Gavin asked some good questions in the thread “First Person Problems.” I think they’re worthy to raise to the top of the post heap, and then, I must be off to work on tax forms.
We know from Sacrosanctum Concilium that liturgy has two facets: the worship of God and the sanctification of the people. The conciliar bishops and the liturgical follow-up were very pragmatic in their approach. People should participate not only internally, but externally. They should find in liturgy a place and time to be led to greater holiness. No serious Christian would presume to suggest salvation is a personal accomplishment. Were a believer to have that error, my first thought would be the person is naive.
It’s largely because of that I find the argument about people “worshipping themselves” at Mass to be stupid. A gross majority of Christians would dismiss the thought right out. And there’s a lot going on at Mass that does not explicitly center on God, but on people or things. If the standard is that everything must be explicitly about God at the Mass, then we can toss out prayers of petition. That means not only the general intercessions, but much of the content of the Eucharistic Prayers, and probably most of the homily.
I find the self-worship argument of a kin to the non-Catholic objection that Catholics worship Mary. It’s a crude attempt to gain attention for a personal reticence toward the Blessed Mother. If a person doesn’t like a hymn text that describes the faithful, fine. The reason behind the dislike should be a strong, well-argued one. Otherwise, it’s easy to dismiss the dislike as personal taste.
As a side note, personal taste is not a bad thing. We all have personal tastes, even irrational ones. Most are rational, given the dimensions of our own discernment. But another person’s tastes are not serious fodder for theology.
All that said, there is no doubt that some people and communities think too highly of themselves. I confess I know that from personal experience. Especially the former. Gavin asks if we’re tempting fate by even putting the words into our mouths:
However, hasn’t it been said again and again from Christian theologians to psychologists that we are inherently self-centered? Isn’t our tendency towards narcissism and vanity a basic fact of human sinfulness? Given that, I’d think it could be spiritual poison to give such a song to a community, whether they have a recognized* narcissism or not.
*it should be pointed out that you might say “my parish doesn’t have a problem with self-centeredness.” But isn’t it possible that you are included in the self-centered attitude? I’m only stating a hypothetical, but given the deadly nature of narcissism, one should do all they can to avoid it. Same goes, of course, for self-righteousness or exclusion, or any other vice that one might find in a hymn.
I agree with the self-centered dominance. But it’s not only narcissism, but also religious problems like clericalism and scrupulosity. Narcissism and vanity are definitely problems, but only part of the spectrum of being self-centered.
Most priests I know consider most of their flock not as flag-wavers at the top of the cultural heap, but as physically or emotionally downtrodden, the poor souls crunched in the layers under the summit. To me this is clear in the many years I’ve interacted with kids in parish schools or religious ed. The worst bullies and terrorists are deeply needy, it seems to me. They have a profound lack in their lives–usually parental love and regard. The victims always seem to outnumber the holders of the bludgeon. If only they realized strength in numbers.
Likewise most of the world’s believers are not bullies, and I think there are a lot of pathologically meek people out there who benefit from the affirmation behind a song that voices truths about the Church, the Body of Christ. I know that some conservative commentators have zeroed in on the affirmation movement as being congruent to the continuing erosion of society. I disagree. If bullies didn’t have the psych tools, they’d find other ways to get what they want. And sadly, some victims are too self-centered to break out of the culture of victimhood.
When I used to look for new songs and worked with people who did, I would often ask, “What texts does the community need to sing?” I can’t say I’d be in the market for “Gather Us In” today. I’m looking for other ways to accomplish what the GIRM says the entrance chant should be:
47. After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.
Hmm. There’s no mention of God in the purposes listed here. I’d assume it’s understood in the context of the Mass, though.
Clearly that second purpose would eliminate a lot of texts from a St Blog’s Mass, wouldn’t it?