Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A thoughtful 'disagreement' and my thoughts in reply

My post, below, about possible changes in the Mass, drew an interesting comment from a parishioner. I found the comment thought-provoking and started writing a response; eventually, I decided it deserved a separate post.

I'm not putting this comment out here to criticize it; others may be more critical than I am, that's up to you. My own response will follow. I'm not "debating" or arguing with what "Anonymous" said--my comments aren't a "rebuttal"--but a "response," which allows for the very likely possibility that Anonymous may agree with, or at least find fruitful, what I say. Or not! S/he can speak for her/himself.

Here's the thing: a lot of folks likely see things as Anonymous does. And there are folks who genuinely advocate just plowing ahead, and folks like Anonymous will have to come around. I've been accused, rightly or wrongly (I think wrongly, but who knows, I could be wrong!), of favoring that approach. In any case, I'm more interested in trying to be reasonable, to discuss the matter, and maybe win folks over, at least somewhat. In any case, I liked this comment, even if I don't see things the same way, and I thought perhaps sharing it, and my response, might be edifying:

What goes around, comes around. I find I am now reacting as those who 40 some years ago reacted negatively to the then changes of the Mass. I found the changes of the past uplifting, freeing and a means to better worship Our Father, Son and Spirit in heaven.

Now, I find myself wanting to keep things as they have been since those changes. I am acting as the naysayers of the past have. I do not want to go back to Latin, to the priest facing away from us, or receiving communion on the tongue.

The most disheartening part of all this for me, is not that the changes are occurring, but that they are happening with a blame on the past changes as being done erroneously.

I believe the Holy Spirit was working in the church then as she is now. I feel for the priests who are stuck in the middle of doing what they are told, even if the parishoners don't agree.

I liked the idea that I was more a part of my church and it's worship, than a mere observer and found that my reverence at and for the Mass was intensified when those long ago changes were made. I am balking at the changes now, because that is something I don't want to lose.

Somewhere, there is a midpoint and that is where I have to believe the Spirit is leading us. Feelings are not wrong, they just are and can't or shouldn't be denied or explored. It is ok to feel the changes are not good for oneself or the church and to speak that opinion. Granted the church is not a democracy where we get a vote in how things should be, but it is not a dictatorship either - or at least I feel it shouldn't be.

God wants us to come to Him, but to come to Him with love, happiness and peace, not with a scorecard of following every directive that comes out of the parish office, the diocesan office, or even the Vatican without thinking. He gave us free will for a reason. He wants the love that we return to Him to come from that free will, not written directives and prohibitions.

The church is important in the formation of the free will, but it is not the only influence that we need to consider. The church has never been and will never be perfect. It is striving to be so, as am I. But, I do not feel I am less in my striving by disagreeing with whether or not I say the word Yahweh or not.

I know I have touched on a lot of sore subjects in our current day church, and I can see a lot of hairs rising on the backs of some necks, but I felt I needed to say them.

I realize that this is your blog, Father, but by putting it out there, you are asking for feedback, and this is all this is. Yes I am a member of your parish and one who proudly graduated the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program of our diocese, and I truly feel for how you have to put up with people like me. But, all I am asking is that you not throw those of us who are having a hard time with the changes under the bus. I do not feel that is your intent, and just ask for your patience as we cope with thigs that are being taken from us without our consent.


I am glad you posted, and I like what you said and the way you presented it; I don't know that we see 100% eye-to-eye, but I don't see that you expect that; I don't.

A few thoughts come to mind, in no particular order, but perhaps it will of interest. I don't offer them as if I'm rebutting you; for all I know, you may largely agree with much of what of this. It's just what came to mind, and I thought I'd share in response:

> My own thinking and response to a lot of these issues has changed quite a bit since I entered the seminary, and since ordination. And that isn't because the seminary persuaded me to see things just as I do; in some ways, my own views have developed in different directions from my seminary training.

That's not a criticism of the seminary; just a detail that may counter any notion that I'm "doing what they tell me" or rigid or unthoughtful about it. (None of which you said; but I know some do say that.)

> There is a certain amount of "conversion" that takes place, and I hope everyone involved is open to that. As I say, I've changed my own views; and--this may surprise you, but--I can't say I "prefer" offering Mass in Latin. There are things about the experience I find very meaningful; and yet it has been difficult. It felt very strange, indeed, the first few times. I had to get past that.

When I began offering a weekday Mass in Latin, it was after people came to me, asking for it. Yes, it was something I thought worth doing; but I waited until it was asked for--and at that point, I think it was justified for that reason alone: if it meets their needs, how can anyone reasonably say, no, refuse them? They didn't make an unreasonable request--I think they should be heard.

Of course, someone may say, but what about those who don't like Latin?

My response would be, that they get their way the vast majority of the time. Of six weekend Masses, three are supposed to "never" have Latin. I put "never" in quotes, because I think I'd be a bit rigid to "forbid" it; and yet in practice, you will almost never hear a word of Latin at 4 pm, 5 pm, and 7 am, some at 9 am, and a little at 10:30 or Noon. The only "Latin" Mass is once a month, on Wednesday morning. And all this sidesteps what Vatican II actually said about including Latin in the Mass--which I'll leave for another day. But Vatican II never sought it's exclusion.

> I hear what you're saying about "blame the past." If my own approach has come across that way, I appreciate the feedback; that's not really my aim.

Let me try this: folks ask, as I'm sure you know, why is this happening? May will say, "but what about Vatican II"--meaning, as I take it, that they are under the impression that these "new" things somehow are contrary to Vatican II.

Well then a clarification is necessary. They are quite right to be concerned if their pastor seems hostile to Vatican II; and insofar as that conclusion is based on incorrect information, then fairness both to the Council, and to me, requires clarification about just what the Council did--and did not--say and do.

Yes, there are those who will explain the implementation of the Council in terms of "blame": you'll hear people say that people with an agenda "hijacked" the Council and took it where they, not the Council, wanted to go.

Well, as a matter of history, that's a fair question to debate. And I understand why some people say that. It may be an uncomfortable topic, and people may approach it with too much heat--but it's a fair question to examine, to see what the facts really bear out.

But what "blame" is being applied, is to bishops, theologians, the pope, etc.--not to the faithful who, after all, were responding to message they heard from the bishops and priests.

When I discuss this with folks, I often realize a nerve is hit: folks who basically are saying, "it was you (the clergy) who told us this; now you're telling me something different!" People listened, people trusted and followed, and I don't blame them if they are puzzled or hurt.

All that said, wouldn't it be unreasonable to expect that the first attempt to carry out the Council should stand unchallenged forever? After all, no one then claimed they were going to do a perfect job of implementing the Council. It would be entirely unreasonable to expect them to get it 100% right, even with the very best of intentions.

So it is only to be expected that at some point, someone will come along and look at what they did, and take a fresh look, and, yes, suggest different things.

To me, that's what's happening now.

Pope Benedict, in his "Spirit of the Liturgy," (written before he was pope), in critiquing the actual carrying-out of the Council and calling for changes, still was very clear in supporting the Council and the need for change. He was there, and part of it; and he was not one of the bitter-enders, on the "losing" side.

Not that you, yourself, are saying this, but: would not be terribly unreasonable for someone to say, that subject is closed, no one can revisit this? I take your reflective comments to acknowledge that that would, indeed, be unreasonable.

In other words, somehow we all must be able to approach this and say, how we celebrate the Mass, in light of Vatican II, cannot be a frozen, closed topic--we have to be open to "new" insights, including those that come from our great Tradition. After all, if there is one thing Vatican II was definitely not about is devaluing or dismissing everything prior. So "old" truths are at least as valuable as "new" ones, I think.

> You asked that I be patient. I agree, and I am trying. I'm trying to go slow. But here's the wrinkle; if bigger changes are really coming down the pike, I'm not necessarily doing our parishes a favor by a holding pattern. On the contrary, if and when they come, they will seem even more shocking than they will seem, if I've prepared the way.

> By the way, I don't feel I'm "putting up" with you or folks like you. Since you're anonymous, I can only react to what you wrote here--which I liked, even if I have a different view. Your approach is encouraging, not frustrating. What has been frustrating, even "agonizing," as I said in my original post, is when there seems to be no compromise, no flexibility possible.

Example: I've had people who said I was wrong even to offer a weekday Mass in Latin, for those who requested it. One person was so angry as to be insulting to me about it. Puzzling! I've had people say, very angrily, that Latin must never, ever be used in Mass; and I'm told some left the parish over that.

That is agonizing, because I'm left wondering, what "middle ground" is possible? Those who react negatively to Latin--without finding fault, isn't it fair to ask, should they have a veto? Others like it and find it edifying; don't their wishes count too? And words like "demand" and "never" don't help, it seems to me.

Meanwhile, the larger question remains: the Church is trying to be faithful to the Mass, to our Tradition--and we believe the Holy Spirit has spoken through all that, the entire tradition, including Vatican II. So Pope Benedict and the bishops are looking, reflecting, and adjusting; and when it filters down to the parish, it shows up in the sorts of changes you refer to.

So what do we do?

Well, that's enough for now, I have to go lead the Bible Study! But you got me thinking, Anonymous, and I appreciate it!


skeeton said...

Dear Anonymous,
You are to be commended for the way you have brought forward your concerns, in a very heartfelt, genuine and respectful manner. Liturgical discussions have a way of surfacing intense emotions from all involved. One thing you said really resonated with me, “that it is okay to feel the changes are not good for oneself or the Church and to speak that opinion.” Do not apologize or feel guilty for your concerns and trepidations. In bringing your perspective forward, you allow Fr. Fox the opportunity to help you!

I would encourage you not to look at these upcoming changes as though the Church is casting blame on those who came before us. While I might personally disagree with many of the innovations that have occurred in the past four decades – turning the altar around, communion in the hand, little to no Latin, little to no chant – I believe that those who changed the liturgy did so with the best of intentions. And I do not believe that the Church has a vindictive motive in its reevaluation of the implementation of the Council. With forty years of experience and accumulated hindsight, it would be grossly negligent if the Church did not take the time reevaluate recent liturgical history. In this current task, the Church is merely carrying out her highest duty, which is the care and salvation of souls.

Whatever one’s personal opinions on past changes, it is obvious that two things have happened in their wake: 1) the liturgy was desacralized with so much experimentation, and 2) unintended consequences have resulted, chief among them is a decreased belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament. There is an old maxim that speaks to this situation – lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi – which is loosely translated as the law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of life. In other words, the way we pray informs the things we believe, and the things we believe inform the way we live. In the wake of the Council, it is undeniable that our belief has suffered, and consequently, the life of modern man is a shambles. To address this, the Church is focusing on the way we pray, with the ultimate goal of towing humanity away from the abyss. The life of modern man is one focused on short-term needs and desires of the flesh with no thought of eternity. In re-rooting the world in adoration and reverence (and mystery!) during our prayerful worship, the Church hopes to bolster our beliefs, which will ultimately change the way we live. Save the liturgy, save the world.

It is beyond tragic that there are factions within the Church who find sources of division in the liturgy. That should never be! The Eucharist should be a source of unity for Catholics not division. As a convert of some 8+ years, I have come a long way in my praxis and belief since my time as an uninformed Episcopalian. Today, I have no trouble stating out loud that I believe the Church has divine authority, and as such, I believe She has the right to pronounce on doctrine and to set methods of discipline for the building up of the Body of Christ. Try as I might to live as the Church intends, I do fall short like everyone else, but that does not stop me from aiming for the ideal. Whether it involves matters of liturgy or personal morality, I want to do what the Church teaches – nothing more, nothing less – and I struggle to understand the Church’s ideas. For all those who have trouble understanding the ‘why’ for this or that change, I would only wish that they would earnestly seek to know what the Church wants and learn to sentire cum Ecclesia – think with the Church! You seem to have an earnest desire to understand, Anonymous, and for that, you deserve my respect and admiration.

At the outset, I said that it was important for us to voice our feelings, and I truly do believe that is true – but only insofar as our feelings can be identified, understood and summarily cast aside. Worship of God has nothing to do with how we feel and everything to do with sacrificing ourselves for the salvation of the world.

Father Gregory said...

Is it not strange that anyone who wants to be a practicing Jew has to learn Hebrew? And equally so, someone who wants to be a devout Muslim has to learn Arabic? That converts to the Greek Orthodox Church should learn Greek? But members of the Latin rite of the Church want nothing to do with their linguistic heritage? Do they believe that having absolutely no knowledge of Latin will make them better Latin Rite Catholics? I am perplexed.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Hey Anonymous!

nice slipping that 'Holy Spirit is a 'she' in.

I disagree.

>>When I discuss this with folks, I often realize a nerve is hit: folks who basically are saying, "it was you (the clergy) who told us this; now you're telling me something different!" People listened, people trusted and followed, and I don't blame them if they are puzzled or hurt.

Father, almost all the changes introduced have been 'clericalism'. If priests are now unwilling to follow the Holy Father and re-instill reverence then maybe LifeTeen and some of the other lay organizations who have been betrayed so badly by clergy, will.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it’s because I’m a convert, maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of conflict, or maybe it’s because I’m just plain stuffy, but these exchanges always make me wince. Those resisting the current “reform of the reform” bring up the use of Latin, the “priest facing away from us”, and the norms for the reception of communion as the things they don’t want to see “regress into the old ways,” as if the Church and Catholics in general were somehow walking around in some blind, legalistic, sheep-like stupor before the great liberation that was Vatican II. I pray that these arguments are not as self-absorbed as they sometimes appear, and that time, prayer, and gentle catechesis will bring us to the unity that our Lord prayed for on our behalf.

>>Latin was adopted as the official language of the church precisely because it was NOT in common use. Because it was predominantly used among scholars and statesmen for official business, it was not subject to abuse, the development of slang, and the natural evolution of words and their meanings that occurs in vernacular speech. Also, it is a common thread among all Roman Catholics. Wherever you go in the world, there is power, unity, and comfort in hearing “Ecce Agnus Dei” when a consecrated host is raised above an altar and all present, regardless of their “mother tongue,” can recognize and acknowledge one Lord, one Faith, one Body in one voice: “Miserere nobis!”

>>The priest is expected to lead us into the “holy of holies” at Mass. By facing the tabernacle and the crucifix during consecration, his attention is directed precisely where ours should be. At that point in the mass, he is not speaking to the assembly, but to God on behalf of the assembly. For him to deliver a homily or blessing ad orientum makes little sense, but to deliver a Eucharistic prayer versus populi makes equally little sense, does it not?

>>I grew up in a denomination that believed that Communion was a symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper, not a sacramental act invoking the True Presence of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. I heard someone say once, scoffing at Catholics and their legalistic hypocrisy, “if I believed what they claim to believe about communion, I’d crawl down that aisle on my belly.” That comment stung me, and I’ve never forgotten it. I understand that we can “come boldly before the throne of grace,” but brazenly? How discouraging to see people approaching the altar to receive communion, chewing gum, whispering, looking around nonchalantly, as though they were in line for juice and cookies! There is no sin in reverence, and there is no fault in reverence that is visible. On our tongues, on our knees, and (women) with our heads covered, however we discipline ourselves, we should ALWAYS bear witness to the central, fundamental, defining truth of our faith: Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Body and blood, soul and divinity, he is TRULY present.

>>The Mass we celebrate is not something novel or arbitrarily collected. It is not even, in its origin, Christian. The Mass we celebrate comes to us from the covenant of redemption given to the Hebrews and fulfilled in Christ. It is eternally celebrated in Heaven, and we are permitted to enter into it by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ, our eternal High Priest and mediator before the throne of God. It is not intended to be brought to our level and made subject to our desires, but rather to elevate us into the incontrovertible reality that is Christ.

--SM Parishioner

Rich Leonardi said...

SM Parishioner summed up the situation rather well. I'll add that context is important here. For forty years, Cincinnati has been ground zero in the culture of dissent that took root in the Church in the confused aftermath of the Council. Catholics like anonymous were told that every abuse of the liturgy and every novel practice which contradicted conciliar documents themselves were works of the Spirit that would roll back a benighted age. And while other dioceses are busy reestablishing connections with the Church's liturgical patrimony and implementing things like chant restoring Latin per the express will of Council fathers, Cincinnati by and large is stuck in '78. So on a certain level, I can understand why she feels the way she does. But at some point, one ought to take responsibility for his or her own catechesis. Goodness knows there are resources available.

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I, for one, am glad that the Church is moving toward a more vertical orientation in the Mass. I found it disturbing to see a presider playing "show and tell" with the Eucharistic species during the holiest prayer of the Mass. I found it equally disturbing that the penitential demeanor of the classic Mass was replaced by an "I'm o.k. You're o.k." perspective.

As for avoiding conflict altogether, I find that dishonest, and I would note that there are plenty of examples in the Gospels where Jesus is confrontational for the purpose of exposing hypocrisy and upholding the truth.