Friday, January 8, 2010

Look to Ethiopia for Inspiration

In my post on traditionalism being in some ways a resistance to globalization (the Church is
catholic, not "global") I discussed my love of local tradition (all true tradition is local) and specifically mentioned my love for Ethiopian Christianity.

The Ethiopian Church is a Coptic tradition in the Patriarchate of Alexandria, but has developed a very unique rite and tradition of its own in the Ge'ez language.

This video is an example of sacred music that is actually catchy and lively. It is also an example of true liturgical dance. While dance is a foreign imposition on European rites (Western and Eastern), a liturgical abuse usually done in the manner of a "performance" by some crazy woman in an alb with ribbon...the Ethiopian tradition gives an example of liturgical dance that is truly measured and integrated with the liturgical action and text and music rather than simply being a stand-alone interruption in the liturgy. (Though, for some reason, Western Catholics have no problem with the "showy" and choppy nature of things like Orchestral Masses, where often the priest has to sit down and wait for 10 minutes for an elaborate Gloria to finish while nothing else happens...something I think is bad as it turns liturgy into just a Concert).

A very important distinction with the Ethiopian dance is that it is a collective action by the congregation or choir of levites rather than a "show" up front by some lay women that everyone else stops and watches. It is more akin to the processions, genuflections, signs of the cross, etc, which form the "choreography" of our own liturgy (which is, in that sense, a form of very controlled and slow "dance").

An Ethiopian Catholic
sui juris church does exist of the Ge'ez rite in Ethiopia and Eritrea (besides the diaspora community), and I have had the privilege of experiencing its liturgy in Rome. It seems to maintain its unique tradition, and though Eritrea has the good fortune of being the only country in the Catholic world that has no overlapping Latin Rite jurisdictions, I believe the Institutional structures have been significantly Latinized.

For example, the Ethiopian
Orthodox Church has a structure for its clergy elements of which I think are worth exploring, but which I am sure are not present in the Catholic counter-part.

For example, around 15% of all males are priests in their church, and an even greater number serve as the lower clergy. Though the West might be rightly hesitant to adopt something like their famous "boy deacons"...I think they provide a traditional example of the kind of model that I expressed support for from that article referenced in my recent post A Providential Find.

They have over 20,000 parishes in the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the same number we have in the entire United States! Parishes have dozens of priests, because (like the Jewish Temple Priesthood), the priests generally serve for only an assigned week each year, but their liturgy requires 2 priests and 3 deacons. Rather than adjust their liturgy to fit their Institutional model (as we have done in the West with the Low Mass and the full-time salaried celibate priesthood)...they have adopted a volunteer model for the clergy that allows their liturgy to always be said in its full solemnity at tens of thousands of parishes. The priests are drawn from the peasantry, and training is done mainly on an apprenticeship basis with another local priest.

If Catholics could start thinking outside the box, and not get so hung up over their conception of the diocesan priesthood as a sort of pseudo-consecrated life that is both celibate and the man's full-time "career"...we might see a flowering of Catholic life. The Byzantines consider it ideal to found a new parish whenever the pastor can no longer know everyone by name, after a few hundred people. Catholic parishes now have thousands of members each, generally.

There are many models that could be used that have precedent within the Church that involve reducing the lay-to-priest ratio and married priests (which go hand-in-hand). The Byzantine model of small parishes with an older respected man (often retired) from the area called by the Bishop to serve the Liturgy, but then only having it offered on Sundays and Solemnities, is one such model. The Ethiopian model of having many of the adult males ordained priests who only are assigned to the priestly duties only for one week a year is another.

The best antidote for both clericalism AND to induct a much greater proportion of the lay male population, including family men, into the secular clergy. The Ethiopians know this, and their faith seems to be a vibrant and integrated part of their lives.


Jonathan said...

I agree with your blog entry, but I do believe that it will fall upon deaf ears. The rather generic answer to this will be, "That is fine and dandy for The Easterners (Can people not differentiate between the various Ritual Traditions ?), but WE (Who is this "We" they speak of ?)Latin Rite Catholics would like to preserve our Tradition for ... ".I realize I left my response open, but I did so purposely. The fact of the matter is WE (and I am using it rather loosely here) in The West (again what is this WEST people speak of) will come up with a host of objections out of our own prejudices towards anything remotely "foreign" to our tradition. These objections run far deeper and are quite ancient when compared to The Liturgies. I suspect that The Greco-Roman concept of Culture still rings true. Do recall that in minds of many, The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic (and wait for it) and ROMAN. The mere thought that some other group may have something to offer is inconceivable. In the case that said "foreign" concept does manage to "infiltrate", it is reinterpreted and thus removed from its original context (in the process possibly losing its meaning). Was this not the same attitude expressed by The Ancient Greeks who sought to Hellenize The Known Ancient World ? Perhaps globalization is not the ultimate aim (per se), but rather "hellenizing" cultures and ritual Churches. Interestingly when the subject of non-Latin Churches seeking to restore their ANCIENT and venerable TRADITIONS is brought up, the subject hits quite a sour note amongst Latin Rite Catholics (some being Traditionalists themselves). In their minds any such move is motivated by a spiteful and rebellious spirit on the part of The non-Latin Churches. Typically the addition of Latin elements into Eastern Liturgies is seen as an enrichment to their Traditions and not an invasion. Cross pollination is bound to occur, but typically it allows for an equal exchange between both parties AND it allows the parties involved to hone/adapt it based on their local Tradition. Typically what happens is the replacement of one practice for another, but also insuring that the foreign practice retain its roots. It inevitably leads to antagonism, because the practice always serves as a reminder that said group "was here" and not in the good way.
I do realize that the casual browser of your blog will perhaps read my statement and go into conniptions, but the fact is that all I have said does to an extent hit home. I am a cradle Latin Rite Catholic (get this I go to a TLM too) who struggles with quite a few trends in The Western half of The Church (and no I'm not referring to everyone's favourite jumpoff "Post VII, but to earlier events in Church history). So call me what you may (Judaizer (:-P),a persona non grata, Easternizer, etc.),the fact is we Latin Rite Catholics need to clean house from the bottom up and question what is essential to The Traditionalist Cause.

A Sinner said...

True enough, sadly.

Many trads are just playing Dungeons and Dragons with their traditionalism though, so the "seriousness" with which the portray themselves as taking it all is, well, say the least.

Renegade Trads are all for eccentricity and esotericism, to be sure, as long as one doesnt let such non-essentials overshadow what is truly important. Conformity to the shallow schema of modern middle-American "normalcy" is to just be a cog in the machine. But eccentricity must be tongue-in-cheek, it must be ironic and self-aware. You can have affectations, the world would be a boring place if people didnt. But you have to be able to take a joke about yourself and understand that they're sort of game, a persona put-on or acted for fun.

Yet the problem is some trads are DEAD SERIOUS when they smoke their pipe or wear their three-piece suit and fedora to church. They are "true believers" in their causes like monarchism and women-not-wearing-pants, and that's what is scary. Same thing with neocons. They can tell you with a Straight Face...that the Novus Ordo is just dandy or that what happened with John Paul at Assisi wasn't at least confusing if not scandalous.

The problem is they conform their perceptions and self-evaluation to pre-established paradigms, ideologies that extend well beyond the essentials of the deposit of faith.

People who actually take things seriously feel free to joke about them and critique them. It's only when there is doubt that people get so defensive.

A lot of trads clearly come from a pool of "rebels without causes". They bitterly and defiantly adopt a cause they see as opposed to everything in the modern world, and one that lets them act out their own paranoid persecution fantasies, sexual repression, internalized misogyny and homophobia, and generally as a crutch to some very obviously fragile self-esteems. It's no surprise then that they tend toward the sort of narrowness and self-defeating isolationism that we see. If their cause wouldnt be a cause anymore.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Thanks for the insights on the Ethiopians.

Anonymous said...

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian (not Oriental like the Ethiopians) I have to agree with the post. There is a difference between sacramental ministry like serving the Liturgy and other services and pastoral work, like hearing confessions with the necessary counseling. The Orthodox church in Russia and Greece survived for centuries relying on local pious clergy who were only educated in doing the services, but not in the intricacies of pastoral counseling, preaching and education. I don't know if that is a model that works today in our culture but it is worth talking about.

Rdr. James Morgan
Olympia, WA