Monday, November 8, 2010

A reflection on Liturgy celebrated "ad orientem"

A reflection on ad Orientem worship published by a very articulate parish priest stirred some thoughts about what I firmly believe to be the heart of the worship crisis in the Catholic Church  today, namely the confidence issue (the confidence of parishioners in the liturgical leadership of their parish priest) which stems from the more profound issue of a general disspiritedness or demoralization of the people in the pews brought on by the logic of caprice which has characterized the way we have worshiped for over 40 years. How do you convince people that Father is not making it up as he goes along even when he opts for ad Orientem worship or chant instead of hymns, given the "stuff" to which now grandparents, parents and children have been subjected over four decades. I can remember as a boy serving Mass when the first temporary altar suddenly appeared front and center in our cathedral, plywood finished in aquamarine (turquoise?) Formica right on top of the Persian rug upon which generations of men to be ordained had prostrated themselves during the litany of the saints. Was it not caprice when a priest, now long dead, opened a grave at the cemetery of his little country parish and smashed into that grave all the pretty plaster statues along with the decorative stucco of the high altar he tore out of a once pretty little church now stripped bare and white-washed? Who can you trust?

There are some descriptive elements in Father's reflection that deserve the largest possible diffusion. His outline of the basic rubrics to be followed by the priest celebrating Mass is particularly well done. Take a look at the article and the comments! Reverend Know-it-all: A reflection on Liturgy celebrated "ad orientem"

 Even so, Father is a captive of this logic of caprice. It seems from his post that he also has parishioners who bristle and hunch their backs at a change to ad Orientem worship suspecting that it comes by order of the Holy Father; if that be so well we really are in a mess! I don't necessarily think that Father was wrong to stop at the back of church after Mass and say, "Well, what do you think?", but he is bending to the same logic which has Californians processing in with dancers and giant puppets... caprice! It's all made up, isn't it? Where is God? What does He have to do with the dictates of a liturgy committee, or a willful little musical combo that likes to stand up front and direct or a most engaging priest who commands our attention and draws the focus toward himself.

How can a reform of the liturgical reform take place if people can't sort out the rightness of something from a simple predilection for lace and gold brocade? Were the burlap banners wrong?

At home last summer, I watched The Journey Home on EWTN one Monday evening, where the guest who described his journey to Catholicism had come from a Protestant church where he himself was pastor. When he entered the Catholic Church he brought most of his parish with him. During his own discernment process, he was moved at a certain point to share the faith experience he was preparing to embrace with his parishioners. He did it outside their Sunday worship time; he did it sincerely by making himself available to them. Not all appreciated his discovery of what he perceived to be the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church. It should come as no surprise that the same might occur when the parish priest discovers the sublimity of a liturgical experience in conformity with the rubrics which have always been there and in continuity with the worship experience of the past.

How do you take the caprice out of my choice of a worship experience not plinka-plinked along "on Eagle's wings" or without a "gather us in... all are welcome in this place"? If you have the credentials, there should be no worry; some may object, but those who walk away will be few and perhaps good riddance. Especially if they had been lording it over their fellow parishioners Sunday after Sunday.

St. Paul in his letter to Titus gives the criteria for the selection of elders to lead each community. He sums up by saying: "... and he must have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition, so that he can be counted on for both expounding the sound doctrine and refuting those who argue against it."

Father seems to me to be grandstanding a bit when he regrets the consoling experience of once having worshiped ad Orientem as the rubrics provide. Most men and women of good will would eagerly trade the caprice which has left them far from the sublimity of worship in spirit and in truth. They're just looking for that elder chosen according to the criteria Paul gave Titus for choosing the kind of leaders the Church needs to carry out its mission.

1 comment:

Lux Veritatis said...

Bonne réflection... une qui m'avait été partagé il y a bien bien des années par ma mère. Il me semble que cela va de soit. Je me souviens d'une personne qui me disait (car je ne peux me souvenir de cette époque): 'Chaque Dimanche il y avait quelque chose de nouveau et tout allait si vite. On en savait pas d'un dimanche à l'autre ce qui arriverait'... Eh oui, le caprice est au centre du problème et non pas seulement le problème liturgique. Plus d'une fois j'ai entendu, avant de me faire prêtre: 'Moi, je n'ai pas confiance aux prêtres' !