Playing/Praying Not To Lose

In athletics, often there is cited a danger for players and coaches playing not to lose. That’s distinct from people who play to win.

In football, one sees this embodied in the combination of the two-minute drill and the prevent defense. For the former, a team trailing and needing to score, alters their planning rhythm. They hurry up; time’s almost run out in the game. So they need to score and if they make an error, the game would be lost anyway.

The defending team will play soft sometimes. They will prevent the other team from going ahead on one big play, but they will gladly bend, giving up intermediate yardage bit by bit. Sometimes that strategy backfires as the trailing team retains patience, and will gladly take whatever the “prevent defense” gives them.

When I was reading the dangers cited for Communion in the hand: easier for non-Catholics to receive, easier for consecrated hosts to be carried off, etc., I was thinking this is part of the mindset of playing (or worshipping) not to lose.

Outside of the circle of the initiated (however one wishes to define that) there is always a danger of sacrilege, abuse, irreverence, taking things less seriously, and the like. There was such concern about this at the Council of Trent that a serious proposal was surfaced to just have the celebration of Mass privately: no congregation, just the clergy.

The better one does liturgy, meaning with great music, preaching, art, architecture, various ministries, full participation, and all, the more likely liturgy will inspire people on the earthly plane and this lead them to the spiritual. Yet there are dangers involved. Musicians can get full of themselves, good preachers play entertainer-priest, liturgical ministers develop their own cults of exclusion or aristocracy, and people get duped into thinking the externals are the essentials, rather than the means to an end.

Like football teams defending a slim lead in the final seconds, it is tempting to play not to lose. And in so doing, such teams might find themselves suffering a catastrophic loss.

The metaphor fits some of the liturgical struggles of the Church today. Programming traditional music only, building in traditional styles only, and limiting mistakes or potential sacrilege–this exemplifies the mentality of praying not to lose. After all, what if God hates David Haas, and we did all that music? Safer to stick with Dufay or de Victoria or plainsong.

I wouldn’t expect all clerical-focused Catholics to understand the benefit of Communion in the hand. Despite the equal dignity of tongue and hand, there is a great value in mature Catholics receiving in the hand if they wish. It’s the way adults serve and feed. To me, the question comes down to this: do clergy want a Church of adults fulfilling their mission, or do they want to reinforce a Church of children and babies waiting to be serviced?

The yearning for some idealized good-ol-days drives some of this backtracking on liturgical reform. My sense is to respond simply, “No thanks. We don’t need to go back.”

Or in the parlance of today, sometimes it’s better to call a blitz, and expect the team to deliver a crushing sack to take the two-minute drillers out of field goal range.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Playing/Praying Not To Lose

  1. Liam says:

    The play to lose argument can be helpful.

    That said, I guess I don’t get the “adult” argument in favor of receiving in the hand. It just strikes me as a shallow rationale, and has ever since I first heard it about a decade ago (I never heard it before then). When communion in the hand was introduced in the 1970s, *that* was never the rationale given. Rather, it was that we were recovering a practice of the first millennium of Christian practice, that this was an option, and with the options of this way, the old way and intinction we had a fullness of ritual connections to both our forebears and the Eastern churches (sadly, the only times I received by intinction were in the 1970s and early 1980s). The adult rationale seems pasted on top of this, and it doesn’t seem necessary. If anything, it seems too trivial to bother with. It is downright unhelpful if it’s used to convey the idea that the *other* ways of receiving are not as adult… (after all, children often receive cafeteria trays in a line…it doesn’t make them any more adult than two adults who lovingly feed each other wedding cake…and remember, the liturgy is a foretaste of the great wedding banquet of the Lamb).

    Mind you, I normally receive in the hand. It’s never really occurred to me that it’s a more adult way of receiving than the others.

    Possibly it’s because I don’t think of receiving Communion as something dominantly about serving or receiving a foodstuff at a regular meal. There is nothing regular about what we do at liturgy.

    The liturgy is not only re-presenting the Last Supper, but also Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter and the entire Pentecost and a foretaste of the wedding banquet of the Lamb that the book of Apocalypse is really about. Whereas some preconciliar Catholics have focused almost exclusively on the Good Friday re-presentation, perhaps some postconciliar Catholics focus almost exclusively on the Holy Thursday re-presentation, but the that belies the intent of the Council, I believe.

  2. Todd says:

    Liam, I feel some affinity with your comments on the adult argument. It was the auxiliary bishop of Kazakhstan who mentioned the virtue of being fed as if an infant in a mother’s lap.

    However, given the heat this topic generates in many Catholic circles, I suspect this issue is far from trivial in the minds of many communicants and, it seems, the ordained bureaucracy. We all know the wedding cake method is officially discouraged.

    If that weren’t true, bishops would be more concerned about the non-trivia of establishing liturgical institutes for art, music, and architecture–you know, the way Vatican II intended.

    As with many church pronouncements, the imposition of any method, and probably the institutionally-stated preference for any method is what lacks adult quality.

    Now, if the issue is really about reverence, I’d tell any bishop it’s time to get serious about addressing that.

  3. Sherry Weddell says:

    For what its worth:

    I know of one man who is a priest today and for whom receiving communion in the hand for the first time at 19 was a major spiritual watershed for him – a major moment of conversion.

    It is Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, with whom i founded the Institute and now President of the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology.

    It can also be evangelizing.

  4. Tony Neria says:

    Ah, the good old days (early 60’s). Listening to my confused and frustrated mother try to recite the prayers in Latin (she converted for my father who rarely went to mass) ….Listening to the tone deaf priest chant the prayers and the assembly trying to respond a well as they could. Listening to the horrible choir try to chant. Great memories!

  5. broed says:

    I don’t buy the “adult” argument either. Sounds like “we” are just smarter than “they” are.

    Didn’t Jesus say something about how we must become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven?

    The football analogy is interesting, though. It does seem as if there are folks who think the Council of Trent was the Kingdom of Heaven and we just need to go back to that and everything would be great.

    The Council of Trent is better than some of the weirdness out there, but the Church isn’t done yet. And to preach, teach, and sanctify the people who have not yet heard – or not yet understood – the good news of Jesus Christ, a return sixteenth century Europe’s liturgy is probably not going to be the key.

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