Friday, 21 December 2012

Prophets for our age?

The new mass text is, we were told, going to revitalise the Church.  Maybe I saw what that will be like in Medjugorje in September when I was passing by for a few days while travelling in Bosnia. The Church was full to overflowing. We proclaimed our grievous sinfulness – actually, they proclaimed their sinfulness while I remembered first that I was  a Baptised child of God needing to respond to the God who seeks me, and second I needed to acknowledge my sinfulness. By the time I'd thought that through even the repeated declarations of fault  had fortunately passed.  We were looked down on from the sanctuary by 30 male priests dressed in a glow of gold.  The “and with your spirit”s shook the walls, declared with such fervour that I expected the vestments to shine brighter.

A man with a walking stick hobbled half way down the church to where I was standing, propping up a pillar. He wobbled a bit, then stood looking around for a seat. There was none. Nobody moved – too engrossed. I watched for two minutes then asked someone to make space for him. They resentfully squashed up along, rather than anyone standing up to offer a seat. He could at least sit now and smiled his thanks to me.  It then seemed appropriate that the Creed we proclaimed was personal, not communal.

They asked the Lord to enter under our roofs so their souls might be healed; I begged healing for ill friends and wondered about the contrast with Lourdes - there were some there wanting healing, but the compassion of Lourdes was less evident to me, and I wondered if the extent of the priority for those in need had perhaps been demonstrated already.  Yet it is so dangerous to draw conclusions from a little evidence.  The word roof reminded me of the refugees I had met, and the homeless here, for whom I do so little.  The Lord can even speak in this translation.

Afterwards I pondered why, on this feast of St Vincent, there was so little mention of the poor. A prayer after communion spoke of the poor as being the people to whom Vincent had preached the gospel. I wondered which gospel the writers of the prayer had in mind. Not the one that says “whatever you do to the least of these you do to me”, was my reaction.  Where was the call to be the Gospel for the poor, as was Vincent? That is the challenge I need to keep being confronted with.

I wondered if that Mass indicated the future we might have if we respond with passivity to the Curia.  The real prophets for me that day were a few miles away. They were the refugees living in asbestos roofed huts with no facilities; the children whose spirits soared above the surroundings as they played laughing in the street, and their parents who welcomed me with generosity.... the family living in one room, and offering me a drink for I was struggling with the heat. It was over 30 degrees, but 10 cooler than it had been in midsummer.

I wonder how quickly the money from the collections taken at each of the many daily Masses could have housed a family of refugees.  I guessed that a tiny fraction of the money  from the holy places would have housed them all over the last decades. I'd been told, in the pilgrims' information centre, that the camp I had visited was empty. Eyes, but not the camp, are closed. 

There were many people in Medjugorje acting with generosity and warmth – I stayed with some of them in their B&B and had memorable talks with others.  Some were seeking God with all their hearts and so were finding peace there. But for me God was more evident with the refugees than in that Mass which felt too detached from reality and incarnation - a sign of the Church that we risk becoming?

Monday, 30 April 2012

As laity are we sheep and Gerasene pigs, or Daughters and Sons of God?

(Last revised on 1 May 2012)

Yesterday, on Good Shepherd Sunday,  I wonder if  you said Amen to the Collect. Or have you learnt not to listen to these prayers over the last months? Did you find delight in it, as here? Or were you too nauseated to speak? Maybe nausea was only my reaction.  We were invited by our leaders to pray "Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before."

I cannot counter the thought that for some six months as laity we have passively followed our leaders over a cliff, away from liturgy that engages us in the Gospel and away from the world that we are here to serve.
If that is so, then why are we so passive?? Do we aspire to be the holy huddle the Vatican apparently  wishes for? - it is comfortable, and makes few demands.

Yesterday at Mass I was surrounded by people living lives that challenged me by their goodness and self-sacrifice as they bring up children, care for elderly and infirm, and seek to create a better world....  They challenged me by their courage with pain and with loss, and with responses to the difficulties of daily living. Yet how does the Mass text gather their lives and bring their struggles to the altar?  What I heard tells us to find our identity in our sinfulness, more than in God's life active within us,  and it reduces our vision to one of clinging on to the tassels of the ordained until we reach Heaven.

The accounts of the  Curia's silencing of compassionate and insightful theologians are now legion. RC theology is no longer allowed to be a listening for the music in our lives, so the dances can become stronger, a whirl with the Spirit. It is to be about standing in ranks, saluting authority.  The Vatican will think they are doing the will of God, as revealed to them for the Church.  There seems to be an absence of critical reflection on what they are doing, the assumption that they are right, the willingness to trample over others, an arrogance in how the text was given us (a text calling us so often to humility!), and an absence of   compassion for those being silenced.

Jesus confronted those in religious authority who got in the way of the Kingdom.  Isn't it time that as laity we challenged the Vatican? Most of our Bishops and many of our priests  have chosen not to do so. Laity are less constrained. 

What would frighten me is if most of us actually think we recognise the Gospel  in the Mass prayers and in the authoritarianism.

Let us pray for a better future and to find ways to act.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Thoughts on the Eucharist and current teaching

In the post "how can we respond" I tried to explain how I felt about the new text; and tried to identify the areas that seemed to provoke those feelings.  These were  to do with what felt important to me, about how so much of how I viewed God, Jesus, the Church, being human was not evident to me in the new text.

I have recently bumped into two more things I would like to add to the above.

First is an email I sent to our RCIA group a few weeks ago - it was an evening when I had to be elsewhere for work. Those accompanying the enquirers had been asked to say "what does the Mass mean to you?" I sent a message that was not orginal thought - it is a summary of things I learnt and that became a part of me around 1980. I wrote:

What frequently dominates my thoughts at Mass are the words Alleluia and Amen: praise, and "it is so, let it be so in me!"

 - Alleluia, to greet the Gospel, says: may the Word be made real, incarnated in me.

 - When I say Amen to the Eucharistic prayer, I am giving my life to God.

 - When I receive the host and say Amen to "The Body of Christ" I am affirming  not just the presence of Christ in the sacrament, but also that I am in the Body of Christ, so is the person offering the host/cup,  and so are we all. As a Eucharistic minister, when I say "The Body of Christ" I am acknowledging the person before me, as well as the host I give them.

Why is this so?

My baptism joined me to Christ, I was reborn in Christ, so when I recall and reconnect with Christ's death and resurrection in the Mass, I recall and renew my own baptismal calling to live in Christ for the world, and hence for God.
It seems to me that we laity are now portrayed so often as mere consumers at communion, upholding the power of the ordained - and not given the dignity of daughters and sons loved and held by God, sharing Christ's ministry to the world.

The second item is a quote from a report from a weekend on liturgy held in 1980  It included the following:
[so often] we come to the liturgy wrongly because we have an inadequate conception of God's grace.  [We ask] "How do we get to Heaven?"... There is nothing we can do to make God, the Inifinite Lover, love us more - or less. God says to us, "I give you myself. Free, You can't pay for my grace." This is what the prodigal son's elder brother complained about, "you are too prodigal and wasteful with your love, you should be more thrifty with it.".... [But instead we believe that] each of us has become a son or daughter of God.
Now we are told time and again in the prayers of the Mass and in its dissemination, that we have to merit eternal life, merit God's love.  See for example, page 46 of “Understanding the Revised Mass Texts,” from Liturgy Training Publications (McCrinnons).: “Jesus will not avoid us because of our sins but will come to us on the strength of our virtue.”  

I wonder if there has been a loss of joy in our Mass with the new text, and if so, whether this loss of emphasis on God's love and our calling through Baptism is part of the reason -  would that joylessness be called appropriate solemnity nowadays?  I recall the wisdom and fun of that liturgy weekend, and also the  stillness and prayerfulness that continued for maybe 10  minutes after the closing Mass.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

How else can we respond?

In Edinburgh a vigil has begun, each evening for 30 minutes until Pentecost to pray for our Archdiocese and the RC Church.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Liturgical Instruction for Sunday 1 April

The Curia committee on English in the liturgy has issued guidance to complete its recent work on the Mass text:

Saturday, 26 November 2011

How can we respond to the arrival of this text?

Over these weeks when the new Mass text has begun to be used, so many of my contacts in the Roman Catholic church have said: "I don't like it but what's the point in reacting? Its here."  Talking with them has led me to make three responses.  I invite ideas about what else should be on this list, but my three are:
  1. To write to the Bishops.  The problems associated with the text must be named, and somehow reactions expressed, not suppressed.
  2. To explore the website "What If We Just Said Wait?" It has important essays, a huge number of comments raising issues, and also invites people to respond to a survey about their experience of Mass with the new Missal.
  3. To reflect on my feelings about this - what provokes my anger and frustration?  Are my feelings because I am being challenged or because deep down I might dislike change? What, of that which really matters to me, is not in this Mass text?

I'll attempt to summarise my own reflection. I noticed the contrast with how I reacted to the study days, liturgies, and books that did open me to new possibilities in the 1970's and 1980's - I saw new depths, new possibilities to enter into the  mysteries (as something to be explored, but never fully grasped) of being alive, of God, of the Church, of the Universe.  My heart beat faster, and I was drawn into these mysteries. This week I reopened the book "Our Faith Story", by Patrick Purnell S.J., and had the same reaction once again.  Yet when I read this Mass text, and now when I hear it, I feel sad and depressed.  It is as if it shrinks my spirit, that had been so energised in the past. I need to continue to discern about this reaction, but it is not one that resonates with what I am told about this text - that it will deepen my faith.

A major source of frustration is that the language of the Mass text now says too much - in effect it tells me how to feel as well as how to pray.  Something simpler, less heavy handed, would let me bring my relationship with God into the prayer, not limit me to that of he who made the final changes to the text. On the occasions when I understand what is being said, I keep thinking "no, that's not how I want to be with God".  Extracts from the new texts are shown alongside the never-used 1998 translation,  here    These 1998 prayers are advances on what we had until recent months; to me they are a delight.  They evoked prayerful response within me, and it seems a tragedy that we will not use that 1998 text. Yet I read about how the new texts will help us to pray more deeply!!

We are told by the Bishops to get used to the new text. That is patronising nonsense. It is as if the pilgrim people have been given boots two sizes too small and told to get used to them. These boots only point us backwards towards so many limitations that we had left behind in every important area of being Catholic, for in this Mass text and in its communication to us:

"Is it the Latin text, its translation or its communication that you dislike?"

A friend who likes the new text asked me this question, when he had read my early reflections on the translation.  Whether the pinch points in the revised liturgy actually arise from the Latin text or from the translation is neither here nor there to me: the effect matters. To my friend conformity to the Latin is his overriding concern, "not for its own sake but because it represents unity, where the words are the same the world over and they transcend time much like the Mass itself."

We agreed that the information given us had dodged important questions, such as about the process that led to the text (at what points did the English speaking Bishops give assent to the texts? - I'd just like to know). Above all we agreed that the communication of the text, and some of the recommended reading about the text was simply patronising assuming a childish, not childlike, faith among the laity. For example, "They do it this way in Italy" did not seem a good reason for justifying some of the text to me, having been there in a church around 2001 where only women communicated, and men turned up for the Blessed Sacrament procession once a year. (The feast of the Assumption in Catania was fantastic, though.... procession, celebration, and so many fireworks... all let off at once.)

Does change have to come via a centralised Latin text, or can we have some scope to respond to the Spirit in our regions and cultures of the world, if with guidelines and frameworks? That implies faith in the Spirit, and a decentralisation of power that is not seemingly in mind in the Vatican Curia.

I don't know how to put "God's love and life fill every nucleus and force in nature, every galaxy and every person", into Latin.  Nor can I say in Latin "May God forgive my sins against people, myself, the planet and its climate."   I just want to hear something like this said in the Mass - now.

So, is it the Latin text, its translation or its comunication that I dislike? Yes.