Monday, March 02, 2009

Mahony on Liturgy

Someone sent me what I find to be a very disturbing transcript of an online chat with Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles. In the chatroom environment, he boiled down his views on current liturgical matters. They capture the very essence of two great confusions of our age:

Arleen Goodman: How can we make church and the mass more appealing to this younger generation? My daughter doesn’t see the importance of going to church, and says it's boring. I try to set an example, but feel like I can't persuade them. What can I do?

CardinalMahony: Arleen: try taking her to one of the Life Teen Masses, or a Mass that is designed for young people. Mass is always boring if we don't bring anything of ourselves to the Mass.

Many people have already addressed the problem of boredom at Mass, and with a greater attention to core issue. Boredom grows out of the absence of the sense of mystery, not from the absence of entertainment, as conventionally understood. The Life Teen environment can capture one's attention for a time, but it too becomes boring over time, because it too lacks the environment of sacred mystery.

What precisely is attempting to be engaged at Mass? The senses, yes, but only as a means toward the higher goal of engaging the spiritual imagination to gain a greater, deeper, and more intense awareness of the reality of the miracle of the Mass.

Cardinal Mahony recommends more glitter and popular forms at Mass, but we can also find that in many other realms of life, such as pop concerts, sports events, carnivals, or even at the local mall. It is extremely short-sighted to believe that adding secular forms at Mass is any long-term solution to the problem of boredom.

The Cardinal also suggests that the real problem might be that we are not bringing anything to Mass. So it is our fault. Well, no one would say that this is entirely untrue, but it seems to overlook a critical issue that part of the structure of the Mass is precisely to elicit out of us what we might be at first reluctant to give.

If you have ever attended a truly solemn liturgy, you know the feeling of being dragged into the environment nearly against your will. The hard kneelers, the long spaces of silence, the intense demand to submit to the surroundings, the beginning of the Mass with its Confiteor and mea culpas—all of it serves to form us and prepare us. This can happen from within but this inward process is assisted by the outward forms.

When these are not in place, it shouldn't surprise us that we can feel unprepared and then sense little but boredom.

Now, another exchange that caught my attention:

Ann Scolari: What are your thoughts on the Tridentine mass?

CardinalMahony: Ann: The Tridentine Mass was meant for those who could not make the transition from Latin to English [or other languages] after the Council. But there is no participation by the people, and I don't believe that instills the spirit of Christ among us.

The differences between the forms are more substantive than the language in use. In any case, the normative form of the new Missal is Latin, as a matter of fact. If you doubt it, compare a Mass said according to the 1970 Missal under the ICEL model with an Anglo-Catholic liturgy said according the old Missal in English.

There is also a very strange implication in his remark that the old Missal was somehow concocted (or permitted) in order to minister to people who didn't like English. This is just wrong in more ways than are possible to enumerate here.

As for participation, it is also a fact that people in old-Mass parishes are among the most participating people in the Catholic world, not only at Mass but in all aspects of parish life. There is just no truth to this assertion in my experience. Meanwhile, a constant complaint of pastors in new Mass parishes is that the people are indifferent and surprisingly inactive.

Finally, I really don't know what can be said about a Cardinal of the Church who claims in a public forum that the Mass of nearly 2000 years of Christian history, until 1970, does not instill the spirit of Christ. Maybe I'm just overly emotional about this subject, but it strikes me that such a remark deserves an ecclesiastical rebuke.

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