Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2nd Monday quarterbacking: open letter to all liturgical leaders

Dear Celebrants, Deacons, Liturgists and Musicians,
When you meet, could you thoroughly discuss how each of you has approached the "changes" with regard to preparing the people. We should consider (and we are not alone) whether we have adequately prepared the people in the pews for both the acceptance and the implementation of the ritual language changes. It is difficult to assess that, even though celebrants have valiantly taken up the ritual language with acceptance, whether we have adequately prepared our congregations sufficiently to both understand why and what the changes exactly ask from them. This needs to be addressed from a united front from all of us immediately. We can allow and allot ourselves a cushion that "change" will take time, years even. But after two weeks, it is painfully apparent that we have not done enough preparation.

It is not enough to simply "give ourselves a break" and say "let time take its course." The very structures of the church local and Church demand that we step up and take responsibility for how we prepare ourselves and our Faithful for “the Liturgy” This would still be true under previous or future editions.. One retired “seasoned senior" pastor’s remark that he has regarded this fourth version of the Missale he’s “endured” through his priestly tenure as an opportunity to learn how to pray anew is so very apt and encouraging. What a remarkable perspective. Each of us has also taken a pro-active role in assimilating this change as an opportunity, rather than an inconvenience. But we who are at the top of the liturgical food chain need to remember than the people cannot assimilate these shifts by osmosis, unless we are resigned that if they get "it" after sufficient repetitions that rote learning and recitation is the hallmark of "right worship" of God Almighty. That rationale is a death knell for worship of the Creator of creation in this cynical, wary era. We have to do more, each and every one of us.
Deacons, you're not exempt: you have to prepare yourselves for your responsibilities to all your important duties to liturgy in advance. Taking a cue from the celebrants’ need to review their new orations, you all should avoid the inclination to "wing" the Universal Prayer on the fly. You have to study the syntax, the phraseology, the prepositions, the names of the deceased with determination to understand each intercession with precision.. It really is inconsequential whether each of us assumes that we have fulfilled our liturgical roles simply because we keep a regular schedule and have accepted and know our basic "responsibilities." Souls are at stake; we cannot waver, rest on our laurels, or our personalities, or our legacies over time, assuming that we have satisfied our rubrical roles and the rest is up to everyone else. We have to risk more, each and every Sunday, more not less.
Celebrants and Deacons- we have to cross the first beach-head, that after two weekends, we must admit we have not presented a united mission to the faithful, and in many situations we have abysmally failed to prepare ourselves, much less they whom we guide. We have not been able in so many documented anecdotal recollections been able to elicit a fairly pro forma response to "The Lord be with you." This second weekend has provided many accounts that this inability was more evident than the first week. I don't think this indicates "revolt" or "revulsion" towards the new Missal. I think it reflects our own casual approach to helping our Faithful adjust. Each celebrant and deacon ought to consider reviewing and practicing the manner in which he elocutes the "Dominus vobiscum" or "The Lord be with you." We're not talking about the theology of that invocation and its response, we're talking just how to perform it so that the response is "called for." Have you considered whether you have continued to orate "The Lord be with you" with the normal, expected cadence that has been in place for 45 years? Five syllables, “ Bada bing boom boom.” And what happens? The people aren't afforded a cue, a clue or a context to offer the proper response because the celebrational medium likely didn't change, so they literally fall into the convenience of the former response. Despite the fairly well-documented and easily acquired access of online and other pedagogical guides, how many celebrants actually took to heart the notion of “singing the Mass?” So many accounts of successful workshops offered by the likes of Dr. Paul Ford and Dr. Jerry Galipeau, when crunch time finally arrived, how many of those who heartily endorsed both the efficiency and beauty of chanting the orations, backed away from that goal for whatever expedient reason provided a rationale for abandoning any enthusiasm for that noble effort. However it’s clear that with some modicum of preparation and setup, tasks musicians do all the time, week after week, whether sung or recited, presiders can help the faithful to take up the new responses deftly:
“The Lord (pause for a beat) be WITH you.” “And WITH your spirit.” It’s about knowing something about dynamics, emPHAsis, and contextual clues so that the people get a sense they're being led to the elevation of the new semantical responses.
Lastly, it is an expressed concern that the Church's primary witness to the world, not to mention our own local community, is centered upon how we worship. Despite local indications that might offer us all a cushion to rest upon and think that because our numbers, attendance, etc. are better than our neighbors, the Church is in serious crisis. We need to re-evaluate our priorities vis a vis Sunday worship. Should we not capitalize upon this moment to clarify the meaning of worship for our people, and that means it is not about "me, us, the community, feeling redeemed and happy etc."? There is nothing intrinsically wrong about singing "rejoice and be glad" or reminding the faithful during homilies that "GOD IS HERE" and "all will be well." Sure, we've heard that for two generations. But we are the Church where the corpus is still on the cross. Suffering is still part of the equation, and we cannot pretend that this mystery is an either/or story. It is a "both/and" story. We should have no problem with celebrating the concept of corporate redemption and that should elicit a demeanor of joy and hope. But reality has a very efficient way of intruding upon that in each of our lives, and we need words (already present in our rituals and our scripture) that should acknowledge that life is a struggle, and that Jesus calls us, each and every one of us, to improve our disposition through prayer, deeds and DISCIPLINE so that we can help others to recognize Christ in US. That cannot be encapsulated or canned in any one type of corporate response such as singing a "happy, familiar" song or laughing at an illustrative joke or anecdote.
Our Church's future, in the largest sense as well as local, is at a critical crossroads. And all that is being proposed and advocated here is that we all "up our game."
Where Catholicism goes, so goes Christianity. Christ promised us that holding the keys would prevent the gates of hell (and the Enemy) from prevailing, ever. May each of us consider all the vows and covenants we've made to point souls towards Christ without any illusions or excuses.