Sunday, 6 September 2009

And they'll know we are Christians by our love....***

***This is an amended version of a post that stirred up something of a hornets nest....I've deleted the original comments made on this post since the text has changed substantially, but have to some extent reflected some of the comments received in this redraft, and so my thanks to those original commenters.****

A week or so ago I wrote on the unforeseen effects of the changes to the liturgy on our sense of the nature of God.

Today, however, I want to focus on the other side of the coin, namely our sense of community, because although I think the more explicitly 'horizontal' rituals of the novus ordo Ordinary Form mass fail to achieve that sense, I do think there is a genuine problem that at least some of the reformers were legitimately trying to address.

The sense of community and the liturgy

My starting point is this. Blogger Joshua of Psallite Sapienter recently put up a post on the transcendentals that is well worth reading, noting that his own primary focuses and sources of attraction were truth and beauty. But I think it is important to remember that though truth and beauty attract some, so too does the good. Throughout history, many people have been attracted to the faith by the example of strong Christian communities exercising charity towards each other and towards those it comes in contact with. And conversely, quarrelling communities repel outsiders and undermine the practice of those within them.

The first point to make is that a sense of community doesn't just happen in my view: it has to be worked for.  Most of us today live in suburbs with little sense of neighbourliness or community - and many of our churches are the same.  Creating a real community requires leadership and discipline.

Secondly, I don't think personally that the solution to building a strong sense of a supportive Christian community that fosters our faith and the pursuit of holiness necessarily lies in tinkering with the liturgy of the Mass itself. Communities were built and thrived in the Church for centuries without the use of concelebration, the modern version of the sign of peace, or other such pale signs.

Let me clear that it is not that I think that these new rituals are invalid.  I personally find them rather jarring, but I'm all for diversity and perhaps they work for some and have some place.  I don't however believe we should over-invest in them, trusting that they can in themselves create a sense of community that would otherwise be lacking.  And I certainly don't think that the choice not to adopt them should be interpreted as a rejection of the wider Church.  For the reality is that most novus ordo parish communities are no more thriving models of the works of charity than most traditionalist ones are.

The solution in my view lies rather in developing a strong vision of what a parish or community should look like and do, and consciously striving to realise that vision with the help of grace. We can build a sense of community liturgically through the Mass and Divine Office, and outside of this through a rich devotional life, and through active engagement on key causes including works of corporal mercy. We can connect ourselves to our local diocesan Church through participation in its structures and activities.

In my view, we clearly do have to consciously pay attention to this aim: it is not enough to construct beautiful liturgies, or hold orthodox views. Charity, in the end, is the most important of the virtues.

And they'll know we are Christians...

There is a particularly atrociously saccharine modern 'hymn' which claims that Christians will be known for their love - to each other (and others). In many ways it is a silly sentiment, since true Christian love can often come across to modern eyes as quite counter to what our society thinks of as love. Christian love need not be cloying or sentimental.

And there is a reality about the fallen human condition that leads us to quarrel: read the New Testament books carefully and you will quickly realize that the early disciples were often a fractious lot, and that quarrels rent the infant church at frequent intervals. The subsequent history of the Church reinforces this diagnosis.

Nonetheless, there is a certain element of truth that underlies that song, for Our Lord does enjoin us to love and serve one another.

He does tell us that when we have quarrelled with our brother we must reconcile before presenting our offering at the altar.

Above all, Our Lord stressed that we must forgive others their trespasses against us; forgive them if necessary, seventy times seven.

Traditionalist quarrels

Let me put it bluntly. How can we claim that traditionalism and the traditional liturgy is a path to holiness when we seem so often at war with each other: appearing quick to pass judgment and think the worst of others; appear hard and unforgiving; and are reluctant to let go of past real and imagined hurts and slights?

I've been loosely associated with the traditionalist movement for a long time, but only in the last few years have I become more closely involved. And as I've become more involved I've been reminded why I stayed on the periphery for so long.

Amongst the laity, some are still acting on disputes amongst ourselves going back twenty years or more.

When newcomers to the mass they are immediately subjected to diatribes on assorted gripes and weird theories.

When new devotions or practices are introduced, rather than being supportive of the efforts to respond to pastoral needs, they are attacked.

And those who should be leading us by example too often seem to be doing quite the opposite.

I am repeatedly scandalised by what I consider to be intemperate attacks by one group of traditionalists on another on blogs, websites and conversation. It is one thing to have and debate legitimate differences of opinion on matters of style, tactics or strategy. But we often seem unable to 'agree to disagree' on matters that are not matters of the faith.

Similarly, while we all resent examples of what seem to be persecution or at least extreme unhelpfulness by our novus ordo colleagues, I do wonder how much of this we bring upon ourselves. I know of many cases where the traditionalist caravan has rolled into town paying no heed to local sensibilities. I know of several cases of apparent disregard of the normal protocols governing operation in a diocese or community other than one's own.

It's not all bad of course. Some communities are doing great things in terms of providing support for their members, and engaging with the wider community.  But for every positive action taken, a group of naysayers arise and start murmuring and sniping.

Ghettos, subcultures and personalities

Now its true that minority movements inevitably start from behind.

Let me share with you a quote in a slightly different context from Tracey Rowland's book Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II which I think is worth reflecting on:

"In the context of educational institutions, Russell Hittinger has observed that what is billed as the uniquely Catholic component of the institution usually turns out to be a 'weird little subculture, like the bar in Star Wars, that has little connection to any sociological reality beyond the gates of the campus'. To Hittinger's observations may be added the fact that the kinds of people who are attracted to marginalised subcultures are frequently people with psychological disorders. As a consequence, an interest in religion becomes associated with dysfunctionality and irrationality..." (p60)

I will admit to a degree of naivity on this subject.  I'd always taken the view that traditionalism was the hope of the Church, and the time has now come to take what we have preserved and re-evangelize the Church using it.  But perhaps the reluctance of many traditionalists to engage with the wider Church reflects an unconscious realisation that we are in fact in the quarantine ward of the hospital, gifted with the traditional mass because we need more intensive measures to fight the diseases that afflict us....

Either way, with Summorum Pontificum, we don't have to be or act like a marginalised sub-culture any more. And that means learning a whole new set of behaviours.

Towards healing

So let us all consider what we can do to build a stronger sense that we all share a common cause, and common aim even if we differ on the means to achieve it.

Let us all consider what it truly means to share a common faith.

Let us rediscover the norms of common courtesy.

Let us pray for healing of the sick.

Let us put aside the past and start again.

Let us pray and act for unity in Christ.

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