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Monday, December 15, 2008

Straining at Gnats to Avoid Charity

Let me be very clear; what I'm about to say is going to tick a lot of people off, but so be it. However, I'm going to preface my scathing rant with a little context lest some random person come along and think that it's about them. It's not. I am not writing about a particular person, but rather, a widespread behavior that NEEDS to change. Dear readers...condemn yourself or exempt yourself. Myself...I'm doing both.

A few years ago when I experienced my conversion, I was so thirsty for knowledge that I just devoured what I could. I went to Catholic Answers forums, and many wonderful people there answered many of my questions. It was overall of great benefit to go there, and I often found myself in a forum with regard to liturgy. I am drawn to beauty (through my artistic side, perhaps), and even in my time of dissent and simply being lost, I avoided bad liturgy when I could, which ultimately protected me from becoming involved in parishes that had the worst abuses. (I'll not name any names.)

In any case, once I learned the truth, once I learned objectively what was proper and that my own instincts had been correct, I became quite angry. There I was, a "revert" (for lack of a more precise term), and was angry that for so many years, proper catechesis had been kept from me. In trying to come home, I'd been subjected to horrendous liturgical abuses, and quite likely, invalid communion. (Ironically, on that occasion that was likely a good thing...I was in mortal sin.)

So it was that I went through a very angry stage, being quite resentful at what is wrong in the Church, taking personally different things that should not be occurring in liturgy, in catechesis, etc.

I began this blog when still in that stage, and many of those early posts are still up; I've left them as a testament to my own journey as I've progressed as a Catholic. Those who go back and read what I've left may even think I'm a different author now. And that's as it should be.

Early Conversion

I've observed this same kind of anger in others...both in reverts and converts from other faiths whose eyes have been opened to both the glory of the Church...and the shadows. It seems to be a more or less "normal" stage in conversion, and I have a theory on this.

When someone finally comes to the Fount of Mercy, when they finally recognize Christ for who He is, when they fall in love with Him and His Bride, the Church, well, quite honestly it becomes spiritually, emotionally, and even physically painful to see that beauty diminished by practices that are truly abusive; such as a priest changing the Eucharistic prayers, "dancers" contorting like Herod's daughter, social statistic reports by some GI-Jane-looking DRE in place of a homily about the scriptures, etc. It's terribly painful to recognize that the liturgy, that time of worship owed to GOD has become a celebration of the people, a hoe-down which has as it's theme song "See-how-great-we-art!"

I suggest those people are RIGHT to be angry, and that anger is just, for when something is wrong, often anger inspires the desire to do something to correct the problem.

I went through this stage, and my goodness, I was nasty! At the time, I had not experienced a Latin Mass, either Novus Ordo or in the Extraordinary Form (TLM). And I have to say...I thank GOD for that!

My parish isn't bad. I have my complaints, all of which has to do with the modern architecture of the church (it's ugly and laterally-focused), and the music (McHaugen with a side of Haas, served with the optional Joncas). But our priests are holy, orthodox, and if I were deaf, I would see nothing but God's glory on the altar at Mass.

Now, with that context....

Last night on a blog that has to do with liturgy, I got into a discussion with someone else with regard to a very common abuse...holding hands during the Our Father. And referenced the Orans position as well. NEITHER belong in the Mass; they are innovations that make no theological sense.

My comment with regard to that was that I was forced into that a few years ago. I was visiting a parish for a conference, and was in maybe the 2nd row, so not twenty feet from me was Christ Himself on the altar. The man standing next to me was staring at me intently and expectantly, waiting for my hand. I realized that this was one of THOSE parishes, and had to make a decision. He knew I saw him. Had I just closed my eyes and folded my hands, it would quite literally have been rude.

The man didn't know me; and clearly, he thought this was proper practice. He didn't know any better. Had I done what I preferred, he might have thought it was a rejection of him, who knows? I looked at the altar, and realized that Jesus Himself also waited for my decision; follow the letter of the law, or act in charity and give the soul next to me the benefit of the doubt?

I opted for charity, even as I squirmed.

And I'd do the same thing today, and yes, I'd STILL squirm inwardly.

My friends, let me tell you, when I shared that incident, not only did the other person disagree and insist the ONLY thing to do was to follow the rubrics and not hold hands, but someone else decided to jump all over me and ask if I also support the priest changing the words of the consecration or other Eucharistic prayers.


And yet, that has often been my experience in issues surroundign liturgy. One cannot have an opinion unless it lines up with the black and the red TO THE VERY LETTER. Never mind that it's a situation in the pew, not on the altar.

Now, before some random person shows up and adds another non sequitor argument, understand this:




We cannot follow the law unless we also remember the rule of charity; if we forget the latter, we make the former completely without merit.

It's the same thing happening today as in the time of's exactly what the Pharisees did.

Oh, yes, I went there.

So often, bloggers, commenters, etc., (I am speaking ONLY of laity here) will speak their opinions on liturgy as though they have the ultimate authority. They are so bound by the exact words and almost seem to have a fear of offending God if they do or say anything that might in the slightest be a departure from the rubrics.

Personally, I'm sick and tired of all that anger and bitterness. It's one of the reasons I will read the blog of the author in question, but haven't commented much, and tend not to read the comments. I can't stand the arrogance.

And one of the reasons I REFUSE to be a Rad-Trad:

Over and over this semester, in class, reading the Saints, they emphasize that love of God necessitates love of neighbor. If we love the law so much that we ignore the needs of our neighbor, then we have also failed to love God. The two cannot be separated!

This is NOT "lateral theology" but scriptural truth!

Yes, we NEED to make sure we follow the rubrics that apply to us as the laity, we NEED to continue to work for proper liturgies and reforms that involve proper adherance to what Vatican II REALLY said (ie Latin, Gregorian Chant, etc.) We NEED to honor Christ in the way He deserves. We NEED to be faithful, to follow the directives given by the Church in her wisdom, and we need to honor God through these means.

But that does NOT give us permission, on a small thing, to sacrifice charity in order to check a box stating that we followed the rubrics and prayed the Our Father properly. THAT IS SPIRITUAL PRIDE! It has NO PLACE at Mass!

Now, my parish doesn't hold hands. Some families maybe do, and the occasional visitor who doesn't know any better. Sometimes we have to meet people where they are at. If a visitor comes to your parish and takes your hand during the Our Father, thinking it's what she is supposed to do, what is better? Pull away with a scowl and fold your hands and close yourself off? Or smile, take her hand, and then afterward, wish her peace? The visitor isn't an idiot...she would recognize during the prayer that this parish doesn't do that, but would be comforted that her gaff was accepted and covered by the stranger next to her. And maybe your charity would open the door to a conversation later if she wanted to ask why your parish DOESN'T hold hands?

You can't have a teachable moment unless you open the door to the possibility.

Spiritual Pride is a real problem for all of us. We ALL fall into it. I do, you do, and we all need to guard against it.

That's why I don't want to be a "rad-trad". It's one of the biggest things that pushes me away from the traditional form of the Mass; in too many of the devotees, I see the Pharisees, not Christ. I see a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon to strain at gnats, but not a lot of people willing to be open to the possibility that there might be a bigger lesson.

Even errors glorify God in ways we can't immediately observe.

Our Church is very divided, my friends. It doesn't have to be. Like it or not, we are the Mystical Body, we do all have a place, there IS a way to remain faithful and loving at the same time, to maintain the integrity while not forgetting the soul of our neighbor.

We have our problems..but do we need to make them worse?

The theological virtue of Charity is foundational to our spirituality; if we're angry and bitter and arrogant and making non-sequitor attacks, we don't have charity. If we're focusing on following each little letter of the rubrics to the detriment of an individual in a specific circumstance, then not only are we obsessive-compulsive, but we're Pharisees.

We cannot advance in holiness if we don't have charity. Yes, sometimes charity means being harsh. But we need to remember that God NEVER reveals sin without revealing His Mercy. If we're going to criticize sin (which we should!), then we need to remember Mercy, and that can only come about if we have charity.

I would be a rad-trad if I could; but with what I see from the liturginazis on that side, I can't associate with them without fearing I'll go back down the angry path where too many of them seem to remain, paralyzed in spiritual obsessive-compulsion.

So for now, I'll stay where I am, continue to work on my own spiritual pride and try to focus on loving my neighbor (where I gravely fail myself).

If you care to begin, here's a match....let the flaming begin.


Kurt H said...

That was a long post, but well written, and I'm glad that I read it. I think that you hit the right balance between fidelity to the norms and charity.

I'm fortunate that around here deviations, when they happen, are relatively mild. But they still leave me filled with sadness.

When all those around me are holding hands during the Our Father and I am not, I feel obliged to extend an extra smile at each person during the sign of peace.

The Ironic Catholic said...

No flaming here.

I get tired of the liturgical wars--even as I love good liturgy. In grad school, I used to spend almost every mass deconstructing it liturgically afterward. Geez, that was self-destructive. I'm glad I'm not in that place now--but I still love good liturgy.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

You are right, there must be a certain charity. I always use moments as "teachable" moments, but not during Mass itself, but after Mass, or during my class.

I'd consider myself to be on the traditional side, not radical, just a loyal son of the Church. I try to be charitable, I fail constantly...but it's always worth the effort to do what's right.

Father Cory Sticha said...

Wonderfully said! The worst thing we can ever do is fight over the liturgy during the Mass itself. Before or after, debate and argue all you want, with charity and respect for the other person, but not during the Mass. The Mass is not about ourselves, but about Christ and His Sacrifice on the Cross. When we argue about the rubrics during Mass, we make it about ourselves and how well we're follow the rules. Sounds like the Pharisee who entered the temple saying, "I'm glad I'm not like this sinner."

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Adoro said...

Kurt ~ Thank you for your comment. It makes me sad, too, but I'm with you; extra smiles. I wear a veil at Mass, usually, and because I know that some will perceive me in a certain way, I take care to be extra "bright" when extending Peace.

IC ~ There are a lot of people still doing what you did...any chance you'd want to start a Liturginazis Anonymous apostolate? lol I love good liturgy, too in all the forms.

Joe ~ I think that defines me, too...traditional, but not radical. Trying to find the proper balance and compromising nothing that shouldn't be compromised.

Father ~ Thank said it perfectly and concisly! The sad thing is that people who are pharisitical are doing the exact same thing as the laterally-focused's about them! And I think to some degree we all do that.

Unknown said...

Being "right" especially when one is obnoxiously so, is one of the worst of the sins that fall under the category of "Pride" in the list of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Last Sunday I went to Mass at a parish where I don't "approve" of their new pastor for liturgical reasons. I didn't expect to see him on the altar, but there he was. And he started off with some fancy innovations in the Kyrie.

Well, I went into my "detached critic" mode, one with which I am extremely familiar, and spent much of the rest of the Mass monitoring him.

But when it was all over, I really had nothing else to complain about, as much as I wanted to to justify my prior opinion of this Priest, who celebrated "in persona Christi", especially for me.

I'm now wondering if I should have gone a second time to Mass to fulfill my Sunday obligation.

Anonymous said...

I've tried mightily at times to ignore abuses as they occur in front of me, but I cannot always control my emotions. Let me post a question: At a daily Mass in a basement chapel, the pastor brought his aging dog with him. The dog strolled across the altar during the Mass. He settled next to the lectern during the homily. During the consecration, he settled under the altar -- where the pastor nearly stepped on him when he went to distribute communion. I thought about writing the bishop but didn't. Should I have?


Adoro said...

ML ~ Oh my goodness, I love dogs, but they DON'T belong at Mass!

Truly, the proper thing to do would be to speak to the pastor first (documents in hand if you can), even take someone else with you. If he ignores you...then write to the Bishop.

I would have died if I'd been there!

Warren said...

I think people who take a hard line on the hand-holding and the orans gesture need to remember that it's not a fine balance between orthodoxy and charity, it's both, and wherever speaking up gets in the way of charity, you should choose to be charitable. Similarly, men with strong opinions about whether a woman's outfit is modest or not, should keep it to themselves at mass.

It's not a contest between charity and orthodoxy, and being punctilious about small points of orthodoxy, and by hand-holding and the orans gesture, I mean the very smallest of iotas, is so seldom done in a charitable manner, that I consider it off limits to criticise people.

I do however bristle when people applaud after mass, for the "music team". Lord have mercy. My good natured and can't-everyone-just-get-along side does have its limits.

K Thanks.


Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

No flaming here either! Thank you for this informative post. It has given me a LOT to think about, because I, as all of us, have plenty of room for improvement!

Christine said...

You hit the nail on the head! I struggle with the idea of using a "teachable moment" vs. sounding like a Pharisee. I continue to work on it :)

Melody K said...

Well said about charity, Adoro. As far as holding hands, I pretty much do what the people around me are doing. I prefer not to unless I am with my family. However one way to practically guarantee that no one will try to hold hands with you, is to sneeze juicily into them a few minutes prior to the Our Father.

EC Gefroh said...

Adoro, well written and thanks for writing it. I don't like to hold hands either nor do I think the Orans position should be taken by those of us in the pews. However, if someone offers me their hand, I take it with a smile and then I squeeze it as a sign of friendship after the end of the Our Father. I don't think God would be to pleased if we offended a neighborly gesture just so that we feel pious.

Adoro said...

Warren ~ Well put! Thank you. And I WON'T applaud at Mass for musicians, I can't stand it when Father feels the need to thank me and others for doing what we're supposed to do at our work in the parish, etc. I'd rather keep the praise personal and forego public adoration for glorifying God. (Um, I think you know what I mean...that was badly stated)

Barb ~ We ALL do!

Christine ~ It can be tough, can't it? I think all too often I'm a Pharisee myself. Maybe most of the time.

Melody ~ I've thought about doing that, but at the same time, I've had a person cough into her hand and then IMMEDIATELY extend it to me, and I took it with a smile wondering what the *^%$$ I was doing! But if we were to do that to get out of hand-holding, ie if we're faking it to get out of it, then we're lying. I don't think that can be justified...the ONLY thing we can really do is suck it up and hope for the best!

Esther ~ Exactly! That line between love of God and love of self!

Paul said...

I admit I err toward the Pharisaic side myself. Perhaps it's pride that I can't see, but I feel that liturgical change has to start somewhere; why not me? By refusing to hold hands during the Our Father, I'm not saying I'm better than anyone else; I'm just no longer as ignorant as I once was. And I don't judge my fellow parishioners, but I do wonder how I -- and they -- got to this point of liturgical ignorance.

I too don't like applauding the musicians for doing what they're supposed to do -- and I've been a cantor and a (recovering) "praise and worship" leader!

Adoro said...

Cygnus ~ I understand what you're saying, but unfortunately the Mass isn't the time for it. People are who they are, and the catechesis certainly needs to come from all of us who know better, but we still have to choose our moments. And it would REALLY HELP if wayward priests and "liturgists" had been formed properly or were open to proper formation!

I can tell you how the liturgical ignorance happens because it's how I grew up: People who grew up just fine and decently catechized live in a culture that's goign to the tank. And a new priest is assigned, and says things have changed and gives what seems to be a plausable explanation for what he's doing. And people want to think well of him and be obedient, and he starts slowly. But each "change" is a little more off the rails.

It's the "boiling pot" analogy in action. Been there.

I was a musician and became a cantor and soloist in that very parish. And a Diva.

I don't sing anymore. And don't really think I want to unless I'm hidden. (And to be honest, I don't have the voice I once did, anyway.)

I'll be you and I could trade stories!

Hmm....can you give me advice on how to deal with someone I know who's totally into "praise and worship", someone who is trying to be "conservative" but is really a reluctant "liberal"? (A youth know how that happens....)

owenswain said...

I don't know where my comment went. The first one I left off because it was becoming a post, so, I am probably going to have it land on the revived luminousmiseries blog. The second one where I ended up more or less pouring my heart out even more than the one I decided not to leave here went into the etherland.

In the mean time I was trying to go to bed when I made on more click and found out that, speaking of what we are speaking of here, the founders of LifeTeen have just been excommunicated.

The comment that may become a post places me in my own parish without the convenience of being able to hold hands now for charity's sake as a visitor but where I had to make a decision about what I should do not to teach or instruct others or to bring about change as some kind of liturgical messiah but in terms of what was right and good regarding my own worship and devotion. The Mass is and is not a catechetical setting

In the second unintentionally lost comment I noted how pleased I am to have discovered you again.

Anonymous said...

well written, and I'm glad that
Israel Charity

Michelle said...

For years we attended Mass at a chapel where holding hands was the norm. It grated our nerves, and complicated matters because we had young children who were often on the outside of our group (more kids than adults - sorry, can't put 4 or 5 little ones bunched together and not expect trouble when mom and dad are more than an arm's reach away).

My husband would steel himself at the time of the Our Father, fold his hands and look straight ahead. I often had a baby in my arms which I tried to use as an excuse to avoid holding hands, but often had my neighbor grab my elbow!

But I felt it would be disrespectful for my children (all under the age of 7 at the time) to ignore the outstretched hand of an adult. We neither encouraged nor discouraged anything, and the kids pretty much "did as in Rome." And this was fine. They were too young to understand the nuances (if it's wrong, why should I do it?).

I agree that charity (and respect for others) is vital. If we intend to teach by example, then we must do what is right without noticing the faults of others (no eye contact!!). If we pause in our doing what is right and notice others doing what is wrong, then to continue in the strict behavior is more likely to be viewed as an affront rather than as a good example.

Hope that makes sense.

Holding hands may be wrong, but it's not a mortal sin. And even in couseling others about mortal sin (abortion, living together before marriage), charity is required and is more effective than coldly laying down the law.

Happily, when a new pastor came, I was pleased to hear him devote an entire homily to why holding hands during the Our Father was wrong and basically say it would no longer be tolerated. He was very kind about it, and people who had never known this were truly upset that they had been doing something wrong. There were a few awkward weeks, but we all moved on. Woo hoo, Father Eric!!

Warren said...

Hi Owen,

I'm starting up my blog again too.



owenswain said...

Warren, for the past week or a bit more I have been guessing that this was 'the same Warren' and clicked through to see the blog. As it's been empty I have it in my feed reader. It will be nice to have you back.

You may know but as well as the ongoing art site luminous miseries is back.

Hidden One said...

Today, I came across this on one of the daily quote sites that I monitor:

"No soul was ever directed to God through harshness, severity, and unkindness."

St. John of the Cross

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

This is about as charitable a position that I can give with regards to the P and W musicians:

Paul said...

Hidden: That may be true, but it doesn't mean that one ought never stand up for what's right, or that those who do so are necessarily being uncharitable by doing so.

In other words, charity ought not be an excuse to avoid doing what's right.