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Monday, February 03, 2003

Great Series of Articles About the Collapse of the Liturgy.

Back in mid-2002, these essays were written by the indispensible Fr. Joseph Wilson as part of a continuing series entitled Selective in Our Scandals. Here are all four parts, with excerpts from each.

Part I:

I chose the title of this essay carefully: “Selective in our scandals.” Our attention is focused, and quite rightly, on the soul-searing clerical sexual abuse scandals which are rocking the Church in our country. But, as I have insisted elsewhere whenever I have written on the subject, we make a serious mistake whenever we fall into the trap of considering the sexual abuse scandals in isolation.

The truth is that we have ten or twelve major areas of crisis in our Church, and they have been serious crises for two generations. They are easy to enumerate: the sacred Liturgy, priestly formation, religious life, family life, scripture studies, moral theology, Catholic health care, our colleges and universities, catechesis. For all the incessant talk we have heard about ‘renewal’ in the Church, these areas have been in constant crisis for thirty five years, and little or nothing has been done about it.

Part II, focusing on funeral liturgies:

The purpose of a Funeral Mass is the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of the departed soul. It is the specific application of the fruits of Calvary to this individual departed Christian, the opportunity for the mourners to participate in the Eucharist and offer their communion for the departed. It’s about the Lord Jesus, the Resurrection, the means of grace and the hope of glory.

You’d never guess it from the eulogies through which I have sat. Liturgy has become entertainment; it is a sort of karaoke experience we put on ourselves, to suit the mood and needs of the moment. I have had people angry because I insisted that only sacred music be included in the liturgy (one angry woman wrote to the bishop because I would not permit the swing piece to which she had danced with her departed husband at their wedding reception forty years before). I have had families who assumed that this was the perfect occasion for seven year old children to lector; people who presented at the offertory of the Mass a basket of cheer (no, not detergent!) and expected that I would place it on the altar. I watched as the best friend of dear, departed “Bud,” in the pulpit, pulled out a can of beer and toasted Bud’s journey (and I must say that, having heard this eulogy, I was a bit apprehensive about Bud’s destination). I listened with astonishment as a family friend who was to have read from Saint Paul for the epistle mounted the pulpit to read an essay which I later discovered was by Kahil Gibran.

From Part III, where he describes his own formation during the post-council chaos:

There is something awesome happening when we gather around the altar for the Holy Sacrifice. It is that God Himself is acting, in a unique way. It is that Jesus Himself is the Priest, and He is offering Himself, Jesus the Victim, to the eternal Father, for us and for our salvation. It is that the one, perfect Sacrifice of Jesus, Calvary itself, is made present to us, so that we can be there -- we can, literally, stand at the Foot of the Cross with our blessed Lady and St John. I, as the Priest, do a few things, and you, as the People, do a few things, and we say a few things, but the holy Mass is primarily about what God Himself does for us. It is the most awesome reality in this world.

From Part IV, describing liturgical abuse as a denial of the Incarnation:

Take the University chapel of which I spoke in an earlier article. As you will recall, it had been carefully designed by liturgists according to state of the art liturgical principles, and erected in 1985/86. From the outside, the copper-sheathed exterior walls and the graduated stepped roof earned it comparisons with a “crushed gasoline can.” Within, one saw dark brown brick walls, unadorned; a dark floor, brown chairs with brown cushions, no visible windows of any kind, even the stations of the cross set in the floor, no adornment at all. When I questioned this, I was told that the chapel is “just space, space gathered by a skeleton of steel and brick and mortar, but just space: it is when the People of God assemble here that this space comes alive, and becomes church, and they with their variously hued garments and hairstyles and eye tones and skin colors become the adornment of the house of God.”

How different from the sensibilities of those we encounter on the pages of Scripture. Jacob, awakening from the dream where he saw the ladder erected between heaven and earth resting upon the very spot where he had slept, exclaimed, “How awesome is this Place! This is none other than the Gate of Heaven!” The wandering Hebrews marched through the desert behind the Holy Ark, which was borne before them, with the Presence of God signaled by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When they camped, the Tent of the Meeting was erected for the Ark, as a place where God dwelt. In the Holy Land, they built the Temple, with its Holy of Holies at its heart -- where God dwelt.

After this, the series (rather like Crux News' blog) petered out. But it is well worth reading anyway.

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