Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The majesty of the package

Don't be put off by the way this starts. It has its origin, you will see, in the comments board below somebody else's writing; so I had in my mind the same material everyone else was addressing, and I could plunge right in, having come to some of the same conclusions and naturally taking up the same aggravated tone they did. This is what we moderns call an "online community." I began to type ...

I notice the drumbeat of prayers for migrants at Mass has stopped, at least in my parish for the last few weeks. Coincidence? The effect of a new pastor? The hierarchy somewhere in a Chicago high-rise, deciding for a while not to rub the wounds of a conquered people, just while the newest homosexual abuse scandal now reaching up to the cardinals' level unfolds? But if migrants needed prayers last month, don't they still? Do you turn off God's attention and power based on a sort of Lenin-style assessment of who is more useful when?

"Conquered people" is a strong term, perhaps unfair. It occurred to me because of an unrelated issue, namely music. Once again on Sunday we were permitted only the "traditional Caribbean folk melody" for the Alleluia, which is all we ever get, and which sounds just like the preschooler's foot-stompin' beach dance tune you would expect. Holl-lay, holl-lay, holl-lay, Looo-oooo-yah! The recessional was a "traditional South African" song which no one knew, neither the good (Ugandan) priest nor the deacon nor the people nor, I think, even the man playing the piano in the choir loft. Interestingly, he had played Panis Angelicus during communion, when it could be safely hidden as background noise. The recessional therefore proved a mostly silent fumble. This is what conquered people are made to do: sing songs not their own. It's a natural and an age-old political move. Whereas at the close of a blessedly silent weekday Mass the celebrating priest, or even a member of the congregation, has only to begin the Lourdes hymn ("Immaculate Mary") and everyone joins, with no guidance from the piano at all. We react naturally to our own music. I might almost dare say ... we are ready to be led home, by and with our own music.

I chronicle and I express crabbiness about all this because [here we go] I am still thinking about Elizabeth Scalia's article a few days ago at the Word on Fire blog. I don't think it's worthwhile my being the fortieth commenter on a piece that is, very naturally, already being bumped down the roster of the blog's main page as new things are published there. But it got me to thinking in terms of natural and unnatural.

It was natural for almost all the thirty-odd commenters there to come up with simple, strong responses to it. The man in the street tends to do that. Never mind, they scoffed, Ms. Scalia's advice to the laity to form "investigatory panels" and "become the Church you want to be by being a conduit of love." Being a conduit of love (I scoff) won't stop the propagation of cheap music for example, which affects us in our official, public worship life, as whatever went on at a cardinal's beach house decades ago does not. Not that it does not, however: we do feel this week's dark news personally. Is there a Latin way to say "hard to be a Catholic," and capture the rueful endurance of schwer zu sein ein yid?

But to stop that, I mean bad music, takes power, and after fifty years of other people's folk tunes, it looks like no one has that much power. "I'm not giving the Church any more of my money" was a natural response too. So was the great call, the frightening call, the repeated call throughout the comments board, which perhaps cannot be answered in the man in the street's lifetime, or yours or mine -- because it means really facing Satan, all tolerant, loving, funny, and with great taste in the finer things -- "The bishops need to say homosexuality is sin." For it is not natural that a man should lie with a man as with a woman.

It's not very natural that Catholics, buffeted now by witnessing a resurgence of '90s style immorality among their priests and bishops plus the Pope choosing this moment to change the catechism, -- it's not natural that they should be comforted or strengthened when they walk into a Mass of bad off-Broadway music, of a dozen "extraordinary ministers of communion" including young girls in miniskirts and hairy-legged middle aged men in shorts and t-shirts, and of the whole congregation reflexively adopting the hands-upheld "orans position" when the priest does, because no one has ever told them not to. That was new to me when I walked into my parish church last summer for the first time in thirty years. I thought it made everyone look like ecstatic, village idiot snake-handlers. Then I did some of my usual crabby research and found out you're not supposed to do this "orans posture" wheeze at all. All I can figure is that our good bishops, who don't dare call out a fellow who preys on boys, are certainly not going to speak out on something so minor in the face of people and offertory-makers far too culturally Protestantized to accept rebuke. And who can always now rejoin, "Really? You're upset about this?"

Ah, to rejoin. The rejoinder -- the come-back. The coming back. The answer to all this mess is not investigatory panels, or being a conduit of churchly love, or even fasting as such. The answer is to make the Church and its Mass seem like something that is above and outside and truer than time or the world or men or sex or anything. We cannot do that, our leadership must. They do that by returning somehow to the majesty of what it was, to the package it used to show to anyone who walked in the door; the package unchanging no matter where it was found or no matter what poor sinner or downright creep briefly kept the door. The package used to say: "we have to do this, and say this, because it is true and our 'colossal Master' (G.K. Chesterton's phrase, about Whom Joan of Arc obeyed) -- because He commanded it. Yes even of us sinners." Returning somehow to the majesty of the package ... what, shall the College of Cardinals (minus McCarrick) admit it is all really dreadfully traceable to Vatican II? Shall they say, sorry, we lowered some bars there and it was a mistake? That really cannot be. If the Holy Spirit presides over other Councils it  He must have presided over that one.

Perhaps what will prove to save everything will be that great Council's rumored exaltation of the laity and our responsibilities and rights. I don't know, I'm the man in the street, I never read the documents. Anyhow what previous Council ever insisted that the faithful, busy at loom and plow, should bestir themselves to "read the documents"? But suppose the laity now do take that responsibility, given from the Holy Spirit, seriously, and do read and do find their power, and start asking for old things? Unless of course they just demand validation for the new things they have been doing anyway, like getting divorced and taking the Pill. A hierarchy which can't condemn homosexuality may have a hard time pressing "Church teaching" on any other matter.

It may be that with my thirty years' absence I am insufferably behind the times. It may be that in fact the new and the young, starved of Catholic meat, have been asking for old true things and getting them, long since. It may be they are now middle-aged and making waves themselves. There are jokes on crabby online forums about Ugandan and Nigerian priests, doing missionary work among the suburban soccer moms of the U.S.A., pronouncing words like magisterium. Our own dear Father G. makes the sign of the cross after his homily, which is just what you can hear being done at traditional Masses on YouTube, Masses celebrated even sometimes by priests of those mysterious stern "Societies of St. Peter" (or Pius). They sign themselves before and after. Perhaps it had a meaning once. Wonderful Bishop Robert Barron comes to mind of course, talking of younger clerics feeding the starved.

But he's got these bloggers working for him who still seem to bar the gates, even emotionally, against the fuming man in the street, and the man knows it and that's why he responds with comments not remotely assessing her ideas, but simply brushing them aside. As if he is a force of nature, and knows that too.

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