The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Isaiah 8:23-9:3

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

Matthew 4:12-23

 

Dear Jesus,

 

Something is happening in the Church that causes me great distress.  There is nothing that I can do about it, but I thought I would write and put my sorrow before you.  Sometimes, you get back to me with a response.  That would be most welcome now.  Other times, silence ensues and I must pray over my concern and learn to live with it knowing that ultimately you will heal what is perceived to be a wound; you will unite what seems to be intractable division.

 

How many years have I been walking with you and gathering with you at The Table?  You know I was never the same after that first encounter, that nothing that antedated our meeting had the same value or importance.  You know that my journey with you has been fraught with questions that always seek greater understanding.  That is the way with faith, isn’t it?  I noticed in this Sunday’s reading from 1 Corinthians that Paul chastises his audience for the divisions that they seem to be fostering in the Corinthian community.  Some are boasting because they belong to different teachers – Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ.  Each sect seeks to lord it over the others as being inferior to itself.  And Paul cries out: Is Christ divided?  He is scandalized by their attitude.

 

Nowhere is that unity of the whole church more clearly proclaimed than in the celebration of the Eucharist.  But things are changing.  Now there are two rites, one Ordinary and one Extraordinary, but two nonetheless.  The Ordinary is the Celebration of the Liturgy according to the Missal of Paul VI promulgated in 1970.  The Extraordinary comes from the official document Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI that authorizes wider us of the Latin Mass composed before Vatican II and contained in the 1962 Roman Missal of John XXII.

Am I mistaken, or are there now two rather startlingly different ecclesiologies in evidence in the two rites.  I am old enough to remember when the 1962 Rite was the only rite.  Said in Latin, the priest had his back to the people – were they called the Assembly in those days? – and the people on their knees followed along in their missals, which offered translation, or they read their own devotions or prayed the rosary depending on what moved them.  Bells rang to call the people to attention for the words of institution.  Then, after the exposition of the Bread and Wine above the priest’s head, they could go back to their devotions.  When Communion time came, it was not unheard of that the priest was the only one to receive the Bread.  He was the only one to drink from the Cup.  The later in the morning the mass time, the fewer the number of communicants.  The emphasis seemed to be on the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into your body and blood that the people were there to adore.  The priest was the sole celebrator of the mass with the people in attendance as silent adorers.  The Scriptures were limited to two readings, one from St. Paul and one from one of the gospels.  The Hebrew Scriptures were in short shrift.  There were not three cycles of readings for mass.   Much of the Scriptures was never proclaimed in the course of the Sundays of the year.

 

There is nostalgia among some for that essentially Tridentine Liturgy.  Nostalgia for the Latin.  Nostalgia the silence and reverence perceived in the assembly’s posture of adoration.  Even some priests find joy in celebrating this rite with fewer distractions because the assembly is behind them and they have less of a compulsion to perform.  Alas, how can there be nostalgia form something that one has never before experienced?

 

Am I mistaken in thinking that the Second Vatican Council called for the full, active, and conscious participation of the assembly?  Am I incorrect in thinking that the assembly is called to exercise the priesthood of the Baptized as co-celebrants of the Liturgy?  In no way is the assembly to be passive adorers, much less spectators.

 

We stand about the Table of the Bread in testimony to your resurrection and, as the Baptized, to our participation in the resurrection.  We stand in recognition of your presence in the transformed assembly and in the transformed bread.  We engage in dialogue with the priest-celebrant and are of one mind and heart with him in the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer.  There is no place for private devotions here.  (In fact, I wonder if an argument could be made that if one were to engage in private devotions throughout the mass s/he would not have been missed mass.)  We stand in unison in the Communion Procession acknowledging our common union with you augmented through our reception of the Bread and our drinking from the Cup.  It is after all a following of your instruction quoted in the words of institution.

 

Am I making sense?  Am I wrong when I think there is a different ecclesiology being exercised here?  Am I just being stubborn when I think that I cannot go back to the other way?  I loved the chants of the old days.  I loved the ritual of my youth.  It was difficult and even awkward to adapt to the new.  But once the theology of the call to renewal was grasped and the transforming effects on the assembly were perceived, there was no going back for me.  The priest now empowered the assembly and did not just preside over them.

 

I didn’t exactly shake the dust from my feet as I left, but I left the parish church near where I live knowing I could never return there, that I had to find a parish that celebrated according to the mind of Vatican Council II.  What sent me over the edge?  The pastor announced that he was discontinuing granting access to the Cup to the assembly.  Among his reasons, none of which seemed substantial to me, was his concern that with so many Ministers of the Cup the people might lose track of the importance of the priest.  Clearly it is his perception that too much power has been given to the people and that it is time for the ordained priest to take that back and return the people in their proper place.

 

So I travel a distance to Liturgy now.  The parish is poorer than the one closer at hand.  The disabled and the aged are much more in evidence here.  Some of the disabled even engage in liturgical ministry as greeters, ushers, lectors and Eucharistic Ministers.  The choir isn’t as polished sounding as the one in the more posh surroundings.  But joy abounds and a spirit of rejoicing because you have called us to be transformed by the Eucharist that we celebrate in order that we might be sent to be the continuation of the Bread broken and the Cup shared until all have eaten and drunk and know that they are the beloved in the kingdom of the one who sent you to live among us.  It is curious how poverty enhances that proclamation.

 

I hear Paul asking again: Is Christ divided?  I am afraid that is my perception now.  It makes me sad but all the more resolved not to go back but to enter into the reformed liturgy and continue to be challenged to do this in your memory.

 

Sincerely,

 

Didymus   

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