Is it perspective that changes when you are retired and find yourself in the pews amongst the faithful, experiencing Liturgy at which you used to preside?  I’ve found myself muttering interiorly that it couldn’t have been like this then.  What I always thought of as a communal celebration that invited full, active and conscious participation from the assembled seems now to be a ritual that reduces the assembly to mere spectators.  What used to encourage the people of God to recognize God’s imminence and the presence of Christ within and uniting us now seems bent on focusing us on God’s transcendence, a Christ becoming present to be adored.  In fact, with tabernacles being returned to the altar or to the wall behind the altar, the focus as the people enter the worship space is no longer on the altar which was the principal symbol of Christ, the altar that was reverenced as people took their places in the Assembly, the focus now is the tabernacle that houses Christ’s presence in the consecrated bread.  It is not an uncommon happening that, when it is time for the Communion Procession, the majority of the Assembly receives from the Hosts reserved in the tabernacle and not from the Bread consecrated during the Liturgy.  I was present for a mass when only the priest received from the Host on the altar.  Everyone else, from the tabernacle.  Then there are those parishes that are repressing Communion from the Cup.  For forty-five years, I believed that the church assembled to celebrate Eucharist and so realize Christ becoming sacramentally present in the bread and the wine transformed by the invocation of the Spirit.  And having shared in the meal, the people were then sent to continue Christ’s presence in the world, to love through the pouring out of self through service.

In several churches where I have tried to worship in the past several months, I feel that there has been a time warp and conciliar reforms of Vatican Council II have vanished and the pro-council church has re-emerged.  I have exited church after mass concluding that I missed mass again.  Some of the clergy are wearing cassocks and surplices again, or cassocks and lacey albs.  And I think, wow, I haven’t seen vestments like that in many years.  It wouldn’t surprise me to seem maniples and birettas’ return, too.  For what purpose?  To set Father apart?  I haven’t experienced it yet, but I have heard that in some churches the communion railing is returning so that the people can be separated from the sanctuary and keep their proper places in the nave where they can adore on bended knee.  The Church’s mandate that the Assembly stand from the conclusion of the preparation of the gifts until the last person has received Communion as a sign of their participation in the Resurrection of Christ widely has been repressed and the people are told to kneel.  It seems to have been forgotten that in the Church’s history, when some in the assembly knelt, it was a sign that they were not going to receive Communion, a sign of non-participation.  Alas.

I won’t even talk about the preaching except to say that I have found much of it to be banal and condescending.  Seldom does the preacher break open the Word as a homily is supposed to do to help the assembled be transformed by the Word.  In some cases I have been embarrassed for the preacher as historical and dogmatic errors spew forth from him.  And then there are those who think that the homilist is meant to entertain and give everybody a good laugh.  Humor is not a bad thing unless it is the only thing.

What started me off on this tirade was a conversation I had with a friend the other day.  She told me about a parish not far from where I live where women are being put back in their proper place.  I guess I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when I remember that the rector of the cathedral announced that girls would no longer be allowed to be altar servers.  That would be reserved for the boys because boys’ serving would lead some of them to pursue priesthood.  The girls from then on could serve as sacristans so that they might be inspired to become nuns.  That announcement was in the local secular press.  If I had thought about all that, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that in this parish women have been told to wear hats or lacey doilies on their heads when they come into church.  Hands are to be properly folded with fingers pointing heavenward.  Kneeling is the preferred posture.  And, of course, silence is to be maintained in the sacred space.  The ordination of women has long been a forbidden topic of discussion in the Church, as has been discussion of married priests.  The Vatican directed inquisition of Nuns in this country, and the bishops investigation of the Girl Scouts seem to fit right in with this “vision” of women’s proper role.

The Pew polls have revealed that thousands of people are leaving the Catholic Church for other communions.  It has been a fact for some time in the United States that the largest denomination is Roman Catholic.  The second largest is Former Catholics.  Some are wondering if it won’t be long before the Formers outnumber the Catholics. 

It is difficult not to be cynical, remembering as I do those glory days, the years immediately after the Council that began fifty years ago, summoned by a pope who believed that the faith resided in the people and it was important for the Church to assemble to discern that faith, to open the windows and let in fresh air.    Sure, there were difficulties in the transition.  Some struggled with the vernacular and folk hymns.  Some resented seeing lay people, even women, participating in the Liturgy as lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.  Even the most resentful couldn’t mistake the renewed enthusiasm sweeping through the Assembly as they were reminded of their Baptismal Priesthood and were empowered to exercise it.  There may be an attempt to turn the clock back, so to speak, to restore former times.  But we must remember that the Church is a living organism that continues to evolve as she moves through history.  To turn the clock back and impose devolution on the living organism is to impose a death sentence.  Organisms that devolve die.

There is reason to hope.  We must remember that Christ said to the disciples, “I am with you always, until the end of the World.”  The Holy Spirit still inspires the faithful calling them to full life.  There are parishes that continue to be welcoming communities, inviting all and welcoming all.  Some homilies still break open the Gospel of repentance, reconciliation, and hope.  Some assemblies still are invited to gather around the table and to co-celebrate the Eucharist and so enter into Mystery.   Women continue to serve as Lectors, as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and as altar servers and ministers of hospitality.  Some may be leaving in frustration and finding their solace elsewhere.  But some are forming “underground” churches, celebrating, as they believe the Church calls them to celebrate. 

And we persevere believing that there will be another Pentecost, another breathing forth of the Spirit, another fire.  Then the Church of Vatican Council II will come to full stature as she continues to evolve, continues to grow into the full likeness of Christ whose Body she is.



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