Thursday, May 02, 2002

Another random musing

I admit, I let my temper get the best of me when I suggested that Bishop McCormack should be skinned. As a penance for this failure of Charity, I will continue my reflection on the things that keep me going to Church, in spite of the troublesome times.

A very good friend of mine from college, a Catholic since birth, has been attending an Evangelical Protestant church the past 3 or 4 years with his wife (also a Catholic). He says the reason is, when he goes to Mass (which he still does irregularly), people are not there out of wonder or enjoyment, and seem bored and disconnected. When he goes to his new church, there is great joy and passion. This is tough to answer too directly. It is difficult to argue that communing in the Body of Christ ought not be an occasion for rejoicing, after all.

Though the Second Vatican Council promoted Mass in the vernacular, few priests (at least in my own experience) have bothered to explain what the English translation of the Liturgy actually means, in a theological sense. Many of us got some of that explanation in CCD, but raise your hand if you remember anything from CCD that was not about the torments of Hell. George Carlin does a wicked impression of the priests at his Irish Christian Brothers high school answering all inquiries with that most Roman explanation: "Well, it's a Mystery."

Ask the next ten Catholics you see to explain in 50 words or less Transubstantiation. The True Presence. Ask them to summarize the Nicene Creed. Ask them to define "Atonement."

You see where this is heading, of course. People at Mass are bored and do not rejoice because most have no notion of what kind of unbelievable things are occurring right in front of them! Amazingly, week in and week out, we Catholics reenact one of the very things Jesus came to fix: God is active and present and performing miracles right before our very eyes, and yet the planks in them keep us from seeing.

Of course Father Blogsalots homily can be dull, and utterly beside the point. Sister Mary Guitar certainly runs the risk of burning at the stake if she plays "On eagle's wings" one more frikkin time. The minutes of the Parish Council no doubt contain a litany of activist nonsense. But that is all completely and utterly irrelevant--extraneous nonsense.

Every Sunday, at Mass, Christ shows up. Not just in the vague, doesn't-compete-with-MTV sense of "Wherever two or more of you are gathered in My Name," but actually physically shows up. Now, say what you will about the fun of some Evangelical services, I don't know of any Protestant churches (except for the Anglicans) that claim a True Presence in their communion.

Every Sunday, at Mass, we recite a creed that says the most remarkable thing ever said by man.

Every Sunday, a miracle occurs, in part because of your attendance. You, out there in blogland, show up at Church, and cause the miracle of Transubstantiation to happen, just by showing up. Yes, I know the priest is the medium, and I know he can do it alone. But if you don't show up, eventually neither does he.

I make no claim to know what my friend's church says about these things. And he is actually better educated about much of this than I (and smarter too). That Mass is sometimes dull, dry even, makes it hard. But in The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape makes the point that there is no more damaging moment to the cause of temptation than when a Christian shouts "My God, why have you forsaken me?" and still obeys.

This is not an argument for livening things up, as much as for explaining things in the first place. "Joy" and "Fun" are not the same thing as "Holy" (though I've no doubt that Christ looks favorably on His flock in many denominations besides RC), and I mean no disrespect to my friend's church or congregation. But try approaching Church in a sense of openness and wonder some Sunday. Leave your wristwatch and cellphone in the car. Say some Our Fathers during the homily, if it’s boring. And listen closely during the Creed and the Eucharist. Like Wagner’s music, it’s not as bad as it sounds.


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