faith in the desert: February 2007 Archives

Catholic Carnival 107


"A new way to do church"

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There is a mega church in our community that recently relocated from a spot next to the car dealers to one where they took over more than half of a shopping plaza/movie theater complex. They even have a 3 story parking structure - something that only one of the three hospitals in town seemed to find necessary. There have been many articles in the local paper about this church community. Their slogan is "A new way to do church". For some reason, that slogan really bothers me. It reminds me of the following scripture:

2 Timothy 4: (RSV)
1: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
2: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.
3: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings,
4: and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.
Looking over the webpage for this church, it seems to be fairly typical of the mainstream Evangelical Protestant point of view - the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, sola scriptura, diffused authority, etc. Not too unusual. Their statement of faith isn't nearly as poetic as the Nicene Creed, but it isn't too far from the truth in many of its facets. But I am worried about a tendency of so many of these churches to focus on entertainment rather than worship.

A newspaper article from last September referred to "on-screen sermons (that) go along with the contemporary music, a cafe, and spiritual messages that address your day-to-day needs". And one from 1999 enthuses "delivers its contemporary message with a live band, dramatic skit, spoken words from a platform and a videotaped sermon projected on two large screens. "
Still, this was the 'worship' style of some other churches I had been to in my younger days, albeit writ large. So what exactly bothers me about this particular manifestation?

I found a few G.K. Chesterton quotes that addressed a part of my unease.

The New Religions are in many ways suited to the new conditions; but they are only suited to the new conditions. When those conditions shall have changed in only a century or so, the points upon which alone they insist at present will have become almost pointless.

There is a sort of rotation of crops in religious history; and old fields can lie fallow
for a while and then be worked again. But when the new religion or any such notion has sown its one crop of wild oats, which the wind generally blows away, it is barren...
Anyhow, the New Religions are suited to the new world; and this is their most damning defect. Each religion is produced by contemporary causes that can be clearly pointed out...
They hastily divested themselves of anything considered dowdy or old-fashioned in the way of vesture or symbol. They claimed to have bright services and cheery sermons; the churches competed with the cinemas; the churches even became cinemas. In its more moderate form the mood was merely one of praising natural pleasures, such as the enjoyment of nature and even the enjoyment of human nature. These are excellent things and this is an excellent liberty; and yet it has its limitations.

They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already. They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it.

It is a very different matter when a religion, in the real sense of a binding thing, binds men to their morality when it is not identical with their mood. It is very different when some of the saints
preached social reconciliation to fierce and raging factions who could hardly bear the sight of each others' faces. It was a very different thing when charity was preached to pagans who really
did not believe in it; just as it is a very different thing now, when chastity is preached to new pagans who do not believe in it.

Something else that bothered me was the idea of 'doing' church. We don't 'do' church - we are members of the church. We are the body of Christ. We can 'do' liturgy - after all liturgy is literally work.
1069 The word "liturgy" originally meant a "public work" or a "service in the name of/on behalf of the people." In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in "the work of God." Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church. (CCC)
The Catechism then goes on to say
1071 As the work of Christ liturgy is also an action of his Church. It makes the Church present and manifests her as the visible sign of the communion in Christ between God and men. It engages the faithful in the new life of the community and involves the "conscious, active, and fruitful participation" of everyone.

I read this (in shorthand) to mean that we are church, we do liturgy. Being and action. Both/and.

I'm a convert from High Church Anglican. I'll admit it, I can be a bit of a liturgical snob. I came into the church in 1973, as a teenager, in Los Angeles, at the height of the 'folk mass' movement. Initially, I was fine with that and I was part of a very devout college community/charismatic prayer group. I played flute along with the guitarists. My wedding mass had its music donated by my friends - a quartet with two guitars (acoustic, non amplified) and 'folk' type music, and it was a wonderful devout and reverential liturgy. However, as I grew in the church, and moved from parish to parish as we relocated, I found that there were enormous variations in the way in which the rubrics were interpreted, and I found myself longing for the beauty of the Anglican liturgy of my childhood (although I hear that they also have, for the most part, become almost Unitarian in the interpretation of liturgy these days, never mind the flawed theology of the ECUSA). I didn't really understand why Catholics just weren't singing at Mass, except for on those times when the Our Father was chanted. (then, you would hear the entire congregation participate).
I don't have a problem, per se, with the Novus Ordo mass. What I have a problem with is the additions, deletions, and abuses that have accumulated over the last decades. I have a problem with the mistranslations and dumbing down of the prayers of the Mass, especially the Nicene Creed. (e.g. seen and unseen for visible and invisible - there is a very real difference in meaning between seen and seeable).
I have problems with the borderline heresy of the lyrics for some 'popular' 'hymns'. Hymns written in "1st person God" should be very limited, and ideally sung by the priest 'in persona Christae'. I have problems with music that is written to display the expertise of the composer or performer, and not to encourage the participation of the congregation or to give glory to God. I also have problems with the "Low Mass plus 4 hymns" mentality, where the mass parts are not sung but music is plugged in with a passing glance at the readings but totally ignoring the designated antiphons (esp entrance and communion). I have real problems with the alterations to the psalms that are sung instead of properly chanting the psalms themself - I grew up chanting the psalms on a daily basis in an Anglican day school. (The NAB translation is a big part
of the problem here, though - they should have had poets translate poetry!)

I had the unfortunate experience as a child of attending some less than reverential Tridentine Masses, (with my Catholic friends) and I think that there is a "Golden Age" syndrome going on among many Catholics. Those priests and laiety who currently celebrate and worship in the Tridentine rite are a carefully self-selected group. They are not likely to be saying their rosaries during the Mass or indulging in other private devotions but rather to be attentive to the action at the altar - and the priests who currently go out of their way to say the Tridentine Mass are
also not likely to be rattling off the Latin sub voca at 120 KPH. I think that the Novus Ordo Mass, with its emphasis on the community of faith, has had an effect on the mentality even of those who are the most attached to the Tridentine, and that effect is not all bad. If only by contrast and by calling for a committment to what is supposed to be the central part of Mass - the timeless sacrifice of the altar, the eternal gift of Jesus' sacrificial gift, the reality of the incarnation of God made man who came to give of Himself for our salvation. The Eucharist.

So while I would prefer beautiful liturgy, all the smells and bells that used to be the defining characteristic of the Roman rite, I will take a banal N.O Mass with bad music and a bored congregation over the most beautiful but invalid Anglican liturgy. I would definitely take it over the canned sermon and overamplified 'megachurch experience'. I just wish that we could get more pew-sitting Catholics to realize the treasures that the Church has and get these treasures unpacked and into use.

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This page is a archive of entries in the faith in the desert category from February 2007.

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