THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – January 22, 2017

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 8:23-9:3
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to 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.  Then 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 in faith and gathering with you at the Table?  You know that I was never the same after that first encounter.  Nothing that antedated our meeting had the same value or importance.  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 readers 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.  Finally, 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.  Things are changing.  In increasing evidence 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 use of the Latin Mass composed before Vatican II and contained in the 1962 Roman Missal of St. John XXIII.

This division between rites seems to foster two rather startlingly different ecclesiologies.  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 the people called the Assembly in those days? – and the people on their knees followed along in their missals, which offered translation.  Or, the people could read their own devotions or pray 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 and they adored, 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 few the number of communicants.  The emphasis seemed to be on the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into your body and blood at the hands of the priest.  The people, on their knees, were there to adore.  While the readings were in English, they were limited to two each Sunday – one from St. Paul and one from one of the Gospels.  The Hebrew Scriptures were seldom proclaimed.  We have three cycles of Sunday readings today.  Then there was one.  Much of the Scriptures were never read in the course of the Sundays of the year.

There is nostalgia among some for that essentially Tridentine Liturgy.  Nostalgia for the Latin.  Nostalgia for the silence and the reverence perceived in the Assembly’s posture of adoration on their knees.  Even some priests find joy in celebrating this rite because there are fewer distractions when their backs are to the people.   They have less of a compulsion to perform.  Alas, how can there be nostalgia for something that one has never experienced but only read about?

Am I mistaken in thinking that the Second Vatican Council called for the full, active, and conscious participation of the Assembly?  Am I not 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 bread and wine and in the transformed Assembly.  We stand to testify to our intention to receive the Bread and to drink from the Cup.  Kneeling was the sign that that would not be the case.  Those kneeling would not receive.  We engage in dialogue with the priest-presider 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 have missed Mass.)  We stand in unison in the Communion Process acknowledging our common union with you, augmented through our reception of the one Bread and drinking from the one Cup.  It is, after all, a following of your instruction quoted in the Institution Narrative.

Am I making sense?  Or are you thinking that I am daft?  Am I wrong when I think there are two different ecclessiologies being exercised here?  Am I being stubborn when I think that I cannot go back to the former way?  I loved the Gregorian chant 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.  The Presider and the Assembly co-celebrated.

I didn’t shake the dust from my feet as I left, but I left the parish church near when I live knowing I could never return.  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 the Assembly access to the Cup.  Among the reasons, none of which seemed compelling to me, was his concern that with so many Lay Ministers of the Cup the people might lose sight of the priest and miss his importance.  It seemed clear that his perception was that too much power has been given to the people.  It is time for the ordained priest to take that back and return the people to their proper place.

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 and developmentally challenged 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 because it is clear 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 your presence in the market place until all, especially the poor, have eaten and drunk and now know that they are the beloved and have primacy of place 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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