The best we can do?

Which low-paying job would you prefer?

We would really love to have your talents and experience here, but we’re such a small parish and can’t afford to pay you anything close to what you’re worth. We’ve talked about it, and we can stretch to paying you $175 a week- and of course weddings and funerals and Holy Days would all be extra on top of that- if you’re available of course. We know it isn’t much- but we promise to support your vision for this ministry, and to try not to create too many hassles for you. We’re hoping, since you have a day job already, that you’ll be able to take this on and make it work for you and your family.

The comittee talked about it, and you play the organ pretty well, so we want to hire you for the job. Since you only really have to work on Sunday, we’re sure that $200 a week is a very generous offer- especially since you already have a full time job and, anyway, you can earn extra money at weddings and funerals.

And for those of you out there (who probably don’t read Chant Cafe anyway) who still think that liturgical praxis isn’t a big deal as long as we’re all (you know) nice to each other and everything (or – to describe that position more charitably – think that ritualism isn’t important and that only “relationship” matters):

Have you ever thought about the connection between how we approach liturgy and how we treat each other in our relationships?

Compare the “least we can get away with” to the “most we can manage” intentionality in liturgy. A tin cup chalice and a tiny scrap of bread can become a beautiful sacrifice of praise in a prison or concentration camp. In an average American parish, the same would be downright insulting.

And we learn from our experience in liturgy, I believe, how to exist in the world. We also learn, even more clearly, how to relate to God.

I don’t know whether this minimalist liturgical legalism is primarily a product of rationalist modernism, or primarily a contributor to it, but it seems to have been going on for quite some time and finds its logical conclusion in a particularly cold version of Protestant fundamentalist puritanism that asks only, “what must a person do to be saved?” and never “what is my response to that salvation.” But it isn’t a “Protestant” phenomenon- it’s a human one, and the difference between “what’s the bare minimum needed for a sacrament to be effective?” and “what’s the bare minimum needed to escape eternal damnation?” and “what’s the bare minimum needed to retain an employee and get them to do what I want?” is a matter of context, not of essence. They are all completely inappropriate questions, and they reveal a completely perverted understanding of our relationship to God and to each other.

Or, as a friend of mine put it:

4 Replies to “The best we can do?”

  1. "A tin cup chalice and a tiny scrap of bread can become a beautiful sacrifice of praise in a prison or concentration camp. In an average American parish, the same would be downright insulting."

    Truer words were never spoken – and I've seen beautiful Masses in poor parishes and wretched celebrations that reminded me of my Presbyterian Sunday School in parishes with huge campuses and luxury cars in the parking lots.

    How do we change the latter mindset? It starts with the pastor and an enormous amount of catechesis from the pulpit, backed up with a commitment of resources.

  2. It's a human one, to be sure. It's been around in the Catholic Church as long as I've been alive. In previous generations, Sister was happy to earn an extra $3 for playing the organ all day Sunday.

    It might actually be sinful to accept such a proposition as listed. It allows the minimalist mentality to coddle itself until another burnout case is peddled out the back door of the sacristy.

    I think most of y'all views on the propers are whack, but I certainly share a commitment to quality and beauty in music and the virtue of a community committing its full resources to good liturgy. And to good music as a means of celebrating that good liturgy.

    What's the least someone can get by with and still be a good Christian? If you're asking the question, you have a h*** of a long way to go before you get close. Jesus had words for this attitude. Mark 10:21.


  3. Among the "causes" is that there is no culture in the US, there are only variations of pop (i.e., entertainment) culture, which is hostile to higher forms. Compounding this is a bias against things that are "un-American/foreign" (e.g., authentic culture).

    And this pervades the Church in the USA. For example, the "RC" Church in the US doesn't have a culture(because, among other things, of the impoverished cult).

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