burn stain 1

The east balcony looks almost normal. However, the plants and furniture haven’t returned, nor the image of Saint Jude from the old Reconciliation Chapel.

It was a sunny Spring day when we did a walk-through of the building Monday. I captured this image of the place of the fire. The window has long been repaired. The carpet was spread and glued the other week. Aside from the buzz of workers, the building seems so peaceful these days, ready to be filled with people again. Look closer:

burn stain 2

I was reading a bit more in the Ceremonial of Bishops on the community’s return from an act of desecration. The praenotanda includes this instruction:

Crimes committed in a church affect and do injury to the entire Christian community, which the church building in a sense symbolizes and represents.

The crimes in question are those that do grave dishonour to sacred mysteries, especially to the eucharistic species, and are committed to show contempt for the Church, or are crimes that are serious offences against the dignity of the person and of society.

A church, therefore, is desecrated by actions that are gravely injurious in themselves and a cause of scandal to the faithful. In the judgment of the local Ordinary, that are so serious and so offensive to the sanctity of the church building that divine worship may be celebrated in the church only after penitential reparation for the wrong done.

Reparation for the desecration of a church is to be carried out with a penitential rite celebrated as soon as possible. Until that time neither the eucharist nor any other sacrament or rite is to be celebrated in the church. But through preaching and devotional exercises the faithful should be prepared for the penitential rites of reparation, and for their own inner conversion they should celebrate the sacrament of penance.

People are still angry about “losing” the church building for nearly seven months. I’ve reported my own temper has flared short as of late. And I’m hearing more from people who are feeling no small loss and no small amount of bitterness toward the perpetrator and toward the slowness of the process. When a person is angry (as Jesus showed us here) it is hard to forgive, and even to seek forgiveness. The ritual of a return from a desecration of a Church makes this demand right off the top, as the people gather outside the building:

Brothers and sisters in Christ,
we begin this service of penance
by turning to God our Father
and asking him for the spirit of true repentance.
We have failed to remember his goodness,
we have refused to obey his commands,
we have dishonoured his name.
We must take care never to allow sin
to defile the Church of God,
which is the dwelling place of God on earth,
and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

This is one of those “these or similar words” passages. It is likely our pastor will use his own words. Not these. It’s not as though these words are untrue, or that our injured community isn’t in need of repentance, and a more faithful adherence to Christ and the Gospel. But is the return an appropriate time for this? Why, people will ask, are we focused on our own sins? What about the one who sinned against us?

For a pastoral liturgist, this is a struggle. My own human instinct would be to reject the theme of penitence entirely. Our parishioners will want to know, instead, if the perpetrator is sorry. And they will take satisfaction knowing the person is now in prison, serving a ten-year sentence for the act of arson. But if we don’t engage our culpability (general or even specific) then how will we have grown in this experience? Has the Lord called us to something better, greater, more godly? Or is this just something to “offer up” with a sigh of anger and bitterness? Another notch for the Culture of Victimhood.

Looking closer at the stain, perhaps it will be an opportunity for internal reflection. Our Liturgy Commission chairperson wrote on Facebook this morning:

The stain would be a permanent reminder of our time in exile. It adds character to the area and would be a story to tell future parishioners.

This seems right.

And defilement. Jesus also preached on that:

It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:20-23)

One thing I draw from the ritual of return is the need to keep an outward focus. That sense is certainly colored by the new Pope. But brooding over injuries, curling up in a ball and licking wounds–this is understandable coming from my cat when someone steps on his paw. But we human beings, we believers, are called to higher things. If not on the day of return, perhaps the inner look will be one of examination, as the rite seems to point. But also we have the opportunity to rejuvenate our evangelical spirit, to reach out to others. To tell that story. To place Christ at the center of it. To call upon God’s grace.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgy, Ministry, Parish Life, Rites, spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Stain

  1. Ben Story @ntwrk80 says:

    You might consider contacting Conception Abbey in Conception, MO. The Benedictines might be able to give you good insight on this process. Unfortunately their Basilica was defiled by a worse crime than arson, but loss is still loss. Many prayers for you and your community as you get to reclaim your spiritual home.

  2. There is a certain beauty to Rite of Public Prayer After the Desecration of a Church, and here is why I think this is the case. There is a natural human tendency to be angry about what someone else did to the church building, and how I was hurt personally. The rite shifts the focus of that blame, and I think rightly so. In a court case, where we or someone close to us has been wronged, we want the full weight of the law to come against that person, even if it isn’t appropriate, throw the book at them is our response. Our emotions, cloud our judgement. The renewed rite tries to lift us from those thoughts and feelings, which I think is within the ethos of the liturgical reform called for by Vatican II. First the rite take on a communal dimension. It notes that the offense done to the church building is a result of sin. It reminds us that it is a condition that we all share and are all in need of God’s grace. Further, I think it provokes a very strong sense that, outwardly, what this person did to desecrate the church, we individually and collectively do each time we sin. Think of what Paul says about what sin does to the body. It is a reminder that in many ways we aren’t any better than the person who did this. The rite situates the desecration in the broader context of the Church and calls for the renewal of the Church, of which the church building is a sign. The right is not completely ignorant regarding the person who committed the crime, in the prayers of the faithful it has the following intercession, which I think is very necessary.

    5. For those who in desecrating this church
    have offended the divine majesty,
    that delivered from their ignorance and malice
    they may experience the effects of forgiveness
    and return to the path of salvation with us, who are also sinners,
    we pray to the Lord. R.

    I wonder if there could be a way of adapting the rite to allow for an appropriate expression of the anger and frustration the community feels. If the procession is used, perhaps before the service as people approach the building they write their thoughts and frustration on a piece of paper. Then pastor uses words to express the community’s frustration and how they offer it to God. Then the words of frustration are burned. Then the service can begin on a proper note, not in anger but one oriented towards restoration and forgiveness.

  3. You mentioned:

    “Why, people will ask, are we focused on our own sins? What about the one who sinned against us?”

    Isn’t this when the words of the Lord’s Prayer are the most clear, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”?

    • Todd says:

      Oh, indeed. I agree. But I also know the people I serve. It’s more difficult when people feel aggrieved. There have been other stresses in the community–it makes for a complicated pastoral situation. And I’m glad I’m not the pastor in this instance.

      We are indeed looking to the angle of restoration and renewal. But my community is not perfect in the sense of achieving a spiritual serenity about this past year.

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