Sunday, September 28, 2014

How Can We Make the Mass Relevant to People?

Universality is an essential feature of Christian worship. It is the worship of an open heaven. It is never just an event in the life of a community that finds itself in a particular place.

No, to celebrate the Eucharist means to enter into the openness of a glorification of God that embraces both heaven and earth, an openness effected by the Cross and Resurrection. Christian liturgy is never just an event organized by a particular group or set of people or even by a particular local Church.

Mankind’s movement toward Christ meets Christ’s movement toward men. He wants to unite mankind and bring about the one Church the one divine assembly, of all men.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy

Reflection – One more day of ‘Ratzinger blogging’, and then we’ll be on to something different next week. It seemed appropriate on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection when the whole Body of Christ throughout the world is gathering together to worship the Risen Lord, to have this excerpt from Spirit of the Liturgy.

Liturgy in Roman Catholic culture in the past 50 years has suffered deeply from the loss of this universal perspective. Far too often we are locked into our own immediate community, our own immediate parish or culture or situation, and the liturgy becomes a mere expression of communal solidarity or identity.

The worst examples of this are seen, of course, in youth ministry, when efforts to make the Mass ‘relevant’ to teenagers or children lead perhaps well-meaning priests and youth workers to introduce such novelties as rock bands, rap, superhero vestments, and so forth. When the focus of the liturgy becomes the assembly and not God, the people and not the Person, fellowship and not Communion, then we are badly off course.

This is why fidelity to the rubrics matters so much. We are not just a little group doing our own thing at St. Soandso Parish, and so able to edit, add, delete, and modify the rite according to what works for us. What really works for us is to celebrate the liturgy exactly as it is given to us, to ‘say the black and do the red’ and in this to know ourselves to be part of a bigger body, a larger reality, a Church that extends to the ends of the earth and in fact transcends the earthly realm to extend to the worship of the Church Triumphant before the throne of God.

In fact, I would argue in a Chestertonian style that the liturgy is most relevant to us, most meeting us where we are, precisely when it is incomprehensible, obscure. It is most meaningful precisely where it is ‘meaningless’. Because we moderns need more than anything to be shaken out of our narrow provincialism, our conviction that the world begins and ends with us, that all reality is to conform itself to our little ideas and our little prejudices, rather than we conforming ourselves to the reality of God which is vastly greater than us.

When we are pushed beyond our immediate understanding and resonance with a liturgical moment, we are actually touching upon the fact, which goes way beyond liturgy and extends to every aspect of spiritual and moral life, that God is continually calling us well out of our comfort zones, well beyond what is easy or feels natural or corresponds to our notions about life.

The simple act of conforming ourselves to the liturgy that the Church gives us, rather than demanding continually that the liturgy conform itself to our likes and dislikes, is a deep act of spiritual humility that genuinely helps us to be conditioned for all the acts of discipleship, obedience, surrender, abandonment that the Lord will most certainly ask of all of us in our lives.

And that we do this act of conformation as a body, a community, signals then that this is the true identity of our community: we are the people the Lord calls together (the original meaning of ecclesia) to be his people, the ones he fashions and shapes according to his good purposes and not ours, his truth and meaning and not ours, his Death and Resurrection and glorification in heaven, and not our little and poor ideas about human happiness and flourishing.

Liturgical obedience is a powerful means, expression, and symbolic realization of the basic stance of faith and discipleship, and we in the Western Church need desperately to recover that sense of faith regarding the liturgy, both for our own selves, and for our task of evangelizing the world.