June 15, 2008

Gratuitous Trans-Tiber Posting

I've generally kept off the Catholic blogging 'round here out of the rancor that it seems to cause among certain commentors (*ahem*)*** and certain fellow bloggers (*ahem*)***. However, here's a bit of news that I thought interesting enough to post.

The long-time and beloved Pastor of my parish, Fr. McA, suffered a stroke a few weeks back and was sidelined. Today, however, he popped up in order to deliver the announcements. Among them, he said that it was going to take him something between six months and a year to fully recover and that in the interim he was handing over the administrative duties of the parish to a deputy.

Now the main reason I joined my particular church, even though I am technically slightly out of its parish boundaries, is because Fr. McA runs a mighty tight ship. Mass is Mass: a joyful yet solemn worship of God and reception of Jesus through participation in the Eucharistic mystery, not a forum for navel-gazing, swishy feel-good pablum or liturgical stunts. I couldn't imagine that in stepping aside for a much-needed rest, Fr. McA would let somebody else start messing about with the church's course. Nonetheless, for a second, a sudden chill swept through me. What might we get? Liturgical dance? Cumbaya and folk guitars? The dreaded Clown Eucharist?

No fear. It turns out that the helm is being turned over to none other than Fr. Paul Scalia, son of Mr. Justice Antonin ("You lookin' at me?) Scalia. A sample of Fr. S's writings:

Imagine the following scene: You arrive at Mass on Sunday, eager to thank God for His goodness to you. You slide into the pew early, kneel in prayer, and direct your praise and worship to your Lord and God. You stand as the song leader introduces the opening hymn: "Table of Plenty". Suddenly your praise comes to a screeching halt, not because of your own prayers, but because of what you are singing. In fact you are no longer praising God at all, but singing to the others:
Come to the feast of heaven and earth! Come to the table of plenty! God will provide for all that we need, here at the table of plenty.

Now it gets worse: you begin to sing His lines:

O, come and sit at my table where saints and sinners are friends. I wait to welcome the lost and lonely to share the cup of my love.

And so at the very beginning of Mass, your conversation with God is derailed and transformed into a participation in the congregation's introspection.

To appreciate the damage done by such hymns, we must first call to mind two essential aspects of the Mass: presence and dialogue. First of all, what distinguishes the Mass from all other forms of worship is the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice. The Mass does not merely recall or reenact Christ's redemptive act but in fact makes present the mystery of faith, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1366).

Second, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and indeed throughout the Mass makes possible a real dialogue between God and man; it creates an active conversation. The remembrance of someone does not lead to dialogue with that person; only to reminiscing. The presence of Christ in the Mass, however, inspires us to speak to Him as only the beloved can speak to the Lover. Thus the Mass is a dialogue between Christ and the Church, between God and man, in which God speaks His lines and we speak ours. He speaks to us through the readings and (we hope) the homily, while we respond to Him through the prayers of the priest, our personal prayers, and the hymns.

Accordingly, active participation at Mass requires the faithful to acknowledge the presence of Christ and enter the dialogue, taking the words of the Bride as their own. They embody the Bride, and their Mass parts -- the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei express her desire for union with the Bridegroom. Other texts used at Mass should reflect and deepen this sentiment. The dialogue reaches its culmination at the Consecration, when the Bridegroom speaks His definitive words of love and thus becomes really present to His Bride in the Eucharist.

Given the lyrics of much contemporary liturgical music, however, we must ask what has become of this dialogue and our ability to enter it. Many hymns have us sing only about ourselves and to ourselves, even going so far as to usurp God's part. Such words fail to convey the true meaning of the Mass as a dialogue between Christ and the Church. The offending lyrics come in two varieties: in the first, we sing to one another and about one another, but do not include God in the conversation; and in the second, we sing God's parts.

Ah, that's teh stuff. As a matter of fact, Fr. McA was clear that there was going to be no change in the way things were done anyway, but it strikes me that, given our temporary Captain, there's no need to worry about it.

***Don't make me come up there, kids. Play nice.

Posted by Robert at June 15, 2008 03:06 PM | TrackBack

Our priest is retiring at the end of the month. I hope our new one is good, but I'm frankly a bit worried -- not so much because I think he'll be less strictly orthodox, but because he's Indian and only been in the country for 4 years. I wonder if I'll ever again understand a homily.

But at least neither of us will probably be going through what the lovely St. Etheldreda's in London (where we went to Ash Wednesday services) is going through.

Posted by: Jordana at June 15, 2008 04:16 PM

I think you're pretty fortunate.

Take pictures!

Posted by: GroovyVic at June 15, 2008 06:31 PM

Bah. Who cares what the man thinks. Is he good looking?

Posted by: Mrs. Peperium at June 16, 2008 12:11 PM

Mrs. P,

I'm not sure if you ever read "Growing up Catholic" (which was kind of a Preppy Handbook style parody book in the 1980s), but it sounds as if you are familiar with the phenomenon discussed in it of "Father What-a-Waste" -- the handsome young priest whom all the single women in the parish pine for.


Posted by: The Abbot at June 16, 2008 02:57 PM

Yes, Fr. Scalia is good-looking; he also happens to be intelligent and speaks the truth without compromise. Quelle combination!

You're lucky, Robbo. Let us know how the good Father does filling in...

Posted by: Christine at June 16, 2008 04:32 PM

Christine, you're right. I googled him up. Father Scalia is very good looking. You know it's just as easy to listen to a good looking and totally sound priest as it is to listen to a not so good looking and totally sound priest.

Abbott, the only waste involved is that what is wasted upon Robbo...I think I would benefit far more from Father Scalia's instruction than he....

Posted by: Mrs. Peperium at June 16, 2008 08:01 PM

He's orthodox, a great preacher and has a great sense of humor. you'll love him.

Posted by: Father M. at June 17, 2008 08:21 PM