Liturgy, incarnation, and other messes of love

mess4So here I am posting daily here at Catholic Sensibility, which is such a liturgy blog, and I have said so little about liturgy. I’m in way over my head talking about liturgy on these pages! Make no mistake, I have the heart of a liturgist, but I feel a bit out of my league. After all, I’m an amateur liturgist. Don’t forget that amateur means one who does something out of love, not someone who can’t cut it. We’ll get to the “just-can’t-cut-it-losers-and-lowlifes” in a minute.

Liturgist and musician, Rory Cooney put a post up on his blog this past Tuesday — it was called Liturgy and the mess of incarnation. I want to cut and paste some sections of it here, just to give you a flavor of why I am writing about it here today, but the whole post is so good, I do not know where to begin.

This could have been me at that age, pondering God. And wondering why I could not be an altar boy!

This could have been me at that age, pondering God. And wondering why I could not be an altar boy!

The post has Rory ruminating about liturgy, looking a the expansion of permission to use the Tridentine rite. I know that I have more than one friend with a deep affection for this liturgy, so allow me to be clear that I am not mocking this rite, or any Latin liturgy. Also allow me to be clear that I personally do not wish to return to this form of liturgy. (Note: I did love mass as a child, weirdly church-nerdy child that I was!)

In his post, Rory quotes a friend who speaks about the transcendent nature of the Tridentine rite as a means of rejecting the messy business of incarnation.

hocuspocus1Hmmmm…. I do kind of get that.

Rory goes on to talk about all manner of things, about bad presiders, annoying congregants, and all the rest. If you are a presider, a musician or a liturgist, even if you do not long for that Tridentine rite, you know what it means to live in the messy business of mass. People who can’t sing. People who let their cell phones ring. People who are looking at their phones. Crying babies. Snoring sleepers. Careless cantors. Lousy lectors. And of course – poor presiders, horrible homilists are part of it as well.

sleep-in-churchWhat a mess! Why bother?

Well, I will let you go back to Rory’s to read about that. The whole post got me thinking about how much happens at and around church and liturgy in the realm of the “I-can’t-stand-you” mode. It can be such a huge mess.

Rory, with the input of his friend, continues to ruminate, bringing forth losers and lowlifes, like ourselves!

And if that wasn’t enough, my friend insists that God continues to become flesh in losers and lowlifes to the present day, presumably including even me and my exaggerated opinion of myself, along with all the folks whose insouciance I lament and who drive me nuts Sunday after Sunday. It is in this world, in these people, the God is become flesh. That just about ought to stop me in my tracks, and make me think a little bit, right?

Those words have settled in my heart since Tuesday. “God becomes flesh in losers and lowlifes “- which includes all of us.

I'm a loser. Which in this case is great news!

I’m a loser.

As someone who is more oriented to a horizontal style of liturgy, there is so much to think about. I am drawn to two points of view about the whole thing.

One thought is that if we are to get to the place of the transcendent divine, perhaps we do need a more, dare I say, formal liturgy? Oriented outside of ourselves? Literally – facing away? (Did I really just say this?)

picture-17The other however, brings me right back where I stood in the first place. God entered the world as flesh, humanity, as it is. How does that place the transcendent divine right in our midst? And with that, a liturgy that celebrates the ordinary and extraordinary nature of it all? One that orients us outside of our own selves, but into others. You know, into the losers and lowlifes, which we are a part of. And once oriented so, finding Christ in the messy midst of it all.

This is why I tend to come down where I do. I happen to find God more in the mess that is all of us, and it is as holy and divine as it can be.

As all of this rambled around my head and heart for two days, I did not get to write about it. And what did I find on Rory’s blog today? A guest post response from a priest friend of Rory’s.

So interesting. Listen to a little of what he had to say:

Evangelical churches have made great headway here in Guatemala- mainly due to the funding send from the US and former governments here to lure people away from the Catholic Church (the government didn’t like the Catholics siding with the poor, and wanted to dilute Catholics’ influence by attracting its members into other churches that focused more on personal spiritual experience). From what I have read about the Church in Brazil, it seems that they have had some success holding onto members by switching to a more theatrical style of liturgy, drawing out emotions with a particular style of music and preaching. It will be interesting to see if this does the trick.

The loss of Catholics to spirituality which promises a more personal relationship to Jesus breaks my heart. The loss of Catholics to worship that is more theatrical also hurts me. It is not just about “Jesus ‘n me.” It is about Jesus and me – but, there is more. In the heart of liturgy, the heart of the Eucharist is all of us. Horizontal and vertical. And that is why we are liturgists, musicians, lay ecclesial ministers – it is about Christ and about all of us as one in Christ.

Anyway, maybe you will go read read Rory’s posts and think about what he and his friends say. Also think about the big messy mess of a mess that is life, and think about the work of the people, that is, the liturgy. It is beautiful and it can be a mess, but in Christ, the mess is transformed. Amen to that.

(And thus endeth my run here at Catholic Sensibility, with the least Todd-like post about liturgy that I can come up with. Long winded, ramble-y, rant-y me. Yes, I’m an amateur, it is true. Filled with love and gratitude! Thanks for a great week here. I hope that Todd does not think that I “broke” the blog! Thank you all for reading, at whichever blog you read this on! Come visit me over at my place whenever you wish. Thanks again, and thank you Todd.)

About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Pilgrim, writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married to an incredible man, have a spectacular stepdaughter, dog and cat.
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8 Responses to Liturgy, incarnation, and other messes of love

  1. annette says:

    There is a scene from Brother Sun Sister Moon (film) which came to my mind when I was reading this. Francis is performing the first mass in the new unfinished church and there are all of these peasants (infirmed, afflicted and otherwise) bringing in flowers, food and animals of all sorts. This vision of mass always comes to me when my church gets a little out of hand (which happens on occasion because really, all are welcome!) and I laugh and appreciate that THAT is how it is suppose to be. A LIVE! There is reverence in the mess, in the humility that brings people through the doors. Great post Fran! Thanks for bringing me over here!

    • As Shannon said, it was not a mass, as Francis was not a priest, but your point about the offerings is so true – and the animals, and God knows what. I am reminded of a time in the history of liturgy when the “church” would be filled with peasants, their laundry, their animals, smells and more. The “mass” was behind the screen, the bells ringing at communion to let the peasants know what was happening… but they were not a part of it.

      That is the mess of life – and liturgy is the part of that indeed.

  2. Shannon says:

    But it wasn’t a Mass in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” It was a prayer service. Francis wasn’t a priest (though he was eventually a deacon), but that liturgy was truly the “work of the people” which should be happening whenever we gather.

  3. Lynda says:

    Fran, it interests me that you mention the horizontal and the vertical. This is one thought that came to my mind when I was making the decision about whether to enter the Catholic Church. The liturgy drew me in, not only because of the Scriptural basis, but also because of the emphasis on the horizontal as well as the vertical relationships.

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