Tribalism

Fr Dwight Longenecker offers a commentary, “Transcending Catholic Tribalism” at Crux. I first saw it referenced and summarized at PrayTell. Except for a plea to improve preaching, the nine points impressed me little. I’ve had time to digest the original op-ed, and it impresses me less. Here’s why …

Misdiagnosis. If your basic premise includes a notion that “new order Catholics are happy to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass in a fan shaped auditorium church. They like the priest to preach warmhearted, affirming homilies,” then the props behind your remedy are knocked out. Old order Catholics might well be “suspicious of modern society and see personal responsibility and individual holiness as the answer.” But a lot of progressive believers are in that lot. Pondering pacifism, most serious advocates I know recognize their own violent impulses and decry the militarization we’ve seen on the planet over the past several decades. I might also note that as long as pastors preach on other people’s sins, the assembly might be lulled into a state of contentment. Do I misread, however, concern about Pope Francis’s criticisms of little princes, complainers, and others. My sense is that honest believers of any “order” are willing to conduct a personal examination of conscience and see how they fare in the virtuous life. I doubt it has anything to do with tribe. It seems to be more about a personal maturity in one’s spiritual life.

History. The last liturgy dust-ups were battled between the organ console and the guitar fretboard, between the choir loft and “down front.” For the most part, those battles are gone. Most mainstream hymnals are published without regard for one location or the other. Many new suburban churches lack a pipe organ, and what passes for a non-piano keyboard is virtually the same as a synthesizer in a wooden housing. Did organists and guitarists get bridged by the grand piano? Was Marty Haugen a diplomat in Lutheran clothing? My sense is that the fruitlessness of these old parish battles have shown themselves in a certain organic development. Modern organists are eclectic in what they bring to the parish repertoire. And the best ensembles have musicians who have gotten better, or who have recruited well-skilled younger people into the group. We didn’t need a rapprochement. For the large part, we had patience and good sense. The music has improved, as have the people who lead it.

Perspective. People who favor the traditional Latin Mass are in an extreme minority. That doesn’t mean they don’t have leaven to offer the Church. But we’re not talking diplomacy by lining up a billion Catholics on one side, and some millions on the other and splitting the distance. Some of Fr Longenecker’s suggestions will be seen as going backwards by die-hards in each camp–bad ideas forged in the 60s or old ideas to which we’ve bid good riddance.

My own nine suggestions:

  1. Better preaching, certainly. And a focus for all Catholics on the Scripture, encountering Jesus in the Liturgy of the Word, in their devotional life, and in careful study personally and in groups.
  2. Speaking of study, more emphasis on training good musicians and liturgists, something which must come from the bishops.
  3. Once people are trained and degreed, large parishes need to practice better stewardship in paying professionals a living wage. And if we’re serious about better preaching from those already ordained, we musicians and liturgists should retain our curiosity and drive to improve our own skills and expand our knowledge.
  4. The Roman Missal needs a serious reform, top to bottom. Orations need to be more Scripture-based, texts for music can be expanded beyond antiphons and psalm, especially in utilizing a wider repertoire of New Testament texts and more lyrical passages from the prophets and wisdom literature. Needless to say, we need a better translation of MR4 than we had on 1, and certainly on 3.
  5. Parishes and dioceses turning to commissioned art for major additions to churches, plus some diocesan and regional expertise in assisting parishes to accomplish this.
  6. For children, not just choir schools, but structured wider experiences that involve the visual and dramatic arts, as well as an emphasis on discipleship. Out with Vacation Bible Schools, in with Faith Camps for all ages.
  7. Speaking of discipleship, a re-imagining of catechesis along these lines. Getting out of the classroom and into a model of apprenticeship.
  8. Better celebrations of the sacraments outside of Mass.
  9. Various adaptations of the Liturgy of the Hours for the home, for lay persons, and for the parish.
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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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