DPPL 52: Don’t Dumb It Down

STA altar at night smallIn a phrase, don’t dumb down the liturgy:

52. The laudable idea of making Christian worship more accessible to contemporary (people), especially to those insufficiently catechized, should not lead to either a theoretical or practical underestimation of the primary and fundamental expression of liturgical worship, notwithstanding the acknowledged difficulties arising from specific cultures in assimilating certain elements and structures of the Liturgy. In some instances, rather than seeking to resolve such difficulties with patience and farsightedness, recourse is sometimes made to simplistic solutions.

In addition to patience and farsightedness, it’s also a matter of faith, that the liturgy can do the work it is designed to do. The best option is always to do the liturgy well. This is some of the best advice in this document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, which is online at the Vatican site.

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It was a St Blog’s meme of the last decade: the fretting when a gospel about a miraculous feeding appeared in the Sunday Lectionary. What if, my blogging colleagues mused, the preacher spoke of the “miracle of sharing” instead of Jesus actually fabricating bread and fish from scraps? I wondered how frequent that feared homily actually was. I think I might have heard it twice in forty-five years of churchgoing. And since I’ve heard it preached so many other ways, it was never a concern to me that I might hear of a third miracle of sharing.

Now I know how people felt about that. I read Msgr Pope’s homily for this past weekend. My colleague preached about the importance of correction from this weekend’s gospel, too. Audio in two parts here. Not quite the same, but close enough that I thought I was getting a rehash Saturday night.

Sunday readings for the 23rd Ordinary Week are here. Ezekiel is characteristically blunt. Jesus seems to offer two nuances. First, it is a question when another believer sins against me. Not somebody else. Not some vague sense of blanket harm to elder sibling sensibility:

If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

That means not blogging about it. Not grumbling to a spouse or roommate. It also means a sin. Not leaving the milk out on the counter. Not leaving a toothbrush in the sink. It means real harm, real sin.

I was thinking Cardinal George somewhat overstates the case here:

In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.

So often it seems it boils down to sex. Housing and financial scandals did far more harm to my family than the same-sex couple in my neighborhood. My wife and I maintain a strong marriage. But bankruptcy and financial strain often put our good mood to the test here and there. If Cardinal George has taken one extended vacation since 2007, he’s got me beat. The most I’ve been able to afford is a weekend away every other year.

Cardinal George talks about no high places for lay people in society, in government or entertainment or academics. Is that what we’re all about, really? Sounds like another variant of Cardinal Dolan, that having friends in high places is an important reportable aspect of being a prince of the Church. A clue here: most laypeople do not aspire to celebrity. And often the reason for hoping for a little more money is to do a little something for loved ones.

Tolerance and good manners have a place in civilized society. We presume to confront a person we know well, someone whose confrontation in turn we would not run away from. We confront when it satisfies a threefold condition: is it true, is it kind, is it helpful? Truth is an objective reality, not our spin. Kindness is actually defined not by us, but by the person being assisted. And helpful is a judgment. Do we have a hope for being listened to? Sometimes the answer is no.

My sense of this Gospel and the meme of correction is that we can be very cautious about it, make sure we’re not doing it for any sense of our own profit (Ezekiel the prophet notwithstanding), and that we’re following the good advice Jesus gave us. In the order he gives it.

And this too: keep it out of the blogosphere.

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DPPL 51: When Popular Piety Is Overemphasized

STA altar at night smallPopular piety has overshadowed the liturgy and still does today, in some instances:

51. In the relationship between the Liturgy and popular piety, the opposite phenomenon is also encountered – the importance of popular piety is overestimated practically to the detriment of the Church’s Liturgy.

It has to be said that where such happens, either because of particular circumstances or of a theoretical choice, pastoral deviations emerge. The Liturgy is no longer the “summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; [and]…the fount from which all her power flows”(SC 10). Rather it becomes a cultic expression extraneous to the comprehension and sensibility of the people which is destined to be neglected, relegated to a secondary role or even become reserved to particular groups.

The diagnosis is accurate, but keep in mind we are a catholic church. Many areas of the world lack a resident clergy to provide the sacraments. Some priests are poor presiders and preachers. When and where there is an effort to bring the liturgy to people, how is the shift to the Mass handled? Do people have confidence in their leadership when good liturgy finally arrives?

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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On My Bookshelf: Atchison Blue

atchison blueYesterday I overheard my colleague Shari describe our parish library to a prospective student as “one of the best theological libraries in Iowa.” That may be right. It also has amazing spiritual riches, like this book by the poet and journalist Judith Valente, Atchison Blue.

What will future generations think of today’s spiritual memoir? Henri Nouwen’s most popular books were of this form. I was first introduced in my late college days to Genesee Diary. The initial fascination was: I know that place! It’s where we students go on retreat. But Fr Nouwen was so flawed, silly and petty. I wanted to follow him, but I also recognized my own faults through his.

Before him was Thomas Merton, not quite so personal, but still chafing under abbots and wanting to be off to a hermitage.

One attraction is that so many of today’s spiritual guides are unedited by hagiographers. Petty intrusions on life pepper these books. Ms Valente is unseated by struggles with her family, with her anger, and with her demanding career. These spot the landscape and punctuate the narrative as she explores Benedictine monasticism and wrestles with the question: can one bring the monastery into the world?

This book gives another window into the heritage of Saint Benedict: community life, hospitality, and a way to God that has been traveled for fifteen centuries. The author finds the daughters of Benedict trusty guides. I think the reader could easily agree.

Near the end of her book, Ms Valente writes:

I used to think of monasteries as hopeless throwbacks to the past, a case of “let the last sister standing turn out the lights.” Now I see them as windows to the future, a future we desperately need in our society–one that stresses consensus over competition, simplicity over consumption, service over self-aggrandizement, quietude over constant chatter, community over individual gain. There will always be a place for monasteries, Thomas Merton once said, because the world will always need “signs of contradiction.”

Quite right. This is a great book to read, rich and surprising, and most of all, typical of Benedict: full of hospitality. It pulled me out of my doldrums this week. And whether you have great need or small, I think it will reward a thoughtful reader. It will challenge any seeking soul to ponder how to bring the monastery into the world. Through Saint Benedict and his 21st century daughter of lay life in the world, we are given a window here, and we can wonder.

Posted in Monasticism, On My Bookshelf, spirituality | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Is “Suicide” A Bad Church Word?

I received a request from one of our students this morning: could we pray for a hometown friend who committed suicide? We are very careful about naming people (I was sent the name) in the prayers of the faithful. Lacking the person’s approval (or a family’s, in the case of death), we don’t do it. I added the following petition to the line-up:

For those who have succumbed to inner darkness, especially those who have committed suicide, we pray.

Earlier this summer, “rape” was flagged as an inappropriate word for a liturgical audience that included children. Do you think “suicide” deserves the same treatment?


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DPPL 50: Vatican II

STA altar at night smallVatican II defined the modern relationship between liturgy and popular piety. We reference the constitution on liturgy, in which harmony is the goal:

50. The relationship between the Liturgy and popular piety, in our times, must be approached primarily from the perspective of the directives contained in the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, which seek to establish an harmonious relationship between both of these expressions of piety, in which popular piety is objectively subordinated to, and directed towards, the Liturgy(Cf. SC 13).

Not either/or, or one over the other, but both/and:

Thus, it is important that the question of the relationship between popular piety and the Liturgy not be posed in terms of contradiction, equality or, indeed, of substitution. A realization of the primordial importance of the Liturgy, and the quest for its most authentic expressions, should never lead to neglect of the reality of popular piety, or to a lack of appreciation for it, nor any position that would regard it as superfluous to the Church’s worship or even injurious to it.

Four attitudes critical of popular piety are described:

Lack of consideration for popular piety, or disrespect for it, often betrays an inadequate understanding of certain ecclesial realities and is not infrequently the product not so much of the doctrine of the faith, but of some ideologically inspired prejudice. These give rise to attitudes which:
• refuse to accept that popular piety itself is an ecclesial reality prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit(Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Homily at the Celebration of the Word in La Serena (Chile), 2, in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, X/1 (1987), cit., p. 1078);
• do not take sufficient account of the fruits of grace and sanctity which popular piety has produced, and continues to produce, within the ecclesial body;
• not infrequently reflect a quest for an illusory “pure Liturgy”, which, while not considering the subjective criteria used to determine purity, belongs more to the realm of ideal aspiration than to historical reality;
• and confound, “sense”, that noble component of the soul that legitimately permeates many expressions of liturgical and popular piety, and its degenerate form which is “sentimentality”.

In essence, the Church reiterates that God inspires piety, its good fruit is obvious, official red-n-black ritual is not enough. What are your thoughts on this?

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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pillow stuffingOne things about the internet, call it great or not, is that it lends itself to easy editing in many fora.

I read Msgr Charles Pope’s post on Cardinal Dolan opening up the floodgates of Sodom and Gomorrah to wash away the St Patrick’s Day parade, an event still more than half a year away. I’ve read him often over the years. I was slightly surprised at the strong tone of his words. That he disagreed with the archbishop, I wasn’t surprised.

Putting to rest all sort of rumors, Msgr Pope admits he pulled the plug on a rather angry and vehement essay. Allies and opponents both have the full text, if reference is needed. Sounds like the parable of the pillow, if you ask me.

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