YESTERDAYS COME AND GONE


This morning as I jogged my four miles on the track at the local recreation center, songs from the late 1950’s and early 60’s made up the white noise that silence otherwise would occupy.  Inevitably nostalgia envelopes when I get caught up in the music that played at sock-hops of my high school days.  I can imagine “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” because that’s what I wore to my senior prom.  Remembrances of things past are one thing, but to think of being similarly clad today strikes me as ludicrous at best.  And I don’t really care that much for “Heartbreak Hotel.”

In these difficult times, it seems only natural to look back at those simpler times and idealize them.  Some have said that we have lost a lot over the years in spite of the amazing advances in technology.  Who knew what a forecaster from the past would say now that Dick Tracy’s wristwatch that was also his telephone is now reality?  And George Orwell’s theme of Big Brother watching twenty-four/seven isn’t that far fetched either.  The crowds amassing and shouting out their dissatisfaction with Wall Street have become a sounding board for a number of issues that have fostered a sense of angst and pervading ennui.  Strange how a sense of community seems to be developing among these dispirited individuals from various walks of life, economic strata and representing several age groups.  Shout and demonstrate as they might, suspecting as I do that the Holy Spirit is playing a role, they are not looking to turn the clock back, but set a new course for the future.  Societies evolve.  Revolutions happen.  No matter how nostalgic a people might become, yesteryears will not return.

It seems apparent to me that there are not a few who seem bent on turning back the Church’s clock.  The New Missal, with what some are calling an arcane language, not at all what some of us would call vernacular, is only one step in the attempt to get the Liturgy to resemble more the pre-reform Tridentine Liturgy.  Believe it or not, I have seen some local churches “remodeled” with the altar fixed against the wall, the tabernacle on the altar, with the old-style altar cards for the priest, and the communion railing restored.  The priest reads mass.  The laity, on the far side of the rail, “hears” mass.  There is little evidence of lay participation.  It won’t surprise me if women are asked to wear chapel veils in church the way they used to in days of yore.

The rector of the cathedral in the diocese where I live has announced that girls will no longer be allowed to serve at the altar.  Instead they will be invited to serve as sacristans, a service more apt to encourage them to enter convents and become nuns.  Boys, alone serving at the altar, just might be more inclined to become priests.  The rector’s goal is to increase vocations to priesthood and religious life.  Laudable, perhaps, in this era of declining vocations, but it demeans women who are being asked to be content to take on a subservient role.  The rector seems to think this is the Lord’s will.

This same diocese has announced the restriction regarding access to Communion from the Cup.  So much for the vision of “full, conscious, and active participation” on the part of the laity, called by Vatican Council II, the Body of Christ.  Besides the “danger” of profanation should the Cup be spilled, a stronger motive for the removing of general access to the Cup seems to be that it is no longer tolerable for the priest’s presence to be obliterated by the proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, i.e., Ministers of the Cup.  Some months ago, I was stunned to hear a local pastor use that reason to justify his announcement that Communion Wine would no longer be offered at morning masses.  Besides, he said, the Presence is complete in the Bread.  The Cup isn’t necessary for salvation.  That kind of thinking happens when in the hierarchical mindset the Eucharist is objectified rather than being an action.  Apparently Jesus didn’t mean it when he said, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it.  This is the cup of my blood…”  This sign value of sharing in the cup as a call to live charitably in the broader community is lost.

I see problems emanating from bringing the tabernacle back to the altar.  The faith community gathers as the Assembly to celebrate the Liturgy that results in Christ’s sacramental presence.  Some seem to be saying that the community ought to come together to acknowledge and adore Christ present in the tabernacle.  Instead of reverencing the Altar as the primary Christ symbol in the church, the tabernacle is acknowledged by the genuflection.  And it happens all too often that when it is time for the Communion Procession, the priest and deacon and a few others will receive from the elements consecrated at the Liturgy; all else will receive from the reserved sacrament – another denial of the assembly’s invitation to full participation in the celebration of the Eucharist.

It isn’t just nostalgia that makes me look back with fondness for those amazing days following the conclusion of The Council.  Certainly those were difficult days for society at large with all the causes that gave rise to masses of people demonstrating in the streets.  There was violence on college campuses as students, calling for war no more, were gunned down the National Guard.  Those demanding racial equality in the south were mowed down with fire hoses and beset by dogs.  A president, his brother, and a preacher-reformer were assassinated.  In the Church at that time, the People of God were being awakened and invited to embrace their Baptismal Priesthood.  The Tridentine Liturgy gave way to the New Missal of Pope Paul VI in 1972.  Now the Liturgy was at last in the vernacular.  Women and men were encouraged to see themselves as having an active role both in the Liturgy, (the assembly was to be co-celebrants with the priest).  The vision of the Council was that the laity would be actively involved in the life and mission of the parish.  Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers, catechists and leaders of the formation program for converts in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, members of parish councils, in short, the people were waking to the idea that exercising the Priesthood of the Baptized meant being involved in practically every aspect of faith life.  Of course the priesthood and deaconate were not open to women, not yet, anyway.  But it wouldn’t be long before many among the faithful would be voicing the opinion that women just might receive from the Holy Spirit the charism deaconate and/or priesthood just as men do.  And some men might receive the same charism while not receiving the charism of celibacy.

The priest’s role began to change early on causing some consternation among many of the more seasoned clergy who were used to seeing themselves as being in sole charge of a parish, as being mini-monarchs within the parish boundaries.  “Father says,” was reason enough to justify any dictate.   Some of them were mystified by the “new breed” of clergy who had been trained to see themselves as pastors, shepherds, servants of the people of God, sharing ministry with them.  Some of the elders couldn’t understand why the “newbies” saw themselves as empowers of their parishioners gifts.  They suspected that if this new thinking became pervasive, the primacy of priesthood would disappear, just as would their disciplinary control.  The priest would be reduced to being just like everybody else.  Imagine that.

So it was that some came to curse the Council.  I remember sitting in a discussion group a few years ago and hearing a young priest denounce Vatican II as the worst mistake made by the Church in her history and dismissing it as of little significance or importance.  Needless to say, I winced as I recognized how different our theologies of church were.  There is a “trickle down” theory in economics.  Among not a few, there is a similar theory for Church.  God speaks through the pope, the pope to the bishops, the bishops to the priests, and finally the priests announce God’s word to the people.  Lost seems to be the ancient conviction that the faith resides in the people through the influence of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is a living organism, growing, evolving, and developing.  Like every other living organism, the church cannot “devolve.”  To do so would be to die.  Yet the current movement in the Church seems intent on doing just that, turning back the clock, getting the Church back to what she was before the dawn of the Council.  Banned should be any talk of the Assembly being co-celebrators with the presider at Liturgy.  Enough of this talk of Eucharist as action.  Some see such ideas as the sources of many of the problems in the Church today.  I remember being invited to a parish to speak to the parishioners about establishing a reservation chapel for the Eucharist in their church.  Among other ideas I shared, was the concept of the people of God coming together to celebrate Eucharist, bringing about the sacramental presence of Christ in the bread and wine, and in the taking and eating and drinking, becoming that presence to be sent forth to continue that presence in the community.  The tabernacle’s purpose was to be a place of reservation so that Holy Communion could be brought to the sick and disabled who were not able to be present for Eucharist.  A woman walked to the front of the group, huffing and puffing with indignation and denounced me for promoting a concept that would make Jesus a prisoner in the tabernacle alone and in isolation.  She said I should try to imagine how lonely Jesus would be if no one came to spend time in adoration.  I thanked her for her observation but reminded her that since the Resurrection there was no way Jesus could be imprisoned and isolated.  And, I said, I thought it was important to separate our devotional lives from our celebratory lives.  It is certain that Christ is sacramentally present in the Eucharist; but one must not lose sight of the fact that Christ is also present in the Assembly, just as he is present in the Word and in the presider.  Needless to say, she was not convinced and remained in her outraged state, even as she pitied me.

Shortly after my encounter with that woman I was surprised to read in a parish bulletin the message from the pastor urging people to sign up for hours of adoration, especially during the night, since the parish was initiating 24-hour adoration.  It would be terrible let Jesus be lonely in the tabernacle during those wee hours.

In my early years Catholics commonly spoke about “hearing” mass.  The priest read the mass for the people.  The Sunday obligation was fulfilled as long as one was present from the time the priest removed the veil from the chalice until he replaced it there after Communion.  You didn’t have to be present for what we now know as the Liturgy of the Word, then called “The Mass of the Catechumens.”  Except for the earliest masses on Sunday morning, because of the fast from midnight the night before, few received Holy Communion.  Those that did received on the tongue while kneeling at the Communion Rail.  There are those who would like to see that discipline reinstated.  Those who did not receive Communion were encouraged to make a Spiritual Communion.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but sometimes at Liturgy, I get the impression that the priest-presider or celebrant works under the guise that it is all about him, never missing an opportunity to call attention to himself.  Exaggerated gestures like those of opera divas make me uncomfortable.  Prolonged genuflections before and longer elevations of the Bread and Cup serve only to get the people to focus on him.  He doesn’t seem to realize that during the institution narrative the presider is to show the elements to the assembly.  The elevation takes place during the doxology at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer.  The message seems to be that the priest is in primacy of place acting for the people.  The people’s place is to look on in admiration and adoration and not consider themselves as having an active role, much less a participatory role in the celebration.

While it can be said that some are all in favor of turning back the clocks, multitudes are not and demonstrate their displeasure with what is happening by leaving and going elsewhere for solace and the celebration of faith.  The numbers of departing Catholics is staggering and ought to be a concern for bishops and priests.  But in rather typical imperial fashion, there are those who have said that when the exodus is finished those who remain will be the outstanding “quality” Catholics that the church needs to face the future.  Whatever happened to the idea that all are welcome here?  Priests need to be much clearer about who can and who cannot receive Holy Communion.  Or so they would say.  The conscience of the one coming forward to receive has nothing to do with it.

The Spirit that roared through the Council as forcefully as on Pentecost will continue to move the Church forward to embrace the implications of the Council declarations and constitutions.  I believe that.  The Church will continue to evolve and the Risen One will be with us on the way.  In spite of the reversals, we will continue to recognize him in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup until he comes again.

More on this later.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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