Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A sign of hope

My posts today are coming from a source I don't usually read, let alone quote from or link to. Let's face it, the publication U.S. Catholic has not exactly been a hotbed of orthodoxy--though I find it extremely interesting that on that main page to which the first link takes you, there is a poll about what language people would prefer to hear the Mass prayed in, and Latin is winning at 58% of the votes (with 29% for "in a translation of Latin that is as literal as possible" and only 13% for "in a translation that is in natural, easy-to-understand English").

Still, I found this article to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read:
As a younger generation of priests joins and replaces an older generation, parishes across the country are feeling the change. City by city, diocese by diocese, it is a changing of guards that is neither swift nor soundless and comes with no choreography to guide the steps.

Many young priests arrive with an unabated zeal for the church, a solid grasp of liturgical rubrics, and a preference, if not insistence, for traditions of the past. They call themselves “JPII priests” because their formative years were shaped by Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. They are unafraid to preach on touchier moral teachings and eager to share rituals they consider timeless—ones their gray-haired peers often interpret as a step backward from the hard-won changes of the Second Vatican Council.[...]

All Catholics are priests, prophets, and kings,” says Father Randal Kasel, 37, who serves at St. Charles in Bayport, Minnesota . “The priest in a particular way is meant to be a priest at a parish, and he has all those roles. That’s why there needs to be a sense of closeness but also just a little bit of distance. It’s hard for priests to do, because I want people to like me. But I can’t be true to myself and reject my role. What happens when you’re too close to people who you also have to govern? What happens when you have to say something a little difficult or you need to correct someone?”[...]

Kasel looks at his relationship with his parish through a different lens. “I love being a priest,” he says. “But it’s not easy. It’s a lot about being willing to suffer with people and for people. The priesthood is an intense life of grace with Jesus, to lead others to him and to face the same things he did—the opposition as well as the blessings, the miracles and the great disappointments. At my parish I’m trying to do what the church wants, and I’m doing it as generously, charitably, and patiently as I can.”

That can result in policies that ruffle feathers, such as Kasel’s emphasis on boy altar servers—without rejecting the girls who had been on board. “If they wanted to stay on, I’ve told them they could,” he says. A few have.

Kasel explains: “Only men can be priests, and the church sees serving at the altar as the first step toward being a priest. Is it really fair to the girl to have her at the altar if she can’t become a priest?”

But it can be hard to swallow if your daughter wants to be an altar server, as was the case for Bridgann Overmann, 68, of Marion, Iowa, when her daughter was young and their priest did not allow her to serve.

“I was not happy about it at all,” recalls Overmann, who didn’t want any obstacles to her daughter’s engagement in the church.

Overmann also resists the use of Latin in Mass. “I don’t think that’s moving forward,” she says. “Latin is a beautiful language, but we don’t understand it.”

Do go and read the whole two-page article. The author, Christina Capecchi, does a good job of showing some of the conflict and tension that can arise when a new, young, traditional priest arrives at a parish where an older, less traditional priest--or parish mindset--has been the dominant force. Of course, a more traditional publication would point to this mindset, or this "older" pastoral style, as having arisen mainly from misunderstandings about the Second Vatican Council, and of being deficient in many of its ideas about the priesthood, the role of priests vs. the role of the laity, and so on--but Capecchi does illustrate that whether we more traditional sorts like it or not, the greatest opposition we are likely to have to what our Holy Father calls the "reform of the reform" is not coming from the clergy, but from the people in the pews.

I've seen this attitude myself, in both of the parishes I've been a member of in the last decade. In the first, some of the older choir members were dismayed by a plan to sing more Latin at Mass--for them, Latin conjured up images of dark, silent churches, a priest with his back to the people, women forbidden from any participation other than membership in the Altar Society, etc. In the second, a gentleman spoke quite passionately to me about his dislike of the "old, traditional" music we were singing (most of it English) because he thought the young people would be driven away from the Church with all of that musty old stuff that wasn't "relevant" to their lives. I've also heard people praise some rather ugly modern hymn with "Oh, I'm so glad you sang that! I love that song--I've loved it for years!" and that sort of thing.

It will surprise no one that I think these attitudes are entirely erroneous. For the first, I think honestly that the women--and it's always women--who tearfully or angrily say such things are confusing the Church with their memories of what life in general was like for women in their young days. Though many people coat the past in rosy hues, it's quite discernible from history that women weren't always treated as if they were intelligent, capable, thoughtful equals to their male counterparts (just do a search for sexist vintage advertising, if you don't believe me--but be careful; some of those ads are shockingly unfit for children's eyes). Sadly, I think that some older Catholic women associate those attitudes with the Church; they may even have encountered them in their parishes when they were young. So anything that even reminds them of those past days becomes coated in their memories with a whole lot of other, negative memories or emotions--leading to a reflexive rejection of Latin or of anything that smacks of tradition.

As for the other attitudes--the idea that young people need the Church to be "hip" or "relevant" or that one's personal tastes are enough to guide the Church in matters of liturgy and worship--they are both based on a misunderstanding of who the Church is and what her mission is. The Church is the bride of Christ, and her mission is the salvation of souls. She transcends the things of earth, even when she is making use of them. Thus, the idea that to attract young people the Church needs to employ various trendy songs or art or architecture is tragically wrong--especially so when the music, art, architecture etc. is not even remotely trendy, but was momentarily popular approximately forty years ago. There is nothing a young person of today will find less appealing than the music his parents or grandparents sang at Mass forty years ago. Nothing sounds more horribly dated than something like this, and teens today are going to reject it as hopelessly lame, not appreciate it as something that is in any way relevant to them.

And that's the problem--the Church, which is ancient and universal, simply can't bend to the immediate tastes and trends of one location in time and space. She will do better to reach out to young people--and all people--with what is true, and beautiful, and lasting, and good. Music like this, perhaps, and art like this, and architecture like this.

That the new, young, "JP II" priests understand this is a sign of hope for the Church.


Larry Denninger said...

the idea that young people need the Church to be "hip" or "relevant" or that one's personal tastes are enough to guide the Church in matters of liturgy and worship

I read at another blog, by a commenter, that Fr Groeschel reportedly once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Above the gates of Hell, in bright neon letters, is the word 'relevant'."

Liturgy is meant to be transcendent. Anything short of that becomes sacrilegious.

eulogos said...

I believe there was some direction by Fr. Z to this poll....

When I went to US Catholic from your post above this, I was immediately drawn to this article.
It was reasonably even handed although you could tell the real sympathies of the writer were with the somewhat older priests.

I had a wry thought about the writer's complaint that any change in the liturgy with which people take comfort can cause them extreme distress. That wasn't true in about 1966-1970? There was little sympathy expressed for those who were distressed then, and what there was, was condescending.

Susan Peterson

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I mulled this over for a day or so, wondering if I had anything relevant to offer. After all, if communicant Roman Catholics are discussing the liturgy of their church, it is none of my business, just as it is none of my business who the Episcopalian church wants to install as their bishop.

As a non-Catholic, I can think of many aspects of the liturgy and specifically the music used in the mass that I have from time to time found inspiring, uplifting, that called to me. This includes baroque organ music, the voice of a bishop intoning a sing-song prayer in English, punctuated with "Let us pray to the Lord" and "Lord hear our prayer," and the sound of two or three hundred voices at a Newman Center singing "Lord of the Dance," accompanied by several guitars. (I know, few Newman Centers can claim so many parishioners; this was in Berkeley, California, but it was two or three hundred Catholics in Berkeley, California.)

I can't say that any of these seemed WRONG. The fact that the prayer was in English was important to me, because among the broad categories recited, were two or three specifically applying to people I care a great deal about. The key question is whether the music is an offering to God, or an attempt to be hip, and by the way, mentioning God along the way.

If we are talking about the eternal truths of the Christian faith, it would seem that the self-description "JP II priests" is just as prone to faddism as any of the other fads mentioned. Traditionalism can itself be a passing fad, promoting the ways of men, not of God.

In Protestant circles, there are some who go entirely for modern "praise music," some who emphasize traditional hymns (a few of which go back to the 8th century), some who want Old Time Gospel, and some who are willing to make use of any of the above. A good deal of "praise music" is highly commercialized, but an occasional inspiration can appear. Some "traditional" hymns can be pretty trite. Has everything that can be sung in praise of God already been written? Do those hymns that are truly inspired become less so from long usage?