Elaboration, part 1

Liam gave a more diplomatic reply in the thread below, but I would be in solid agreement with his reply on this first question:

Is the ‘progressive’ position capable of defending the Roman rite against practices that are illicit and abusive? On what grounds?

Any priest, liturgist, or other person who wanted to employ an illicit or abusive practice would indeed be working against the good order of the local community, let alone the Church. Let me offer a concrete example.

In the 1980’s, in my home parish, a small group of people were responsible for editing music and the Lectionary for inclusive language. However, this community was used to a town meeting format for every major decision: opening a hospice, giving sanctuary to Central American refugees, recording an album of parish musicians to donate the proceeds to the poor. I suggested that bringing the inclusive language issue to the community would serve to involve all the people in a worthwhile discernment. I was told the issue was too important to leave in their hands. And they kept editing my songs (amongst other songs and readings) rather than let me have the dignity of editing my own works.

My friends were progressives, certainly. I thought of myself as one, too. But I saw the struggle framed in the sense of authoritarianism versus inclusiveness.

Certainly, poor translation from the Latin is an intellectual problem for me in the current Lectionary. It’s a burden sometimes to advocate for the position of adherence for the common good. It’s my job, and I accept it. When it becomes unacceptable, I would leave a community before I would be part of a significant distraction.

Another example: the use of additives in Eucharistic bread. Many years ago, I was on staff in a community that baked Eucharistic bread and they did use additives. It was a fairly long-standing tradition and I did not confront it, mainly because I had a lot of other things on my plate in those days. But I have publicly argued against it on the grounds of tradition and social justice: the Jews didn’t use additives, neither did Jesus, and it is the bread (in each case) of the poor. My social justice friends seem to respond when I make it into a social justice issue. I might not use the wording of the curia, but I accomplish the same end.

I suppose that for conservatives, I’d ask: Must my defense of the Roman tradition be as you would defend it?

The form of progressive liturgy seems to depend heavily on the spiritual quest of the liturgist, which means that it may become much less universal and much more associated with a particular, incultured personality. How does this serve to reinforce the universality of Christ?

I can’t speak for other priests and liturgists. I think the parish priest heavily influences the spiritual direction of a parish. Even in parishes where the liturgist is visible, competent, and charismatic and the priest is a lump on a log, the spirit of the place is mostly taken from the lump, not the liturgist.

Yesterday I was asked a somewhat personal question about one of my life’s philosophies, and I chose to answer it lensed through my spiritual life, not my work. I wasn’t asked how I apply myself to ministry in the Church: that’s a whole other issue.

But since you’ve sort-of asked, let me say my guiding philosophy as a liturgist is to be a transparent window or an open door. The minister (meaning myself or anyone I would mentor) should strive for the greatest transparency in serving the Church. The more we get out of the way, the more people directly encounter Christ. I tell Eucharistic Ministers especially this is so. Do nothing that distracts the communicant from the divine. Wear nothing distracting; say nothing distracting; be invisible; blend in with the air. Our job is to be a porter or doorkeeper: open the door; point to it; invite people to walk through. Don’t get in their way.

A friend once used the image of a cup of coffee. Strong, black coffee. We want to pour out a little of it (meaning ourselves) so that God can pour in the substance of grace. He told me to imagine God’s grace as water. As we get more and more courageous about emptying ourselves, the dark drink gets lighter and lighter as God pours more to fill up what we have dissipated. Eventually, we aspire to be clear and pure, as the coffee becomes a more and more miniscule portion of the cup’s contents.

So if you’re asking me what philosophy I apply to my service for the Church, I would say the most important thing is transparency.

You sound like you don’t want to change any essentials; you just want to be freed by charity to adapt what is non-essential to pastoral circumstance. Is that correct?

Essentially correct. But I offer the caution that I’m not in the market for seeking out these opportunities. I’ll give you one last life’s example.

This morning, the younger portion of the school celebrated the Triumph of the Cross. Last year, we did a “Litany of the Cross” incorporating a set of appropriate prayer petitions into the General Intercessions. Using the refrain/antiphon, “We adore you O Christ …” from Stations, it worked because the intercessions used were in alignment with the feast, the antiphon, etc..

This year, I messed up a bit. A younger class wrote the general intercessions. The music director assumed we were doing the “Litany of the Cross” like last year and told me before Mass “all the kids were excited” about singing it again. I had something of a problem with Steve Irwin getting mentioned with the litany–obviously I had not directed the student writers this year. So we did the Litany after Communion instead. I wasn’t really happy about it: better would have been to do it with appropriate intercessions or during the entrance. But I appreciated the freedom and the understanding of the priest to be able to make a decision that was respectful of people’s efforts and was not, I trust, disrespectful of the liturgy.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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