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|March 4, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 212
by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large
Sunday Mass, for two weeks in a row, has been at traditionally Africa-American parishes. Both were examples of preaching and the liturgy itself as community strengthening -- strengthening the common bonds of those who gather as Christians so the church can anoint them afresh for God's work and the week ahead.
Such a statement is significant in an age where an already generally drab and lifeless Catholic liturgy is being redesigned to further stultify it.
Even long-suffering Jesus wouldn't sit through most of today's homilies. Some of them he wouldn't even recognize as preaching anything remotely connected to why he lived and died and rose.
In general, the standard Western Mass is, and long has been, lifeless and dull.
It is as lifeless and dull as the old Latin mass. Where that's not the case is in those rare parishes where the welcome to the people is as real as the openness of the moment to the Holy Spirit. Where, through its relevance, the Word penetrates to people's lives. Where the music is Godís power hose and cleanses and stimulates the heart and soul to open them to the circulating Holy Spirit. And where what we are supposed to be about as Christians in community -- heard in the Word, taken in the Flesh and Blood -- is encouraged and we are emboldened.
Instead we have sunk into a general moribundity. Too often into dreadful musical performances by solo screechers who drown out choir and people. Too generally into uninspired and timid preaching that fails to face daily life. All strung together in a liturgical choreography that seems determined to numb people into a mindless and lifeless conformity.
Naturally, and knowing no other approach, the fearful in the Vatican and their frightened and cowed satraps in the U.S. hierarchy act as if reverence can be imposed.
More, they act as if reverence can be imposed through a new code of silly little bobs and bows, and by uttering phrases translated from frigid Latin directly into English without any knowledge of or nuances for the hearers.
Reverence can't be imposed, though it can be stimulated. At its core, reverence is a personal response to the sacred, something freely given in humility and awe.
What is it liturgy is attempting? Two things, as I understand it. First, at the personal level, to welcome and penetrate so that as we progress from the Word toward the Flesh the scales do fall from our eyes. And such an apt expression.
For the scales are the encrustations of the world that settle on us like dust and harden into a veneer as the week progresses. So that by Sunday, we need the high pressure hoses of music, children and Jesus re-entering our lives to batter away the encrustations and cleanse us for the moment of Eucharist. All that, plus whatever the Holy Spirit has decided for the congregation individually and collectively at that moment, all working through a celebrant respected and loved, capable and present to that community then and there.
The liturgy's second purpose, as I see it, is to then turn us loose, as individuals in a community whose members really do love one another, to try to be Jesus to the poor, a Christian to the world.
Jesus celebrated one Mass, and it worked. It was simple, it was in the language of the people, it was sincere in its enormous demands on its listeners, and no one bowed or scraped.
In this church of the rich, where money and power on the altar race neck-and-neck with the Gospel message, those who need gold on their fingers, embroidery on their backs and a rule book to get them through their weekly finest hour need to get back out among the poor.
They need to recycle themselves through daily life on the margins -- and then come in with their weekly suggestions.
They might even create a homily Jesus would listen to.
Arthur Jones' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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