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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Why East?

Yep. More thoughts on GIRMs. Bear with me (or not)--it's lengthy.

The short--indeed, the only--answer is because liturgy is that important, that's why. Every Sunday, Catholics go to meet God in the flesh, offer worship to Him, praise Him for their redemption and, yes, experience the sanctification that comes through knowing him.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying that the liturgy at our home parish is not that bad. It's not stellar, but I almost never get hacked off by what's done, so long as we avoid the tone-deaf blaring of Ensemble Man, who offers an ear-assaulting repertoire of what can only be described as gender-neutral praise songs cribbed from The Guess Who's b-sides.

As long as we avoid that (aided by the distant early warning schedule printed in the bulletin), I could even truthfully say that things are improving. We've added dignified wooden statuary of the Virgin and St. Joseph over the past five years, and even have an icon of the martyred saint of our parish. Our head pastor has lowered the boom (well, for him) on kneeling, and has gently begun raising the issue of proper dress. We even experienced the long version of the Ephesians passage a couple of weeks ago, to general consternation. Not that our associate pastor did much with it, but at least we heard it this year.

So, my problem with the liturgy does not come (generally) from my experience at the home base. It also does not come, as it would in other dioceses, from a dearth of parishes that understand good liturgy. There are more than a handful in our area, and we have been advised by friends about yet another that looks superb. Detroit, for all of its problems, could be much, much worse.

Where my problem starts is what you see everywhere else, a great heaving gamut from the magnificent (very, very rare) to the mediocre to the seizure-inducingly awful. It's not a bell curve, though (no. 3 is seen much more often than no. 1). Further, in certain areas, if you cross diocesan boundaries it feels more like you are worshipping in a different religion.

The number of options, built in for the Bishop Newkirks inclined to verbally malign the kneeling faithful on down to the so-inclusive parish priests who won't touch the Roman Canon with tongs, makes for a profoundly divided, un-catholic (small "c" intentional) liturgy. In lockstep march the experts (let the choir say "LTP!"), armed and arming with dubious archeological knowledge about the What the Early Church Really Did ("Apparently, they were big on breaking wind after the agape meal, sooooo...."), twisting and turning the rubrics and historical data into a marvelous liturgical Escher sketch that permits just about anything your little ol' heart desires. New, for the Perennially Aggrieved: FemLit 4.0, now with HolyPlay™ intercessions and 75% less masculinity!

This, I fear, is the great flaw in the post-Conciliar liturgy. Worship no longer belongs to the whole people, it belongs to a clergy/lay elite engaged in an endless, exhausting process of "renewal," now at 34 years with no end in sight. Not that pre-Conciliar liturgy was some golden era, of course. I've read too much to believe otherwise. In fact, what appears to have happened in the great multitude of cases was that the ineptitude, sloppiness, inattention (10 minute masses!) and slapdashery of the old Latin Mass as then celebrated was poured into the implementation of the Missal of 1969. Nor is the Missal of 1969 without its strengths, not least of which being more readings from scripture, and, yes, participation. The idea of a silent Mass or one celebrated outside the presence of the Faithful (while they are gathered on Sunday) is beyond peculiar to me.

Still, behold the crap. The sublimity of the old High Mass at its finest was lost in the shuffle. And, say what you will about it, the Tridentine was not particularly amenable to tinkering (a/k/a "renewal"). WYSIWYG. In its place, a bewildering number of options, many of which are even authorized. Come on--even in the much-heralded (for some reason) new GIRM there are plenty of episcopal escape hatches conceded to the bishops in the name of collegiality. By virtue of the fact a particular butt happens to warm the cathedra, you will stand/kneel/play Twister/greet the "presider" with "Yahtzee!" because Albany/Los Angeles/Richmond/Rochester/Saginaw deems it meet to so do. After all, Bishop Newkirk has been here X years, and he'll keep "renewing the liturgy" until morale improves.

So, after all that, why not just go to a better parish/diocese? The better question drops the "not." Why go to another parish when a new episkopos/presbuteros can upset the apple cart on a whim. "Bishop Jiggy says you'll stand, or else, kulak!" "Hey, guys, Rev. Bob's here! Latin's out, Haugen's in. Baby!" (Let's not kid ourselves--plenty of people like the swill). Why get attached to something that can vanish overnight? Ditto the indult (which isn't an option here, anyway). One hand giveth, the other taketh away. Assumption Grotto, with its Masses joined by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, is impressive now, but what happens when Fr. Perrone retires? Or Detroit gets a new ordinary?

Which, rather reluctantly, leaves me with the Eastern Option. The Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Catholics and Orthodox isn't open to episcopal/priestly/expert interference. Nor, interestingly, do the collegially-sensitive Orthodox prelates seem to desire such. Seeing our example has proven to be, shall we say, inspiring to them in their desire to preserve the heart of their faith. There's good Melkite, Byzantine and Ukrainian parishes in the area, and I've reached the point where I would prefer to save my worship anxieties for special occasions.

Go ahead. Convince me I'm wrong.

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