Dominus Vobiscum: The man who could not pray discussed prayer and meditation in an online essay a few years back.
“No paragon of these am I,” he wrote, “even if at 18 I left home to study them full time. After two years of novitiate, I got my SJ degree, which I relinquished many years later . . .
Even so, much of it stuck. At Mass, for instance, I often entered the zone of prayer and meditation, which made me a poor participant in the liturgy.
Doesn’t mean I think of nothing else . . . or that I am superior to the worshiper next to me who belts out songs and other responses. In fact, you could argue I’m not as good because I seem to reject the communal aspect of today’s liturgy.
But do we not exceed the limits of liturgical propriety when we proffer the handclasp of peace to other pew-sitters far and wide, even getting out of our pews to hug and chat or even extort the same from them?
Communion time also. What about our meeting and greeting on way to the communion station? Ushers do it. They are the souls of geniality as if they were the host greeting you at the door of a party.
And they and others seem sometimes to take it amiss if you don’t participate, like the elderly gent at one parish some years back who stood where communion-goers passed, glad-handing one and all. When I didn’t oblige, he was surprised and wounded.
Do we get carried away with our communality?
Something missing here? Sense of the sacred? The R-word, reverence?
The novelist’s complaint about the new mass
It was “a bitter trial,” said novelist Evelyn Waugh. In 1965, he wrote to the archbishop of Westminster about the growing tide of liturgical changes: “Every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or edification. I shall never, pray God, apostatize but church-going is now a bitter trial.”
The prominent Italian Catholic literary figure Tito Casini went further in 1967, publishing the provocative tract La tunica stracciata (“The Torn Tunic”), with a preface by a curial cardinal. Casini virulently took to task the cardinal charged with implementing the reform, Giacomo Lercaro, for “a perverted application [of Vatican 2] detested alike by Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and unbelievers.”
Lercaro’s secretary, Fr. Annibale Bugnini, would describe Casini’s work as “defamatory,” a “poisonous attack on the liturgical reform and on the conciliar renewal generally.” As the New Yorker of September 9, 1967, reported, Pope Paul VI was not pleased.
Casini and Waugh had a point. What began to happen to the Sacred Liturgy of the Western Rite of the Catholic Church in the 1960s (or perhaps earlier), and which led to the production of brand-new rituals produced to meet the needs of “modern man,” was perceived as madness by many, and caused distress to a great number of faithful Catholics.
Protestant Communitarianism and Catholic Individualism
I imagine a Protestant walking into many Catholic churches feels unwelcome. A Catholic walking into a Protestant church feels barraged. But there is more. I do not mean to criticize Catholics or Protestants here (I aim to describe general patterns).
I believe that the reason Catholics are not as social when they gather for Mass is that there is a sense of the sacred in church, and a sense that the right thing to do is to quietly pray. There is surely no intention to make visitors feel unwelcome.
Similarly, Protestants are not trying to make visitors feel uncomfortable. Quite to the contrary, they are simply making clear that visitors are welcome.
I wonder, however, what impact this difference in the ritual has on the communitarian sense of Protestant congregations and without arguing against a sense of the sacred, I wonder whether the sense of the sacred works against community bonding in Catholic congregations.
Food for thought here.