Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thanks for the Homily, Father

So several times in the history of this blog I have harped on the problems related to missionary orders and missionary priests (see "Interreligious Dialogue: A Case Study of the Columban Missions" and "What's Wrong With Missionary Priests?"). And boy, there are huge obstacles out there. As far as I can tell, it all bound up with the Church's identity crisis: If we Catholics are not sure what we are supposed to be doing, how can we convincing spread our Faith to others? And so missionary priests end up as glorified humanitarian aid workers.

Today at my parish we had a missionary priest from India. I am happy to say that after years of disappointment, it was refreshing to finally here a missionary actually talking about bring people to Jesus. To talk about salvation. It was wonderful. And he wasn't a traditional order priest or anything; he was just a Novus Ordo diocesan priest. But he preached about the Great Commission. About the necessity of bringing Christ to people. About baptism. About India's great Christian traditions, both those begun by St. Thomas as well that brought by St. Francis Xavier and the 16th century Jesuits. He offered actual spiritual insights that were relevant.

I remember recently on one of my travels I heard a priest saying how he was preaching on Purgatory at this parish. And afterward a woman came up to him and said, "I never really thought about it, but I think that was the first sermon I heard on Purgatory in thirty years!" I think the same is true with the necessity of bringing the Gospel to pagans. Maybe intellectually Catholics know the Great Commission is out there, but it is so seldom preached about these days.

This is no surprise. Muslims worship the same God. Jews are no longer in need of conversion. Protestants are brethren. Orthodox are not to be expected to return to unity with Rome. Aberrosexuals  are not to be made uncomfortable in any way. Pagans are able to find God in their own rituals and mythologies. Given all this, one wonders who is left that actually needs to hear the Gospel. Mafioso and arms dealers, according to Pope Francis; but they are a lost cause because the pope has already said they are going to Hell.

The point is, you can't mentally affirm one thing but act in a manner contrary to it for forty years. You can't affirm the Great Commission is still a mandate while acting as if there is no particular class of people who actually need Christ and His Church. You cannot say the Great Commission applies to persons individually but not to the Church collectively (related: "The Great Commission is Institutional"). To purport to be able to do so is the worst form of Doublespeak, which the human mind cannot long endure. This is why, given a disconnect between what is taught and what is actually happening "on the ground", the praxis becomes dominant and the teaching fades into the background - not forgotten, but kind of ignored, as the woman noted about Purgatory. 

And sometimes it takes an encounter with the truth to shock you out of it - to hear a real good sermon on Purgatory before you realize you haven't heard one in thirty years; or to meet a regular, diocesan missionary priest who cared about bringing souls to Christ before you realize you had kind of forgotten that those sorts of priests actually existed anymore.

Thanks for the homily, Father.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Memorizing the Readings

This weekend I was traveling out of state and went to Mass in a beautiful historic church from the late 19th century. It has preserved all of its original neo-Gothic decor; of course, a little table altar had been added in front of the high altar, but at least nothing had been positively destroyed.

The liturgy was novus ordo but was done very well as NO liturgies go. The priest in charge evidently cared a great deal about having things done "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). But during the readings something happened I had never encountered before. The lector who was doing the first readings had apparently memorized the entire reading. This allowed him to not look at the lectionary the entire time; he maintained a steady eye-contact with the congregation and projected his voice in a commanding tone. It was like he was reciting lines, not reading from the lectionary.

For a moment I really did not know what to think about this. In terms of objective quality of the delivery, sure it was better - he had all the emphasis at the right points, was more engaging to listen to, and delivered the reading in an objectively better manner than I have heard most lectors who are just kind of stumbling along over the words in the book. Obviously, taking the care to memorize the reading gave him a much greater familiarity with the text than if he were merely reading it, and it showed in the way he delivered the lines with confidence and depth.

But, it also bothered me some. Regardless of the objective quality of the "delivery", it felt like he ought to be reading out of the book. I thought to myself, "How would I feel if the priest had memorized the Canon of the Mass and delivered it without any reference to the Missal?" And that idea ruffled me greatly; it seems that the book, lectionary or Missal, is not simply there as an aid to help the priest or lector remember what he is supposed to be saying. The book is not like an incidental accoutrement to the liturgy; it is not a kind of glorified cue card that is there to remind the priest or lector of the words but can be dispensed with if they have their "lines" memorized.

Rather, the lectionary and Missal are the tangible representations of the Tradition. When the lector reads from the lectionary and the priest prays from the Missal, he is demonstrating that he is receiving what has been handed on. It is a kind of reverence towards the Tradition. And if I recall, Klaus Gamber makes this same argument in The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.

However well a priest or lector might memorize the words, it ultimately becomes a performance. That's why I noticed that this lector's reading had a certain sort of theatrical affectation to it that I found distracting.Ultimately I felt it was not something I liked. I would prefer the person reading drably rather than someone delivering memorized "lines" with great gusto. It seems like a more proper way of acknowledging that what you are doing is not your own creation- it's something you have received and are handing on.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Nonum Anniversarium

Because I was so busy I actually managed to let yesterday pass without noting that two days ago, June 29th, was the ninth anniversary of the founding of this blog. Has it really been almost a decade? That is just...insane.

Thank you to everyone who has helped contribute to this blog and website, both past and present: Anselm, Maximus, Noah, John, Amanda, Wes, and all the rest. And especial thanks to you, the readers!

I apologize my posts have been scarce as of late. I am unimaginably busy. But you'll be happy to know that yesterday I recorded three more videos in the series on homosexual so-called marriage that I begun back in August of last year (see here). These videos should be available by the end of the month. The subjects of the three new videos are the role of religion in public life, cooperation in objectively sinful acts (vis-a-vis Christian businesses assisting at homosexual so-called weddings), and whether homosexual marriage is a civil right, which is just a video version of this essay I posted on the website.

Hopefully I will have more time in the future to get back into the swing of things. I also want to thank my friends who have promoted this blog over the years and allowed me other venues for writing, especially Ryan Grant of Athanasius Contra Mundum/Mediatrix Press, and Richard Aleman of Distributist Review, and anyone else I am forgetting.

I will remember you all in my Holy Hour tonight.