What might be considered an interpretive key for this Sunday’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the Temple to pray (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C) could easily be found in the words of the First Reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus: “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds…” Even with his head bowed, the tax collector is praying vertically, his point of departure is the given of his own unworthiness, whereas the Pharisee is involved in a rather horizontal and discursive exercise, which includes God if you will, but really goes nowhere, least of all to God.
These same words “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds…” enabled me finally today to sort through a whole series of articles I have read of late and of issues I have been facing concerning my duty (and I think I have a duty in this regard) to contribute to the cause of the Benedictine Liturgical Reform happily under way in the Church. Sometimes waiting and calm are the very best approach as, for instance, I am hopeful of an opportunity very soon of doing something to encourage chanting the Mass propers and rolling back the “joyful noise” of the too many songs which have made our worship hectic. My coming to perceive the urgency of doing something I gladly attribute to daily celebration ad Orientem for a year and almost three months. Thanks to ad Orientem worship, for example, I think I was finally able to articulate for myself what is wrong with all of the rushing to get those hymns going, two and maybe even three now at Communion time.
The issue however is one of knowing the extent to which my experience obliges me to more than barking out “Try it you’ll like it!” Not long ago, I read a very scientific study rooting much of the liturgical abuse of the last decades, as well as that which we sadly encounter yet today, in a psychiatric condition referred to clinically as narcissism. My struggle however cannot be with the puppet masters and the impenitent perpetrators of clown masses. Such pathology needs to be banished without explanation. Even the wedge driven into worship by so-called liturgical dance is an intrusion which has no place and deserves no discussion or analysis. As innocuous as theY might be, children’s skits and plays should also be shown to the church doors. Don’t forget, Everyman and sundry mediaeval morality plays always took place on the front steps of the Salzburg Cathedral and not inside. Worship of the living God is not and cannot be “something for everyone…”
My struggle in a sense is to move the discourse ahead with people of good will. Try as I might to convince myself that it is not a question of winning or losing, however, when I saw pictures of the newly renovated Cathedral in Orlando, Florida, which will be rededicated next month, all I could see was an opportunity lost as the bishop’s chair gets centered in the apse and lectern and altar are below and on the same level. The model may be classic Ravenna, but not really. It’s 20th Century discursive. Nonetheless, I am not ready to go over to a militant stance and criticize what is clearly within the norm.
The other day, I read a lecture entitled “The Old Roman Missal: Loss and Rediscovery” delivered recently at a conference in Sri Lanka by Martin Mosebach. Despite the issues I have with men like Mosebach, who get carried about on other people’s shoulders and pushed ahead of them into “battle”, simply because of the facility with which they wield the pen, he always has some things to say which are very right. In this lecture he incisively speaks of the “etiquette of devotion” which formerly existed, especially as regards touching sacred objects (I think of chalices in particular, which we as altar boys dared not touch). The loss of this etiquette was a great cause for scandal. Even yet today, I can picture a man who happily used to receive Communion on the tongue until he was lambasted by a priest over the contagion of swine flu and his irresponsibility in putting that priest at risk of contact with his tongue. He was genuinely scandalized by the inference made, changed his ways to hand reception, but does so with the awkwardness of an adolescent. How do you turn back the “scandal clock” by edict?
Though the changes, especially those not foreseen either by the Second Vatican Council or by the rubrics in the published liturgical books, were imposed in doctrinaire fashion, I really believe that the Holy Father’s approach of opening discourse and not mandating them back is and will be salutary. Although I’d love to see some conversions to ad Orientem worship among my contemporaries, it may just be that we have to wait for a generation change, which will come soon enough. Mosebach is wrong about blaming liturgical abuse and discursive worship for the advance of secularization and all the defections from the Church. The one hour on Sunday morning would not have saved a world, which abandoned that hour for lack of catechism. Sunday morning does not offer an antidote to the lost silence within the home (read TV, computer and just plain sound) and a younger generation of parents who stopped kneeling down with their children by their beds to say good night to Jesus.
As much as I admire him, I cannot identify with the strident though eloquent tones of Father George Rutler “The Liturgical Experts’ Long Tassels” (see First Things of 27 August 2010). My Catholic experience of near total ignorance of the King James Bible leaves me more amenable to the Jerusalem Bible or Revised Standard Catholic Edition. The new English translation of the Missal to come into effect a year from this Advent gives hope, that is, if it too is not betrayed by the discursive.
“The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds, until it arrives he is inconsolable, nor will he desist until the Most High takes notice of him, acquits the virtuous and delivers judgment. And the Lord will not be slow, nor will he be dilatory on their behalf.”
My “tin ear” draws hope from such words as they challenge me, head down together with the tax collector, to put things in the Lord’s hands and dismiss the discursive approach as a Pharisee’s pitfall.
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI