Saturday, November 17, 2007

"That They May Be One"

My title is the phrase which Jesus prayed, for unity among the believers who would come after his disciples, as found in Luke 17, verse 22.

Specifically, he prayed that the unity of the next generations of Christians would be as intimate and as deep and as authentic as the unity between his very self and God the Father.

So when I hear other Christians say, "Sure, we disagree on some stuff, but we agree on the core fundamentals of our faith, and that's good enough."

Really? REALLY? Do you think the Father and the Son agree on a few key fundamentals of how life and universe matter but disagree on some of the more petty things? Of course not; when it comes to Truth - and God is Truth - there are no petty things. All Truth, whether a tiny morsel of it or a seven course dinner, is Truth, and it is complete and absolute and cannot be divided from itself any more than we can divide the persons of the Trinity.

So it's quite obvious that in claiming that we can abide the "petty" differences between the churches (and I'm talking about doctrine and matters of faith & belief, as opposed to matters of style) that we are only making an excuse not to examine the merits of all sides in this debate. If you are a Protestant reading this and have never even considered the possibility of becoming Catholic, I invite you to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you through a discernment of opening your heart to it. Seriously.

This train of thought was chugged into motion when I read a fabulous article by Damian Thompson in merry old England's Telegraph online (and a tip o' the hat to my buddy Darwin for sending it my way). Seems that Pope Benedict is really shaking things up with his vision for liturgical reform in the Church. He's making a lot of the right people get very nervous.

For example, in July of this year he issued an apostolic letter, Summorum Pontificum, authorizing the use of the Latin Mass without having to obtain special permission from the local bishop. Note that the link provided above is to an unofficial, yet trusted, English translation, as apparently some wag in the Vatican thought it would be ironic to have the official document available in Latin only.

Winnipeg own Archbishop James Weisgerber almost immediately produced some thoughts on the letter, and he published them in the diocese's monthly newsletter in October. It's pictured here should you feel so inclined to read it in its entirety (click it to make it larger).

I first met his grace a few years back when I made some light inquiries into becoming a Catholic deacon (still not done discerning that, and it's quite far down on my priority list of important things to discern), and on every occasion that he's encountered me after that meeting, he has always remembered my name (which I suppose is easy, as it's his too) and that I'm a fellow son of Saskatchewan. I've heard him deliver some excellent homilies, and have witnessed him involve himself deeply with the Catholic youth of the city. As well, he never ends a sentence with a preposition, something I've always admired him for for which I've always admired him.

But I gotta tell ya, after I read this piece I felt a little queasy. He's essentially saying that we don't need to implement the Latin Mass here because there is no interest in it. Repeat after me... there is no interest. Keep your eye on the pocket watch, now, and say it again... there is no interest. Noooobody wants it..... shhhh.....

In retort, I refer to Damian Thompson's article. He says that Benedict has a "conviction that the Catholic Church must rediscover the liturgical treasure of Christian history to perform its most important task: worshiping God. This conviction is shared by growing numbers of young Catholics, but not by the church politicians who have dominated the hierarchies of Europe for too long."

So for Archbishop Weisgerber to claim that "there is little evidence of a 'strong attachment' and there are no stable communities with a continued experience of celebrating the Tridentine rite" misses out on the possibility that this new generation of Catholics is really wondering what the Latin liturgy is like. I've never been to a Latin Mass, but I constantly hear hushed reminiscences from the old guard of what it was like; quiet, reverent, profound, larger than life itself, full of spirit and mystery. The bishop says "our Sunday worship reflects who we are," but how can we possibly have it reflect us as a Latin-loving people if we are denied the opportunity to love it?

He may be right though, about not being able to sustain a genuine interest among the laity in a regular Latin liturgy in the archdiocese. But I would suggest that this is not due to a lack of appetite on the part of the faithful, but rather to discouraging messages like this one that encourage us to rely on the force-fed, reconstituted liturgical baby food we've known for the last forty years. Far too many of our priests give up on us far too easily, and we really need them to step up and make us feel uncomfortable until we listen to them.

Archbishop Weisgerber goes on to state:

I believe that the desire of some to return to the Tridentine Mass expresses a deep discontent with aspects of contemporary celebrations fo the Eucharist. Some people rightly long for a more reverent celebration, one that focuses on God's presence. Others remember the wonderful choirs, moving music, greater periods of reverent silence. Those are important aspects of our worship, elements which we are trying to recapture with our liturgical renewal. As you know, liturgical renewal is our Archdiocesan priority for 2006 to 2008.

It's obvious that for some reason he doesn't want to see the Tridentine liturgy make a comeback, and wants to supplant it with this liturgical renewal. It has, however, produced not a heck of a lot. True, the time line planned for the renewal is not yet complete, but in reviewing the archdiocesan website on its progress, I can find scarce little other than commentaries on the symbolic references inherent to each part of the Mass. For example, this snippet on the importance of the opening Procession:

Each Eucharistic celebration begins with procession. The movement from our homes to our church, down the aisle to the Eucharistic table. The procession is never simply about moving from one place to another but is a profession of who we are and ultimately where we are headed. Each procession reveals who we are as church. Looking at the procession reveals who is part of this community and who is included in the journey. The procession tells us something about our destiny, the Kingdom of Heaven . The joy, the music and the dance anticipate what heaven is all about. Each Sunday we are called to join in the Great Procession of God’s People who make their way from lives of individuality to lives of community. As each person joins in the perpetual movement of the Church’s procession, our lives and our world are transformed by the vision of heaven.

I see no renewal here. All I see is a documentary, and a poorly made one at that. What's this about joy in the procession? Music? Dance? This Sunday at Mass, look around during the Procession and try to find joy. How many smiles do you see? How many people still have their jackets on so they can save precious seconds on their way out of Mass when it's finally over?

What I expect in a renewal is a real call to change the way we worship. I want to walk away from a discussion on renewal with some practical things to do differently, not some clever insights. Is our bishop really calling us to dance up the aisle with the procession? Does he really perceive joy on the faces of his own parishioners at the Cathedral? Is God the object of the musical lyrics, or does the music reek of recycled feel-goodisms from the 60's?

We've got something precious in our Catholic tradition, folks. I don't fully understand what it is, as my time in the Church is far outweighed by the duration of the Latin suppression, but I know that there is something deeper there which churned out saints and martyrs for us in all ages past but doesn't quite resonate with us today.

The real corker here, as Thompson writes, is that about 400,000 Anglicans in the British Commonwealth and America are so upset with their own church's trailblazing into Hell that they have done the prodigal son thing and are asking if they can move back in with us.

Bring 'em back, I says. That we may be one. And let's make it a place they'll be delighted to rejoin.

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