Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Sunday Mass is not a 'choice'!

Over at Cath blog, Sr Carmel Pilcher has a post picking up some of the issues I raised in my last post, on the problem of Sunday Mass liturgical horrors. 
On the one hand Sr Carmel points to several of the issues I raised, such as bad music, poorly trained ministers, and lack of attention to the texts of the new missal.  Where we part company, however, is in her (mis)interpretation of what 'active participation' involves, frequency of reception of the Eucharist, and on her view of the Sunday Mass obligation.

We can agree on some things...

On the plus side, Sr Carmel recognises that those 70s hymn numbers so beloved of a certain generation might be something of a barrier to younger people:

"In some parishes we are often subjected to a poor repertoire of music that hasn’t changed since the ‘70s." 

And she points to the problems I raised relating to the lack of priestly and congregational attention to the new mass texts (although I'd have to say that in my own parish at least, I'm pretty sure it is mostly a case of deliberate passive resistance and subversion rather than just inattention/laziness/lack of time):

"Closer to home, Eucharistic practice is no less concerning in many parishes. While the introduction of the new translation has proved a catalyst for study and many opportunities for renewal have been offered, the majority of Sunday worshippers have made no effort to attend a workshop or course...Equally disturbing is the situation where priests who are already overtaxed and stressed are worried they won’t be able to find the time needed to adequately devote to study and prayerfully prepare the new translation of the Mass."

She also acknowledges the problem of poorly trained servers, readers, Extraordinary Ministers etc.  And adds another problem area to the list in the form of school masses (and certainly the few I've been subjected to have been shockers).

But sister!  Sunday attendance isn't optional.

One of the biggest problems with her post though, is that she seems to be lauding the attitude of the new generation who treat attendance at Sunday Mass as a 'choice' rather than an obligation:

"Most young Catholics have moved beyond the Sunday obligation mindset that it is deeply embedded in our Catholic psyche and when they participate it is a deliberate choice to do so."

Sister says she came away from a discussion on this "feeling exhilarated and hopeful."   A commenter on her post over at Cath Blog aptly describes this as an example of Sister herself perhaps being mirred in the 'hatch, match and despatch' mentality of the 1970s.

She does advocate do something about the poor celebrations that deter attendance. 

But she concludes that:

"...rather than lament that younger generations of Catholics are absent from Sunday Eucharist we could rejoice when they do join us at Christmas and Easter, and for sacramental and occasional celebrations."

That they come at all ever is indeed a cause for celebration. 
 
But we should surely also lament the times they don't turn up.  Because attendance at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is a precept of the Church, and failure to turn up is, unless there is a good reason for our absence, a mortal sin.
 
We can choose to be practising Catholics or not; we can choose to be in a state of grace or not; but if we want to be practising Catholics in a state of grace we do actually have to obey the rules the Church sets down. 
 
Active participation and reception of the Eucharist 
 
Perhaps the biggest problem with Sister's post though, is her conflation of 'active participation' with reception of the Eucharist, coupled with an attack on the idea of distributing pre-consecrated hosts at Mass, and of making a spiritual communion, which she sees as:
 
"...a devotion that surely belongs to another era of the church’s history when full, conscious and active participation was not possible."
 
The context of her comments is the rained out Papal Mass at WYD Madrid. And perhaps that attack of the elements was indeed a message about the undesirability of those huge mob Masses.
 
All the same, many of her own comments, and the reported reactions of the pilgrims, seem to indicate some serious deficiencies in catechesis about the Mass and the Eucharist.
 
Sacrament and sacrifice

So here is what Sister - and her readers - need to know.

The Mass is both sacrament and sacrifice. 

The sacrifice still occurs whether or not members of the congregation, individually or collectively, receive the sacrament physically.
 
And the grace received from the sacrament is not affected by whether the hosts distributed to the congregation were consecrated at that Mass or some other.

Any nouvelle theologie concerns based on the idea of the Mass as a celebration of community/a 'meal' or similar such modern constructs should come a long way behind these two essential elements.
 
What full, conscious and active participation actually requires is our mental and physical engagement in what is happening at some level - for example by preparing diligently for the Mass, saying the responses/making the bodily gestures specified by the rubrics and so forth. 
 
Active participation does not require us to actually receive at every Mass. 
 
To receive can of course be a source of considerable grace. 
 
But it can also be a source of condemnation, positively sinful and dangerous, as St Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 11: And in these days where confession has become a rarity, to suggest that making a spiritual communion is always somehow a bad thing is, I think, extremely unhelpful.

7 comments:

A Canberra Observer said...

Yes, obligation would mean something (anything?) would be on God's terms ...

wouldn't want that would we, sister? >:-o

Anonymous said...

Dont get steamed up about Sr P. Not going to change. Not getting any younger. Not going to be ordained.

Kate said...

But in the meantime, anon, she suberts the faith of young catholics at theology in the pub forums, and encourages others over at Cath Blog.

The time has come for bishops and those in authority to take action to prevent the further spread of error!

PM said...

I think you may even be underselling the case for attendance at Sunday Mass. It is a precept of the Church because it derives from the Third Commandment: Aquinas says that the seriousness of the sin in breaching it is due in good part to the direct contempt for the commandment of God.

And as Pope Benedict likes to do, we should accentuate the positive vision that lies behind the commandment: the rich and humane theology of the sabbath in the Old Testament, and the sacramental and salvific role of the eucharistic sabbath in the New Law through which we are raised up by grace to share in the divine life. That, I suspect, would have much greater appeal to young people than an invitation to a 1970s encounter group.

homo iniquus said...

You are correct in your concerns but we know no-one in authority will do anything about the pub sessions, just hope perhaps she will wither away.
My point was that generational change will fix this, even though it takes time, the so called biological solution. Hard to be patient. Souls misled may perhaps not be judged as harshly as the one misleading.

Kate said...

I'm not terribly convinced about the effectiveness of the "biological solution".

My view is that the errors of this dying generation are effectively killing off the next generations - while those young people who do persist tend to be more conservative than their elders, they are very few in number. And even they find it hard to naviage their way through the admixture of error they are fed in theology courses, at mass and so forth.

And while in the US the number of TLMs is growing sharply, as far as I can see in Australia they mostly remain pretty few and far between; and those that do exist are mostly ghettos, either having little success, or making little effort to recruit new members.

So in my view, unless we can persuade bishops to act now (as they are starting to do in some other places), the church here will effectively die out here as it has so many times in so many places and times in the past.

The Church as a whole will survive of course - but in Asia and Africa...

BB said...

I agree that the biological solution won’t work in many places simply because the next generation has already left. At 28 I don’t consider myself a “youth” but quite often I am the youngest at Mass. I read on the diocesan website last year that only 2% of young people in this diocese regularly attend Mass once they turn 18. I can vouch for this as I attended a locally renowned catholic high school which may get better than average HSC results but will leaves it’s pupils ignorant of the faith and often worse still a loathing of it having had 12 years of liturgies that the dear Sr Pilcher advocates. In my opinion the less people have had to with the church the easier it will be to get them back in.
Humanly speaking the church is dead but I think it was Chesterton who made the point that “the church has a God and he knows his way out of the tomb” so I guess given that I was brought from occasionally attending church to attending every Sunday and eager to learn more there is always hope.