Tuesday, March 23, 2004

But what about...
...other developments of the Roman Rite? A person whose comments are signed DWB has raised some interesting observations. They appear under Fr. Tharp's "I concur" post. I thank that person for commenting and I offer some observations.

DWB raised the issue of kneeling during the Agnus Dei in the United States, which, though not established in Universal Church law, has become a part of law in the Bishops' Conference of the United States. If that practice is acceptable, DWB went on to comment (and I'm assuming meant to type), "then why WOULD blessings...be extinguished from the Roman Rite?" It seems to me the kneeling at the Agnus Dei that has become customary in the US is at least consistent with the liturgical action at that point of the Holy Mass -- adoration, reverence, a posture of humility before the Most Blessed Sacrament. I contend that the blessing of non-communicants introduces a new ritual into the action at hand.

DWB also comments on something witnessed in Hong Kong, where a group was invited up for a blessing. The Church does have rites within the Holy Mass (though usually immediately after the homily) for those who are preparing to enter the Catholic Church at Easter. This group (commonly referred to in the US as the "RCIA") really constitutes two subsets: those who are not yet baptized, and those baptized non-Catholic Christians who desire to enter the Catholic Church. The comment correctly notes that at times this group is invited up, they are prayed for, given a minor exorcism, and blessed, and even sent out of the Mass after the Liturgy of the Word since they are not yet able to fully participate in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But this ritual (actually intended it seems only for that part of the group not yet baptized) is to prepare them to turn from sin, and to grow in faith SO THAT they may be baptized.

Now, applying this to the blessing of children, in most cases the children in question are already baptized. They have already received the grace of Christ in that first Sacrament. They are already real members of the Church. They receive grace in prayer, from the witness of the community, from (we hope) their parents whose duty it is to evangelize them, from the Sacred Liturgy (though they too are not yet able to fully participate). Their relationship to Christ is truly different (on the level of Sacrament) than that of the non-baptized, and their communion with the Church is truly different than those baptized Christians not yet received into the Catholic fold.

So, could we develop some other rite of blessing for those not receiving Holy Communion, perhaps modeled on the RCIA? I suppose the Church could. If she did, I would gladly follow the directives and employ whatever options exist. However, I do not believe it is anyone's place -- not even a priest's -- to take upon himself the authority to add to, or subtract things from, the Sacred Liturgy. It comes down, once again, to a matter of obedience in my mind. The Church establishes what the Sacred Liturgy is; I do not. I am merely its servant and guardian. I contend that the blessing of non-communicants DURING the distribution of Holy Communion is nowhere envisioned in the Roman Rite and is an unwarranted practice. Furthermore, I think it may even cheapen the anticipation a child should develop because it introduces a distraction into the very purpose of that line -- the reception of the Sacrament of Sacraments! In that sense, I think it can be said that I have even thought of this issue from the child's perspective. Please do not assume I am condemning your local experiences and opinions. I do, however, think that what I have suggested would find agreement in the directives for the Sacred Liturgy. Though I have no animosity toward those who practice or think differently on this matter, I think the burden of proof to demonstrate a positive support of said practice lies with those who have introduced it into the Sacred Liturgy.

Personally, I would not be in favor of further adapting the Sacred Liturgy to make everyone feel catered to. I think too many mistakes, perhaps well-meaning, have been made in the last decades that radically reorient the focus of the Sacred Liturgy to a man centered, rather than God centered, activity. Though we, God's people, certainly occupy an important role in the Sacred Liturgy, it seems to me that the Sacred Liturgy is first and foremost about God, it is His work in sanctifying us. Please read my words very carefully and do not go off on a tangent. I am not denying the importance of man's role in the Sacred Liturgy. But I contend the Sacred Liturgy is first and foremost the work of God, and secondarily our participation in that work. We do not save ourselves. Therefore, it seems to me, the primary work of the Sacred Liturgy must come from the One Who can save us -- God. And so, man's participation in that work (Yes, both are intimately connected, I know) is to direct the focus of worship to God, that His grace may descend to us. But these days, it seems one often encounters a sentimentality that drives liturgical considerations based on feelings. Adaptations are offered and even forced upon the Sacred Liturgy based largely on what is "meaningful to us". I think that is a dangerous practice. How far does one carry the movement to cater liturgy to this and that group? Is the Holy Mass the Mass? Does it unite the whole community in the oneness of Catholic worship of God (a mark of the Church)? Or is it rapidly becoming (is it already?) the stuff of personal whim, priest-ego, and special interest groups?

No comments: