Friday, July 2, 2010

Bishop Trautman, the Liturgy, Tradition, and Rubrics #Catholic

This past Sunday while at Mass, I had another one of those "aha" moments regarding the liturgy. It has to do with children. First, my understanding of children and security:

Children need a loving home in order to grow into secure adults. A home where love and protection exists will give a child the necessary sense of security that enables him to absorb the rest of his world. If a child is worried about being fed or avoiding physical abuse, then not much is left of their reasoning skills to analyze the world. They are in constant survival mode. It isn't a surprise then when these children become teenagers -- living off the street, always in survival mode, never looking beyond themselves in order to contribute something meaningful to society.

This past Sunday, I realized this is one of the gifts of the liturgy. It gives God's children a sense of security. When we uphold tradition, we are strengthened and bonded to one another in a spirit of unity. However, the tradition must have its historical connection explained, otherwise it can become an empty shell of ritual that fails to communicate the blessings it was meant to convey.

This is what happened to me as a young woman: I saw no connection to the past with regard to tradition. The liturgy had become dry and lifeless because during my spiritual formation -- it was not consistently explained (and consistent is the operative word) how the liturgy began with Jesus and the Last Supper and then traveled all the way to me. I never received that explanation of continuity, which makes me wonder how much my life would have been different if I had. I was restless, looking for security, and since I didn't understand what the Catholic Church had, I left.

Family identity is a powerful thing. In my own family, we joke about certain traits as being a part of our identity. Why should it be any different with God's family? We also have traits, those of God's Son, Jesus Christ, which we should seek and embrace with full affection. Traits such as compassion, forgiveness, love, mercy, kindness, discipline, and a commitment toward doing what is right. Study Jesus Christ and you'll see those traits and more. We are to follow Him and the world is to recognize it and say, "They have been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13)

So where do we, as God's family, learn about our identity? Where is that identity strengthened? I say the liturgy is what supports that identity, shapes it, and emphasizes it. The liturgy, as it has been passed down to us from generation to generation, gives us a sense of security as it reminds us that God is in control. He loved us enough to sacrifice His only Son for our salvation. He will love us enough to provide for everything else we will need.

The new English translation of the Roman Missal is about to be introduced to the United States Catholic parishes. There has been much debate about it, and from what I can tell, the most vociferous responses have been from those who want to continue experimenting with it. It doesn't seem to phase them that this "experimentation" led to thousands of Catholics leaving the Church because the liturgy was neutered. They also seem to defy further proof by not only ignoring the growing encroachment of sinful philosophies such as radical feminism and homosexuality, but receiving such with open arms.

In 2005, Bishop Donald Trautman gave an interview in which he reflected upon the liturgy and the reasons behind the changes. First, I had no idea the revision of the Roman Missal was in the works for that long. But what struck me was the bishop's views on liturgy. For instance (emphasis mine):

The people who are fighting to go back to Latin, for example, had a wonderful experience when Mass was in that language. They're saying they met the Lord that way, and they're trying to keep that form, not understanding that the form and language of the liturgy is never an absolute. Only God is absolute, and there are different ways we express our love and our prayer.

"Fighting to go back to Latin" seems misunderstood. Latin never was outlawed or in Catholic Church terms, abrogated. (I had to look that one up. Abrogated: to abolish by authoritative action, to treat as non-existent.)

And why can't the form and language of the liturgy be absolute? This statement doesn't sit well with me. I am a firm believer in absolutes with every fiber of my being. I admit I struggle with understanding God's mercy toward us who are sinners. But I believe with everything within me that if God is absolute, then He has given His Church absolutes to follow. There is a right way, and a wrong way. Disrespectful money-changers in the Temple found out from Jesus' righteous anger that their way was the wrong way. The sinful woman who washed and anointed Jesus' feet with her tears and perfume, found the right way.

Whenever someone starts to talk about something "never being an absolute," red flags start flying all over the place. For instance, Bishop Trautman talks about the Latin Mass as though those who love it are trying to fight some evolutionary impetus toward a more civilized understanding of the liturgy. However, from everything I've been observing and studying, almost the complete opposite seems to be true. After over 40 years, the liturgy has been abused, often remade into a worship of self. Obviously I'm no liturgist, but when you have a priest dressing up on Halloween like Barney the Dinosaur and an EMHC woman wearing devil's horns on her head, even I can recognize that something has seriously gone awry.

What happens when children have no adult supervision? Sure, they may feel delirious with their freedoms, but does this serve them well? Do they know how to act responsibly or is that freedom an exercise in self-indulgence that often leads to bad judgement?

This is what I see when I discover liturgical abuse which to me, stems from a worldly idea to "experiment" and cast doubt on any such old-fashioned idea as an "absolute." To me, a priest is indeed a spiritual father. We have a crisis of fatherhood right now in the Catholic Church. We need strong fathers who aren't afraid to lovingly discipline their children. We need men who will stand up and say, "Yes. There are such things as absolutes and our liturgy contains them, for they are the bones of our faith - these bones are what holds the Body of Christ together." We need fathers who will ensure that we get the proper nourishment in order to have strong bones, because believe me -- the world is looking to break our bones.

When I look at fathering, I cannot help but be thankful for my own father. (Hi, Dad!) He taught my brother and I absolutes. There may be a few ways to complete a task, but there are more wrong ways than right and he taught us as many "right ways" as possible. I grew up recognizing that there is a reward from seeking God's right way. Our heavenly Father protects us and provides for us. Nothing happens to us that is not for our own good. As Christians, we grow into an understanding that life is not always easy, but God uses every circumstance to draw us closer to Him and to mold us into the shape of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Because of my earthly father, and my heavenly one - I am a fairly secure woman. I have my moments where I may feel a little anxious or shaky, but for the most part -- I know God is in control. When I attend the Traditional Latin Mass, that message is sent to me strong and clear. I am worshipping God as He has been worshipped since the beginning of the Church, not necessarily because of the Latin (which wasn't spoken by Jesus or His disciples), but because the Latin has preserved for me the meaning of the liturgy. The Latin hasn't been tampered with or forced into some wacky "experiment." The Latin language is solid, like a mountain, a sure plane to stand upon, a sturdy oak tree to hold onto.

Again, Bishop Trautman shows his opinion of standards (emphasis mine):
In Roman Catholic liturgy, we have rubrics-the liturgical laws that define how a priest is to celebrate Eucharist, how a congregation is to respond. But do we want to be rubricists, legalists? No, it's the spirit of the law that we want to live.

Why is it that following the rubrics is cast in a legalistic light? Is tradition always such a burdensome yoke that we must fight to escape? Why are the rubrics not presented as beautiful treasures that help guide us to safety? There is commonly an accusatory tone toward the rubrics when progressive Catholics speak of them. It is narrow-mindedness and uncreative thought that leads to such opinions.

I hear this "spirit of the law" often named when conversation turns toward religious matters. But what about the spirit of the law? Do we really know it well enough to start going off the tracks into our own imaginations? There is a saying among artists: You first need to know the rules before you start breaking them. When we're talking about our faith, I don't believe we can break any rules and not pay for it. The moment someone says, "Well, I know what the rubrics say but I'm going to do it this way instead," is the moment a slippery slope has been introduced. Because no matter how badly we'd like to think of ourselves as being honorable and capable of doing the right thing; there is a greater chance of us doing the wrong thing because we forget the rules.

We need to be constantly reminded of the rules. If for nothing else, because our flesh is a wild thing, never relenting from seeking its own will.

And so the rules to me are the rubrics. To me, we are to live "the spirit of the law" in our daily lives. But for our Sunday obligation, the rubrics within the Mass are to instruct us, remind us, and encourage us not to forget what Jesus Christ has done for us.

For those of us who yearn for that security and the Catholic identity that binds us together, I believe this new translation will do something good. It will start the process of cleaning up the house and putting it back in order after reckless and irresponsible teenagers had an unsupervised house party. Let the renewal begin.

1 comment:

Bill Meyer said...

Although Latin was never outlawed, in some dioceses, it simply vanished. And today, in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, it is to be found in only one parish.

I find the wholesale switch to the vernacular to be an extreme interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, one which took advantage of provisions clearly intended for mission lands.

But then, I was in high school when the council was in session. By the time I got to college, the change was complete, and guitars and English reigned.

Worst of all, the once standard celebration of the Mass is now so variable that one can hardly imagine that two adjacent parishes are part of the same church.