Monday, November 12, 2012

"Welcoming the Word"

It happened again, and by now I've come to expect it. There I was in a very small church in rural Virginia, at the 12:45 Mass according to the 1962 Missal. The altar servers were earnest and surprisingly numerous (7), and the young ladies in the tiny choir loft sang the Missa Orbis Factor very well, while their choir mistress Rossini'd the propers. All in all it was quite pleasant, serious and gentle.

What happened to me was: recollection.

Recollection, according to St. Teresa of Avila, is when the will is caught up in attentiveness to God. At its basic level, recollection does not capture the imagination and memory. They might be "distracted," and in that case it's best to just let them do their own thing.

When a liturgy is well done, however, the imagination and memory are a help to recollection. They help make the will docile. They prepare the ground for the planting of the seeds of the Word.

In his rich address to the Scholae Cantorum of Italy, as mentioned below, the Holy Father said, among many many notable things, "I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music."

In the years since the Council, a great deal of apostolic effort has been spent on the unchurched. And rightly so. And yet, there has been a liturgical cost. For many of our parishioners, the salt-of-the-earth, Magnificat-subscribers, there must be the oddest disjunct. For many of our most prayerful parishioners, the Sunday Mass is almost certainly not the peak prayer experience of their week. Daily Mass is probably much more prayerful, much less distracting. And private prayer is probably more contemplative than even their experience of daily Mass.

Furthermore, the outreach to the unchurched has not succeeded as it ought to have, given its emphasis in ministry. And why should it? Those who come only to the Sunday liturgy do not see prayer occurring. Only the tip of the iceberg seems to be visible, not the depths of prayer that really are among our parishioners. The contemplatives do that at home, or in the adoration chapel, or in the car on their commute. Generally speaking, there is not room for deep prayer at Sunday Mass. There seems to be no "there" there, nothing for new parishioners to aspire to.

This is not to say that the Ordinary Form cannot foster recollection, far from it. But where the 1962 Missal almost can't go wrong in this matter, the Ordinary Form needs special care and attention in order to foster recollection. This is true in the ars celebrandi, as well as music and art and liturgical appointments and decorations.

We need to be welcoming--but welcoming to what? Welcome to this Church full of deep riches and treasures. Welcome to the new life in Christ. Welcome to prayer. Welcome to God.

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