"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Why I Label Myself a Liturgical Purist

People like to label other people. Call it a sin, call it a vice; it's really part of our fallen human nature.

We Catholics are as bad as anyone else. Just think for a second and a long list should come quickly to mind:

Hippie Catholic
Conservative Catholic
Cafeteria Catholic
Liberal Catholic
Spirit of Vatican II Catholic
Pre-Vatican II Catholic
Traditional Catholic*
Integral Catholic
Homeschooling Catholic
Social Justice Catholic
Pro-Life Catholic
Small "o" orthodox Catholic.

I think you get the point. This doesn't even include all the labeling that results from allegiances to all the various orders - Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Marianists, etc.

I have a love/hate relationship with labels. I think they're damaging, yet convenient; idealistic and naive; descriptive, distinctive, and divisive. But they're not going away.

So might as well embrace them right?

Personally, when it comes to labeling myself, especially to the "outside" world, I tend to shy away from the "typical" labels, such as those listed above. I am first and foremost a Catholic. That's it. No addendum needed. No clarification required.

However, when, in polite discussion, the topic of Catholicism is broached - which in my conversations is quite common - and greater distinctions are needed for the sake of more thoughtful discourse, I do have a label with which I prefer to describe myself: "liturgical purist."

You might be saying to yourself "What sort of new-agey mumbo jumbo is that?" Or "that sounds awefully hoity-toity."

Well, this descriptor of mine was really inspired by a little twist on James 1:27 which I think (I hope) makes clear what I'm trying to say:
Liturgy that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To give glory to God through the Son and to keep the sense of the sacred mystery at all times.

We Catholics can get very divisive when it comes to labeling ourselves based on our liturgical preference, and I don't think it's not a positive development in the history of the Church. So no, I don't use the term "traddie." Nor do I call myself a "Latin Mass" attendee. And I am definitely not an "onlyist." These labels are especially short-sighted, intentionally alienating, and generally unhelpful.

I think the biggest problem for either side of this discussion, but especially for those on the "traddie" side, is the tendency to worship the Mass (consciously or unconsciously), with all its glory and beauty, as an object of worship in-and-of-itself, instead of worshiping Christ through the Mass. Similarly, I argue there are those who fall firmly in the, let's say, "Spirit of Vatican II" camp who worship the Mass too, but for reasons distinct from why those on the "traddie" side do.

In my view the Mass is a tool for us to give glory to God through the Son by a re-creation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. That is, I believe, the proper understanding of Mass. I say this with all humility, and I am willing to be corrected on this point if it is in error.

I believe any intellectually honest person will admit there are problems with Mass in the Ordinary Form/New Rite/Mass of Paul VI/Novus Ordo (too many options and lack of clarity in the rubrics, misplaced emphasis, and lessening of the sense of the sacred) just as there are also issues with the Mass in the Extraordinary Form/Traditional Latin Mass (complex rubrics, the difficulty of the Latin language, tendency towards feelings of spiritual superiority).

What we must remember is that we are flawed humans trying to bring a little bit of heaven here to earth. That's a tough assignment. Oh most certainly, the Mass is divinely inspired and the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, so we have some help in the task, but ultimately it is not the Mass itself (meaning the rubrics, actions, words, music, etc.) that will get us to heaven. It is only God and His endless mercy that will get us there - we must always remember that! - but only if we properly take advantage of and use the tools He has entrusted to us, the most vital and important being the Mass (and the sacraments).

Which is why I say the Mass needs to be glorious, reverent, and purposeful. As long as it is, I'm fine with it, no matter the form it takes.

I want liturgy, pure and undefiled before God, because I believe that will help get me to heaven. Is that too much to ask?


*A friend of mine even came up with labels specifically for the "traddies" to define just what sort of traditionalist flavor one might come from - "rad" (short for "radical) trad, sad trad, glad trad, and mad trad. I then came up with two more: fad trad (those who attend the TLM just because it's the "thing" to do) and "crad" trad (short for "cradle", i.e., those who were raised attending the TLM, such as yours truly)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"You Want Change? You Can't Handle the Change!"

 Three Simple Changes You Can Make After Ferguson
"You want change?"

The title of this post might be a little embellished (read: "contrived") from a well-known line delivered by a well-known actor to another well-known actor in a well-known movie. Furthermore, it's not the first time your favorite blogger has embellished this well-known quote, as it is very similar to the title of another [not so] well-known recent blog post of mine. But you have to admit, it's a really good quote! (And the embellishment isn't all that bad either!)

If you think about it for a second, the point this embellishment makes will probably come into focus: in the on-going aftermath of this situation we call "Ferguson" everybody wants change - which is a good thing!

[...wait for it...]

But! (you knew there was a "but" coming didn't you?)

[dramatic pause for effect...]

...The fact of the matter is that we now have a starting point and nothing - repeat, nothing - more. And I'm sorry if that "point" bursts your "bubble." (see what I did there??)

Although my contrived embellished title rips off of some well-knowns, what's not so well known is just how exactly Ferguson is going to change hearts, minds, culture, society, and government. I keep hearing how we want "change," yet no one seems to put forth any concrete solutions.

For example, let's look at what one of the St. Louis Rams football players said regarding their protesty-gesturish-display-thing before Sunday's game against Oakland. Yes, yes, you're probably thinking athletes in general are not known for their rhetorical abilities, but neither are the vast majority of people out there (yours truly included). So let's consider this an example of what the average person might think or say:
“I just think there just needs to be a change... There has to be a change that starts with people who are most influential around the world. There are people that have higher voices than us that can speak out and say something about it. No matter what happened on that day, no matter how the whole situation went down, there has to be a change. From whatever happened on both sides, there has to be change. That’s not cool.”
Amen, brother.

No, seriously. I think we can all agree with this man's sentiments. In fact, many other civic and religious leaders are saying the same thing. Change needs to happen. Everyone in the world knows change must occur. My only contention is that the conversation can't end there. If we don't go deeper, "change" is just a word, a fleeting thought, a spoken sound, a series of letters.

I recently discovered a quote from Winston Churchill. You may have heard or read the second part, but the first sentence was new to me:
"There is nothing wrong in change, if it is in the right direction. To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to change often."
In light of the prime minister's words, I contend that what needs to change is not simply hearts and minds, but souls. Yes, human beings have them, and we all need to change them, and quite often. If we don't, we risk losing them eternally.

I may be a little biased, but I think Archbishop Carlson has it right: "[A]s the Church, we know we have the remedy: Jesus - knowing him individually, letting him re-organize our relations with each other."

Therefore, without careful consideration of my potential future political career, I'm going to lay things out very bluntly and explain three steps we can all take to accomplish precisely the sort of change we actually need.

  1. Know your neighbors.
  2. Strengthen your family.
  3. Give Christ His rightful place as King of your heart. 

I know I am one of the worst offenders in the first category, I fall short in the second, and the third is the ultimate goal, but a daily struggle. However, I am now committing myself to taking concrete actions to get to know my neighbors (and I mean my actual neighbors - the people who live in the houses immediately next to mine. If you don't even know your actual neighbors, how can you truthfully claim to "love your neighbor as yourself"?). I am also working with my wife to strengthen our family as a unit through daily prayer, attending Mass frequently, and working together to address all those various "issues" families deal with. As for the final piece, well, my wife and I had the Sacred Heart enthroned in our home, and I try to pray daily the "Suscipe", the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Take, O Lord, all my liberty. Receive my memory, my understanding, and my whole will. All that I am, and all that I have, come to me from thy bounty. I give it all back to thee and surrender it to the guidance of your holy will. Give me thy love and thy grace; with these I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.
Lofty words indeed.

Imagine the authentic change we could accomplish if we all actually prayed and lived these words everyday (myself included). We may fight against it. We may not want that kind of change. It may be too difficult. It may be too radical. We may not even be able to handle the change. But it is beyond a doubt the precise kind of change we need.

Will you join me in working for real change?