Critiques & Controversies: December 2003 Archives

Parish Decision

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Went back to the church in question this weekend. Once again the homily was superb. No adult female altar servers--so I suspect the caution about incense was the main cause for the Midnight Mass adult female, and somehow that endears this group to me.

The hymns were mangled once again, but mangled in such a way that it suggests more than inclusivity is going on. There is a general dumbing down of the lyrics. For example, in "Angels from the Realms of Glory" they substituted "morning star" for "natal star." This just suggests idiotic tampering that I've come to associate with a certain major liturgical press. As a congregation generally buys books once, and not necessarily on the niceties of the lyrics, one is inclined to over look this.

In response to Don below, absolutely no mangling of the readings occurred this morning. The Psalm setting was exactly as it should have been and so too were all the readings. Another point in favor.

Nevertheless, we still have certain outstanding problems. Music provided this morning was duet for New Age keyboard and Saxophone with Cantor (okay, so a diverse group is contributing to the Church's music ministry). And the stained glass is ill-considered. Rather than pedagogical or inspirational, it is merely pretty blue, purple, red with a musical instrument motif--lute, French horn, etc.

I cam live with all of these quibbles. I can thrive in this church with the resolution of two questions, neither of which involves me directly.

(1) The first thing Samuel asked when we entered this Church this morning was "Why is Jesus dancing up there?" However, I did note that there seemed to be more willingness to participate and more general involvement with what is going on--so the issue of decor may be easy to put to rest.

(2) Much more problematic is that I don't see any organized catechesis for children. I know that I can do this by myself, and I will supplement whatever he gets wherever he goes with material at home. However, I do think it is good for him to be with others in learning about the faith--from the very beginnings understanding that worship is both private and public, individual and communal. I hope I am mistaken, but it appeared that there was no real means (CCD or otherwise) of cathechizing children. And if the comment I heard from the pew behind me just prior to consecration is any indication, this is a Church that desperately needs it.

A woman was explaining to her child or grandchild what the priest was holding up (the large host). She started with "That's Jesus." Good enough. Then the child said, "It doesn't look like Jesus." And the woman responded, "Well it's just a symbol of Jesus." Yes it is a symbol, but it is not "just a symbol" and in a moment it would not be a symbol at all--it would become the reality of Jesus.

However, this, I'm sure is the state of many in Church today, so I shouldn't be so harsh. And this woman could not possibly have been catechized at this Church, so it is not the influence of the Church itself.

I'll just need to continue my investigations. I thank everyone who has taken the time to respond and to help my thought process. The reality will boil down to what this church offers in the way of assisting me to help my child understand the faith. Everything else, I can deal with. It conjures up memories and spectres of the bad-old-days of protestant-Catholicism that marked my entry into the Church. But perhaps it is time much of that is laid to rest.

Honestly, I suspect the only local Church that I would be truly happy at would be the Byzantine Rite Church that looks like a Baptist Church that had been taken over by the Byzantines. I haven't tried the Maronite Rite Church yet--and the pastor there is fantastic--a man of tremendous faith and spirituality. But most importantly I need to find a place where Samuel can grow and become the person in Christ he is meant to be.

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Seeking Advice

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For Midnight Mass, I attended my Parish Church. I mean my actual parish which I haven't visited since we first landed here in 1997, except for a confirmation sometime back.

The experience wasn't nearly as trying as the first time; however, it had just about everything possible to disorient and irritate.

Let's start with the decor. A typically modern church with the modern "flourishes" or architectural absurdity. The altar area resembles something out of H.P. Lovecraft with convoluted angles that suggest eldritch realms beyond--but nothing of glory.

Now the crucifix--ah, that's an essay in iteself to describe everyhting wrong with it. Picture Eric Idle in a loincloth in "Life of Brian" skipping through the desert. No--here it is--imagine a devout and devoted, but not very good plaster worker who has placed Jesus on the cross in something resembling a "retirer" (or Don, is that "retir&eactue;") pose, only the foot is at the front of the knee rather than the side. Now his arms are positioned out along the bar of the crucifix, palms upward and Jesus is looking upward--giving the overall effect of Him being out for a summer hop, skip, and jump with the notion of checking to see if there's rain in the forecast. Now, after this unfortunate devout plaster worker had finished the entire work, some bumbler went and spilled water over the entire thing causing a certain about of flaccidity and dripping--think Francis Bacon's Famous Triptych (Was it of Innocent X?). Oh, and all of this with a gold lame throw discretely veiling the privates.

Okay, that has always been there, and is an unfortunate reflection of the revolution in litugical art that is truly revolting.

Now to the liturgical absurdities that the present congregation did have some control over--there was present a full-grown woman dressed in altar-server's clothing. Because this woman did nothing but handle the objects involved with incense, I thought perhaps that this was simply a safety precaution on the part of the Church to avoid having relatively young girls and boys dealing with it--overall perhaps overly cautious, but sensible.

But this came after other things had already raised the hackles. The classic Christmas carol lyrics had been all but gutted and revamped so that there would be no mention made whatsoever of "man" or "men." Now, no matter how I feel about inclusive language (and I regard it quite guardedly) I outright despise the alteration of Charles Wesley's lyrics, or those of any number of other people to cater to today's whims in Political Correctness. If you want PC lyrics, write a new carol to reflect your views, don't gut my old and cherished ones--ones to which I have the lyrics memorized and do not wish to follow along in some preprinted inclusivity fest. Similarly, don't alter the psalms and the present translation of the Bible to suit your PC needs. (They did only a little of this, but it was sufficient to be annoying, given the already putrid translations offered us by the USCCB.)

One moment I did like (contra the vast majority of St. Blogs, which I know despises this beyond words) was holding hands during the "Our Father" even to the point of crossing aisles. (Obviously the GIRM hasn't reached this particular Parish. On the other hand, some changes in liturgy and practice occur as a result of grass-roots measures. My indoctrination as a Catholic was done by a very devout group of Claretians that had a mission at my college. My introduction to the liturgy came through the Newman center there. And other than this hand-holding was enitrely Orthodox and orthopraxial, so far as I can remember. Thus I came to love this moment, and it was beautiful.) Unfortunately it was spoiled by the show-tune version of the Our Father that seems all the rage in such parishes. You know the one--where temptation becomes the nearly four syllable--temp-tay-ay-shun.

Okay, so it wasn't a satisfying liturgy. I sat there much of the time fuming. And then it occurred to me, that perhaps I should spend a good deal more time at this place. Perhaps I have been dulled into complacency by attendance at a Church that, while not spectacular, does do everything by the book. (Moreover, the homily was very, very good--emphasizing the need for a constant rebirt of Christ in all of our lives in order to carry Him and His message into the world.) I also thought that there were here many very devout, very loving people, who cherish the liturgy--in other words, people who were doing their best to express to God their love of Him. They weren't doing a job I particularly appreciated--but I didn't hear anyone else complaining on the way out.

Third, it occurred to me that attending this church would be a practice of patience and charity. Attending Mass would have at once a certain penitential and celebratory aspect--this seems quite desirable.

I haven't decided yet, but I've almost convinced myself that I should be at this church, assisting at Mass in such a way that perhaps through time it might change, little by little, to reflect a somewhat more correct practice. Also, it would be good to wean me from attachment to things that may matter greatly, but not so greatly as the presence of Christ Himself. And He was there in the proclaimed word and in the validly consecrated Eucharist (under both species). If anyone was out-of-tune, it was me. But I can't shake the feeling that this was a good place for me to be--that I should cherish the opportunity offered by God in this particular setting.

Any thoughts or reflections that may help me in my decision would be appreciated. I know that it is ultimately up to me and up to the prayer I share with God to discern where I should be. But it is quite difficult. This church has the attraction both of obedience (my parish) and of not fitting me to a "T." Perhaps I need to be more open and more generous in my view of things. Perhaps I also need to learn to sit quietly and endure certain kinds of hardship. I honestly don't know.

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On Progressive Catholicism

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First, I want to thank M. Jcecil3 for the removal of labels from some people on his site. I think my point may have been misconstrued, so I do want to make it clear--I don't stand opposed to being labeled (that is part and parcel of humility), but I do find the use of labels not terribly helpful, and potentially lacking in charity--but these are subtle issues. I wanted once again to engage in dialogue with M. Jcecil because he is so lively and courteous a correspondent.

First I thought I would address the following list of "controversial" topics that he lists on his site--with each point, I will indicate my own position. This is more a reminder list so that I might be able to address those points on which we disagree.

M. Jcecil's list:

(1) I believe that God can be called Mother as well as Father--For me, not a matter of controversy--it has been done throughout the history of the Church and within the Bible itself--at least tangentially and by implication. Most radically, the hymns of St. Anselm to Christ our Mother.

(2) That inclusive language in reference to the people of God should be used in liturgy--I don't know about this. I suppose if it is a proper and accurate translation fine--however, if it is the hideous jumble that often results from the over-the-top attempts at inclusivity, I'd rather not.

(3) That women could be ordained ministerial priest, and perhaps should be ordained (The Pope has clearly said no to this one)--We will disagree on this.

(4) That married men should be ordained--some are--usually converts from other faiths who have faculties within those faiths. And certainly in Anglican Use and Eastern Churches this is already done. I don't feel particularly attached to this discipline of the Church, but perhaps I have too vague an understanding.

(5) That even with original sin, we image the divine and we are inherently capable of some good--We will disagree on this. I am with the traditional teaching that argues that self is sufficient for sin alone--good may only be accomplished through the power of God.

(6) That the ancient rite of adelphopoiesis could be restored as a union for homosexual Catholics--We will disagree--I hope to spell out my disagreement in more detail.

(7) That divorced and remarried Catholics can participate in the life of the Church--I leave this to the Canon lawyers; however, I think not.

(8) That artificial contraception in marriage is morally equivalent to natural family planning--While I disagree with the notion, I do find it interesting that the morality of either is not commented upon.

(9) That ecumenical dialogue is essential to contemporary Catholicism and we can learn from non-Catholics--Unquestionably.

(10) That social justice is part and parcel of the gospel--Absolutely, depending on whether one intends that to mean also the fullness of the gospel, in which case it is not true.

(11)That salvation is integral for the whole human person (involving liberation)--Uncertain what the codicil (involving liberation) means; however, if it indicates liberation theology, we will most probably disagree.

(12) That there is room for democratic forms of Church governance--There certainly is room for it, and then one ends up with what happens in the Anglican communion. Historically, this is a very unstable way to govern churches--22,000 different denominations of Protestants are a fairly strong argument against this.

(13) That Catholics should be committed to conserving the environment--Certainly, we are stewards of Earth's resources, we must care for them and see to it that they are used wisely, or in some cases not at all.

(14) That Catholics can conscientiously object to all war on principle--I think this may be true--I find just war doctrine a case of special pleading that has yet to really convince me. I don't know that just war is possible--although I wonder about conscientious objection to something like WWII. But I can be persuaded.

(15) That Catholics should be opposed to the death penalty in the modern world--I believe the Holy Father basically says as much, despite what justice Scalia may remark on the point. I agree.

Here are fifteen "controversial" issues on which I agree in whole or in part with nine. Now, I may be agreeing to something not proposed, and may not be agreeing on issues of subtlety--but some of these issues are, it seems to me, only controversial in a very small part of the Catholic population as a whole. I doubt seriously whether many well-informed Catholics would suggest that the Earth is ours to pillage and destroy as we will. There might be a few, but vanishingly few.

So it seems on some issues of controversy, I find myself at least sympathetic to the views likely to be espoused by M. Jcecil3. On the issues wherein there is disagreement, I hope to spend some time later.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from December 2003.

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