Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Go to Mass, We Experience the "New" Liturgy, We Leave Shaking Our Heads

And speaking of the "new" liturgical translations (I just did so in my posting about Michael Iafrate's music): as I've just said, Steve and I went to the Christmas vigil Mass with our friend Richard.  We went to the old cathedral, St. Mary's, in Chinatown in San Francisco.  When I last blogged about our highly selective and sporadic liturgy-attending experiences in the past year, we had gone to Mass with Steve's aunts as we took them on a trip to visit relatives around Minnesota.

At that point, the liturgical changes mandated by Rome were just coming down the pike, and as my posting in September notes, the liturgical director of the parish in Minnesota was preparing parishioners for the coming changes with statements about how the changes would serve the unity of the church, and how, because unity demands it, we are henceforth to kneel during the Agnus Dei.  The liturgical changes are now in full force, and this Christmas eve liturgy was the first time we've experienced them in full force.

To say that we were underwhelmed would be an understatement.  The whole thing struck us as a mess, frankly.  In Minnesota, we're told we must kneel--now!--during the Agnus Dei, since the unity of the church hinges on that act of kneeling.  In San Francisco, no one knelt during the Agnus Dei and no one told us to kneel.  And the church's unity somehow seemed to survive this infraction, though Minnesota seems not to be speaking to California or vice versa.

At the Christmas vigil liturgy, people did thus and so.  And people did this and that.  People were out of unison.  People were confused.  Many of us continued muttering the "old" language under our breath.  I always mutter, so this wasn't new to me: I have long muttered "and became human" when the creed proclaims that Jesus became "man" for our sake.  

Though I believe the "new" liturgical revisions want to eradicate the definitely non-mandated (non-mandated by Rome) practice of holding hands and then raising joined hands during the Our Father, at the parish in Minnesota in September, the entire parish locked hands and raised them for the Our Father.  In San Francisco, however, only some 10% of the parishioners did this, I'd estimate--including one family with small children a few pews ahead of us who had a certain air of defiance as they chose to pray like early Christian orantes at this point in the liturgy.  

(A confession: I've never really cottoned to the hand-holding and hand-raising, though it may well mean different things to different people, and my reasons for finding it uncomfortable are rooted in its history, insofar as I can recall that history.  I can remember quite specifically when it began to seep into mainstream Catholic parish liturgies in the 1970s.  It did so from the charismatic renewal.  And as I began in those years to recognize the extent to which the charismatic renewal was a politically and theologically reactionary movement, I began to be increasingly irritated by the effusive look-at-me quality of the hand-holding and hand-raising.

Though I do have to admit, it's a bit amusing to see the dilemma right-wing church officials are now in, as they try to impose right-wing liturgical changes demanded solely by Catholics of the far right wing while stamping out one of the few people-driven liturgical practices of the post-Vatican II church--which also has its roots in reactionary right-wing elements of Catholicism . . . .)

Above all, the new pro multis bit in the liturgy took me aback when I heard it proclaimed.  It's one thing to read about it, but another thing altogether to hear the liturgy say that the blood of Jesus was shed "for many" when it previously said "for all."  

This liturgical change above all encapsulates the liturgical reform of the reform for me, and it hit me with a force that made my heart heavy when I heard it for the first time on Christmas eve.  I cannot help finding it mean-spirited in its intent, and downright theologically inaccurate.  It's theologically inaccurate because, in rendering the Latin literally, it misses the inclusive intent of the Latin phrase--which is not about limiting the scope of Christ's salvation, but is about emphasizing the unrestricted universality of the salvific love offered by Christ.  In a way analogous to the book of Revelation's use of the number 144,000 (12 x 12), which is intended to emphasize that God desires the salvation of all, of the twelve tribes of Israel reduplicated: completion doubled over on itself to symbolize absolute completion . . . . 

It's also theologically inaccurate in that it implicitly limits the scope of Christ's salvation, when the sound and longstanding tradition of the church has been that Christ died for all.  And that in Christ, God seeks to bring the whole cosmos into God's loving embrace.

The use of pro multis in the "new" liturgy is designed--or so it seems to me, and so it struck me in the Christmas vigil liturgy--to emphasize that the church of the reformed reform does not welcome everyone.  And does not intend to welcome everyone.

That there are now ever more stringent liturgical, credal, and moral (and even political) tests in place to determine who may or may not come to the table.  Some of those tests have always been in effect, of course.  Catholics have long been carefully taught that they should not receive communion when they're in a state of sin or out of union with the church.

But the thrust of liturgy previously has been to invite and not to turn away, to leave the determination of worthiness to approach the Lord and his table up to the individual and her confessor.  Not to build into the liturgical proclamations semantic reminders (tantamount to roadblocks) that only the worthy are to approach the table.

How could I help hearing the pro multis at the Christmas eve liturgy with the ears of a gay Catholic who has deliberately been made unwelcome by his church?  And as I heard the phrase, how could I avoid thinking of the remark of the past-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shortly before Christmas that gays are equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan and have made the bishops their enemy (a remark which suggests, inversely, that the bishops regard the gays as their enemy)?

Nor could I help thinking of the decision of the pastoral officials of the diocese of San Francisco before Christmas to disinvite gay-supportive speakers slated for Advent presentations in a largely gay parish in this city.  As I said a day or so ago, I have already heard of a number of members of this parish who have now distanced themselves from the parish (and, in some cases, from the church) as a result of this action.  And a cousin of Steve's who attends the parish and his partner told us yesterday that the attendance at the parish's midnight Mass this Christmas was, in fact, noticeably down from the attendance in previous years.

Tell people that they're not welcome, and they will get the message.

I was struck, too, at the Christmas vigil by the number of non-mandated paraliturgical practices that have now become well-nigh universal in Catholic parishes as people receive communion.  People swoop and bow, genuflect and cross themselves multiple times in multiple places, with little halts and head gesticulations following the reception of the Eucharist--as though each added flourish demonstrates real faith in the Real Presence, while other, less devout Catholics no longer recognize the Real Presence.

At least no one threw herself or himself on the floor in front of the officiating priest as he offered communion, as Steve's aunts tell us one of his sisters now does in the most showy way possible, her heavy mantilla floating to the ground about her head as she prostrates herself.  Several folks, however--and these were all younger Catholics of the JPII generation--seemed to find it necessary to interrupt the flow of the communion-distributing process by making deep bows and several signs of the Cross, followed by stops to bow all over again in the direction of the altar after they'd received communion. 

It was a mess, and a dispiriting one.

(A confession: I don't get--have never gotten--all the bows, prostrations, swoops, head dips, Cross signing.  And, again, I have a specific historical memory of when all this nonsense got underway.  It began when the unofficial Mother Superior of the USCCB, Mother Angelica of EWTN, got it into her head--on the basis of no compelling evidence I've ever seen--that American Catholics were ditching belief in the Real Presence after Vatican II.  And that really faithful Catholics needed to retaliate by adding various flourishes like deep bows and prostrations and multiple signs of the Cross to the liturgy as they went to communion.  And that really faithful Catholics needed to demand a return of around-the-clock eucharistic adoration in every parish in the nation.  [I'm not against eucharistic adoration at any and all hours.  What concerns me is the false context--the claim that American Catholics have abandoned belief in the Real Presence, which is counterfactual--in which this movement is embedded in its historical origins after Vatican II.]  

And I find all the additional paraliturgical gestures at communion time frankly more centered on my presence at the center of the stage than on the Jesus whom I'm receiving into my inmost being as I go to communion.  There's also, frankly, a distasteful and divisive implication on the part of those practicing these flourishes that they have a stronger faith in the Real Presence than that held by their weaker-souled brothers and sisters.  I tend to think that if we're really absorbed in the eucharistic presence of Christ, we are so gathered into that presence that all these look-at-me-at-center-stage frills and furbelows just oughtn't to come into our heads, since they distract us from that overwhelming presence of the Lord.)

A mess, and a dispiriting one.  That's where the Catholic church now seems to me more and more to live and move and have its being, when I drop in now and again from my marginal space as an alienated Catholic.

And a sad mess for the following reason: there's a patent goodness and holiness among so many lay Catholics who are sitting in silence through all the clerically mandated nonsense, but whom the clerical elite of the church has made voiceless and powerless.  There's spiritual power and profound creativity--and the Real Presence of Christ--among the people of God, on which the clerical elite never wants to draw as it pulls yet another gaudy bauble out of its bag of cheap tricks to keep the people of God bedazzled and confused.

There's a sinful refusal at the heart of the Catholic church, in its central leadership structures, to employ--even to recognize--the manifold gifts of the Spirit among the people of God, even as the church's leaders pull the church down around their ears.  And that's sad and dispiriting in the extreme.

The graphic is a picture of the "Pro Multis" pin distributed by the Society for Traditional Roman Catholics, whose "Ask the Fathers" page at its website states, "The Fathers are often asked for a recommendation about the best traditional Catholic periodical for traditional Catholics to subscribe to. There is no question in our minds about the answer to that question: it is Catholic Voice, published by the Society of Traditional Roman Catholics (STRC), a lay organization perhaps best known for its campaign against the Novus Ordo Protestant-Masonic-Pagan service by means of its Pro Multis pins and stickers (the Pro Multis reference is to the change in the Novus Ordo service from the valid Apostolic form of Consecration)."

The STRC homepage adds a further explanation of the Pro Multis pin's significance: "[T]he Pro Multis pin is a unique symbol of the Traditional Movement of the Roman Catholic Church. Created by one of the STRC Board members in 1992 as a small lapel pin, it has served as a visible expression to all who meet you that you are a traditional Roman Catholic and that you are gravely concerned with the changes made to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Most especially is this concern raised regarding the invalidating changes made to the form of the Consecration of the wine where the words of Jesus Christ — that His Blood was shed for ;the many' (pro multis) who would profit by the fruit of His Sacrifice (as the Council of Trent teaches) — were wrongfully changed to 'for all' to express a wrong intention about the fruit of this Sacrifice and to support the teachings of false ecumenism."

No comments: