not the good people in those countries want we who are privileged to REALIZE our privilege, celebrate it, and in so doing, be able to assist them more completely?
The reality is that BECAUSE the Mass, in all times and all places, all church buildings, belongs to the Church, past, present, and future, if it is improperly celebrated it DEPRIVES the ENTIRE CHURCH of graces that are owed.
When we attend Mass, we do so on behalf of those who are unable. When we pray the petetions, we, in a sense, lose our own personal identities and desires so that we can take on that of the Church, representing especially those who cannot be present among us physically. That might include a neighbor who is sick, a medical professional who has been on call and can't attend due to an emergency at the hospital, or an entire village somewhere in India whose priest was murdered and they, sent into exile. We attend Mass and we receive the sacraments on their behalf, that they might receive the same graces to which they have a right but within which they cannot directly participate for a time. Because they are part of the Church, even though they are on the other side of the world, they are still part of us.
If we are distracted at Mass because the priest is making up words of the consecration and we must wonder if the validity of the Sacrament has been affected...we are being deprived of Grace. If we are unable to pray the mass because someone is up on the altar changing the words of the prayers in a way that is "gimmicky" (i.e. "inclusive language", non-approved wording, etc.), then we are being deprived of Grace.
How are we being deprived?
When we go to Mass, we should be able to expect to fully participate, which means we can interiorly unite ourselves as a Body as we pray together in our praise and worship of God. We can place ourselves and our concerns upon the altar so that the priest can "lift them up" during the Holy Sacrifice.
But when we are distracted and confused by bad hymns with non-Catholic or completely contradictory theology, or "prayers" that depart from the canon, or unapproved scriptural translations that change the original meaning of the words, we may forget what we are there to do. We have been cut off, in a way, from the Church for what is being celebrated in that place and time no longer has unity with the rest of the Church.
And in that, the efficaciousness of our prayers may be lost for in fact, we can no longer properly participate. In the case where the congregation may not be aware that what is happening is wrong, they are also cut off, through no intent of their own, for they are being deprived of the full meaning of the Paschal Mystery which they will NEVER truly be able to grasp if it is not presented properly.
We see this effect in those parishes that especially suffer the worst of liturgical abuses, for they don't even realize they are eating from a liturgical garbage dump and so don't understand the real meaning of "unity" in the Church.
We can look around us and see what bears this out and what bears fruit in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church.
In my observation, the "starving children" in America are those most likely to make the "starving children" logical fallacy, for they are often either refugees from the liturgal garbage dumps who have not been offered an explanation of the fullness of the Liturgy, or they are those who still attend a Mass or have been indoctrinated by music that does more to celebrate "us" than it does to direct our worship to God. (This latter, I think, is the most common scenario. Good Catholics with good intentions but bad formation through no fault of their own.)
Thankfully, our dear Pope Benedict XVI has recognized all the starving children in America and in his mercy, has issued Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007), and the USCCB has revised the translation of the Mass to make it more faithful to the actual wording.
Now, while it is a logical fallacy to try to shut down legitimate complaints by pointing out what others DON'T have, we do need to recognize the great gift of the Mass. We need to recognize what we have and while we work to reform those things that are wrong and which close off a parish from the universal Church, we may need to still attend those Masses...on behalf of all those who cannot.
Holiness and worship doesn't consist in "either/or" but in the true Catholic way, "both/and". YES there are some major problems in liturgy right now, AND we need to recognize them AND while we work for improvement, attend Mass as often as possible to pray for the suffering Church that is deprived of the Sacraments.
That, my friends, is what we the faithful are called to do, and THAT, while it is going to be slow going, is how we are called to suffer in our place and time.
The FIRST thing we need to do, though, is educate ourselves. We need to understand what the Mass is all about, what the Church officially teaches about it, and only then can we really serve others, whether here or abroad.