Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Evangelical Spirit and Beautiful Liturgy

Fr. Dwight Longenecker  has yet another awesome post on his blog Standing on My Head. Let's take a look, shall we? I think he hits the nail on the head, and echoes many of my thoughts lately. My emphases and comments.
Why is it that so many people seem to be missing the obvious with our new Pope? [We're human! One has no clue how wrong they are, or how flawed they are, until told so...time to get up again and start anew!]
Why do so many people feel it necessary to find a category to place him into and a label with which to brand him? [That is modern life for you. There is a bit of gratification there, and it allows you to judge him. It also has to do with the poverty of language seen in the last century or so, created by certain Marxist-influenced academics.] Is he a liberal? Is he a conservative? Is he low church? Is he high Church? So many seem to want a label so they can either love him or loathe him. With a label they can keep him safe. But maybe, like Aslan, he’s not a tame lion. What if here were both liberal and conservative? What if he is both high church and low church? [Greatest intellectual gift Pope Benedict gave me: Catholicism is both/and, even if it leans one direction and we must overcome our initial opposition and critique objectively.]
I see that he is known for his work with the poor. He has lived a Franciscan kind of life. He has a folksy style. He is a people person. All that is good and refreshing. However, some suspect that this people centered style is also we in the Anglican church called  ”low church”. The low churchman was for simplicity in worship, a people centered ministry and a distrust of fancy stuff. The ones who went in for lace, incense, processions, pilgrimages, vestments and vespers were “high church”.
They were the Anglo Catholics. I must admit that I was never an Anglo Catholic, and I didn't much like them. When I was an Anglican in the 1980s, too often the men who were high in their churchmanship were also rather “high” in their personal proclivities. To be blunt, they were often effeminate and campy. They were all silk chasubles and china teacups, and you got the impression that when they were leafing through catalogues searching for materials for their vestments that they were also ordering a new set of drapes for the vicarage window treatments [Not only is it aristocratic, but often some of these men struggle with SSA. We'd do well to remember that.]. I worry that some of this has crept into the traditionalist movement in the Catholic Church too. Perhaps at times there may be just a few of the traditionalist clergy who are a bit too concerned with the brocades and lace and riddle curtains? Maybe there are some who are a bit too fond of fine dining and “the good life”? Perhaps their fine taste and high church liturgical style distance them from the “ordinary Catholic”? 
[NB:]I make this mild observation, by the way, as a priest who, himself  wears a biretta on Sundays, and has lace on his alb, and appreciates fine architecture, art, sacred music, good liturgy and a nice restaurant. 
On the other hand, have not those who are “good with people” and have a “people centered ministry” often done injustice to the liturgy? Have they not thrown out the venerable traditions of the church? Have they not, in an attempt to be relevant and up to date, gone to the other extreme and wrecked our churches, destroyed our ancient traditions, dumbed down the liturgy to the extremes of being casual, flippant ,heretical and even blasphemous? Haven’t they sold us short; replaced solid catechesis with sentimentality and turned the divine liturgy into a kind of game show, self preening showtime or teen entertainment? I think so. [Lex orandi, lex credendi.]
OK. Let us put aside the criticisms. Let us drop the stone we were about to fling and the mud we were about to sling. Let us see what is positive. [Y'know, I really like babies. So I don't want to see them thrown out with the bathwater!]
Instead of judging others, I recall one of the good things about the Anglo Catholics, and it may give us inspiration and instruction.
Still in the 1980s, when I was a priest in the Church of England there were a few of the really good old Anglo Catholics left [Either they are just playing dress-up or they came HOME TO ROME. This is what I think he means.]. The old time Anglo Catholics–the good old men of the Oxford Movement won the hearts of the English people to high church Anglicanism in a way I would love to see come alive today in the Catholic Church today.
They combined high church worship for low class people. When I say “low class” I simply mean the underclass, the poor, the marginalized and the needy [There is a dignity to the poor that we don't see in the US for many reasons.]. The Anglo Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century went into the slums of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Portsmouth and the other great cities, and they built beautiful big old brick neo Gothic churches. They started parish Sunday Schools and youth clubs. They built parish schools and they lived and worked with the poor. However, they also celebrated the liturgy with the fullness of Catholic glory. They spent money on beautiful churches and spent time and effort on beautiful liturgy [Again, spare nothing for liturgy and the poor box! It can be done. I realize this is mighty hard, but I think it is a cross worth bearing!].
They wiped the snot off the faces of the grubby kids from the street, combed their hair, shined their shoes and trained them to be first rate altar servers [I wonder what these priests would have thought about people with better pants wearing blue jeans to serve, and the rest of us not helping the boy or man without decent slacks??] They got the girls and boys from the streets and taught them to sing in Anglican choirs [something missing in the post-Conciliar world by and large]. They put them through school. They ministered to their working class parents [Work never hurt anyone, and although gruff, sometimes the workers make me smile more than the middle-class people. The latter aren't very surprising.]. They built up the faith and didn't compromise, and they did not dumb down the liturgy in some kind of patronizing nonsense to make it “accessible” to people [Y'know, native Americans in Mexico eschew the aboriginal Masses.] They taught them to sing fine old Anglican hymns which were full of solid theology and splendid poetry set to grand and noble tunes [Many of which we still borrow! I love "Guide Us Thou, O Great Redeemer."]. They took the people from the city on pilgrimages to Walsingham [make England thy Dowry as in ages of old!] and parish outings to Glastonbury and so taught them the faith.
Why can’t we do this? Why is it so very hard to live a life of apostolic simplicity–working with God’s poor people and yet not cheapening or lowering the liturgy in some kind of banal attempt to relate and be “relevant”? “The people” are not so stupid. The children especially are not so stupid. They know beauty when they see it. They recognize truth when they hear it. Most of all, they see and understand love when it is offered to them. [Those three are inseparable for God is all of those.]
This is my hope for this papacy, that by the example of our new Holy Father we will catch a new vision of a Catholicism that is high church and low class–where we minister and live in simplicity and radical discipleship–where we show that we worship a Lord who was born in a stable, but came there from the kingdom of heaven, and that we also show ordinary men and women that, although their lives are low and bare they too are destined for greatness and glory. ["You were made for greatness!'-BXVI. The hermeneutic of continuity , anybody?]
This glorious contradiction is what the Catholic faith should offer [Only Fr. L could point out this paradox in such simple terms]. This is what we always DID offer. The missionaries went to the people in the most squalid and poor conditions and built the most beautiful church they could manage [It's really silly that many friars abandoned the habit for normal clothes...just saying.]. They taught them a beautiful liturgy and beautiful music for that was what lifted their lives and pointed them to their eternal destiny.
The true Catholic, missionary spirit will do the same today: we will live and work and love the ordinary people, and we will lead them to a worship which is transcendent and divine because through it they will glimpse the glory for which they were created, and we will do so with lives that are simplified and free– lives that are radical examples of both the height of glory and the depth of the human condition. [Wow!]
One of the most difficult things about my parish is the occasional lack of evangelical fervor and what on the surface appears to be a very curmudgeony attitude. Save the Liturgy, save the world as Fr. Z. says. But, we tradition-minded people have got to be cognizant of the fact that the praise-and-worship style of Christianity is not dead yet simply because we got angry over poor liturgy and the attacks on the Traditional Latin Mass. There is a lot of infighting.

Another problem is that schools are impractical. The 'traditional' parishes are far from the suburbs in many cases. Parents prefer homeschooling. It is logistically and financially difficult to open a school...unfortunately, these circumstances make for enclaves of traditionalism-in many, certainly not all cases- at parishes, schools, and colleges.

The distance to church means that parish socials are difficult. How can we fix this?

Another thought: my parish has two excellent and important social justice programs: the Schumann Center and the Golden Arrow Center. But, they are often desperate for funding and volunteers. This is an area traditional parishes can lead the way in, because they have not abandoned the inner city like many communities did.

I wish that we could receive instruction in how we can actively grow in holiness, and fight the good fight. We need to be the silent witnesses to the New Evangelization, which is bolstered infinitely by reverent and beautiful liturgy.

Just my two cents.

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