Sunday, March 21, 2010

Victory! Or: Sometimes All People Need is a Little Nudge

While disgusting and contemptible things have been happening in hierarchal politics these past few weeks, there have been several spectacular liturgical victories in my own life which I think might serve as an example for priests or parishioners of how improvements to the liturgy can be made without fear.

Though most days I attend a traditional Mass, on Tuesdays I sing in a chant schola at a Latin Novus Ordo. As you may remember, this is the Mass for which we made those Novus Ordo Altar Cards and which we were able to gently, well, nag the priest into switching to ad orientem. And sometimes nagging or needling is what it takes, is all it takes.

The Liberals are so bold in forcing their preferences down everyone's throat, in somehow getting priests (and thus whole congregations) to go along with their aesthetics. The traditionally minded, however, perhaps due to their unfortunate natural deference to authority, are always so meek about trying any such coups or pressure in the other direction.

However, I think priests will find that there is a lot less resistance to liturgical traditionalizing than they might imagine, and that the emotional baggage of the past generations surrounding those issues is fading. In general, Catholics don't have strong opinions on liturgy, but more and more get excited if any little tradition is re-introduced, as long as it is properly explained. They eat that stuff up; they're starving for tradition and ritual.

Priests often fear trying to "impose" old practices on their congregation, but people really are sheep, they just need a little shepherding. Just a little nudging, and they will do it. Just consider the Milgram Experiment, where people were willing, under the direction of a director in a lab-coat, to (they thought, at least) inflict horrible shocks on people. The priest in his vestments from the pulpit is just as much of an authority figure.

Case in point, our recent triumph. It is no secret that I, like many trads, really hate communion in the hand and EMHC's. I think it should be abolished immediately, and even if not, priests shouldn't be afraid to use their right to deny communion in the hand to people. People should assert their right to kneel and receive on the tongue, and switch lines to receive from the priest instead of some lay person.

People had routinely been receiving standing and, mainly, on the hand at this Latin Novus Ordo. Our schola had started kneeling at the beginning of distribution (we're the first to receive) but the people in the congregation behind us weren't picking up on the hint that they were encouraged to do so too. The priest had eliminated the needless hordes of EMHC's (only about 50-60 people come to daily Mass anyway), but the server was still distributing a cup mainly because of local obsession with the possibility that a celiac might be in attendance.

So we discussed it with the priest, and once again a little nagging, a little nudging, accomplished what was best. Well, okay, it was more than a little nudging. To be honest, we threatened that, if he didn't, we'd just unilaterally hire some freelance ushers ("goons") to move the kneelers into place and tell people, firmly, to please kneel and receive on the tongue. In the face of such a coup, suddenly encouraging people from the pulpit didn't seem so daunting.

So, first, we put out a printed version of this article by Bishop Athanasius Schneider in the vestibule before Mass, explaining the history of the manner of reception of communion, and why kneeling and on the tongue is better.

Then, though we don't have a communion rail anymore, a row of kneelers fitting about six people were placed in front of the sanctuary.

Finally, the priest delivered this homily that my friend Rob helped him write, based on last Tuesday's reading (though I'm sure just about any reading could be used to more or less successfully segue into the topic):

"Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine." -Ezekiel 47:12

In today's first reading we have a description of the Lord's Temple in heavenly Jerusalem. What can we draw from this strange and mystical description? For starters we read of a river into which the prophet wades. This river flows out from the "south of the altar". The altar is a place where the priest offers oblation to the Lord and brings back graces for the people. The river represents this grace flowing from God. This image of water symbolizing grace is seen in today's Gospel too. The pool of healing water called 'Bethesda' literally means "house of Grace". What are the principle ways we receive grace? For those of us who are already initiated into the Church it is through confession and Eucharist.

The Eucharist or, rather, a figure of it, is seen in today's first reading. We read of a tree that bears fruit which is fed by the river of grace. This tree is a common symbol of the cross (The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Acts 5:30). We are told that the tree's leaves will serve as medicine. We are also told explicitly that the tree bears food. The word for food is (MA-AKAL) this can be translated as meat.

(USE FINGERS TO COUNT) Meat- Medicine-Grace. These are the three prevalent images of this reading. These symbols come together in the Eucharist wherein we receive (USE FINGERS) the flesh of our Lord-sanctifying grace-and the spiritual medicine we need. How should we receive these three gifts contained in the sacrament?

The prophet Ezekiel prior to this our first passage received symbolically the word of god (So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Ez 3:2) The prophet received in his mouth. Isaiah also received gifts from God in his mouth (And he laid [it] upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Is 6:7). How would we ourselves feel if an angel were to take a burning coal or a scroll and place it in our mouths? This external act of receiving a gift from god, would help to bring about or dare I say cause an internal disposition. This is an image of the Eucharist. This is the manner God gave grace to the prophets. This is, my Dear brothers and sisters, the way we should receive OUR LORD.

Today, some of you may have noticed, there are kneelers in front of the altar and we have in the vestibule an article on kneeling. Kneeling before God is an ancient tradition which predates Christianity, going all the way back to our fathers in faith. For our fathers in faith the concept of being blessed and kneeling was so integrated that these concepts are expressed by the same verb; In Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) the verb (BA-RAKH) has two meanings, the first meaning is to bless and the second is to kneel. Kneeling is the supreme posture of reverence and adoration. After completing the temple, and leading in the Ark of the Covenant, Solomon, ".knelt down in the presence of all the multitude of Israel, and lifting up his hands towards heaven." prayed before the Lord (2 Chron 13). In Psalm 95, "let us kneel before the Lord, Our Maker." The prophet Daniel, while in captivity as a servant of King Darius, "he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God." even though he knew the penalty would be death.

In the New Testament, St. Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, knelt to pray (Acts 7:60); St. Peter, the Rock of the Church, knelt to pray (Acts 9:40); EVEN Jesus Himself knelt when praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41). In fact, we are told, "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" (Phil 2:10).

This said-- How should we receive our Lord in communion? We have see that receiving on the tongue is clearly manner God gave grace to prophets. But what of our posture? Those receiving from Pope Benedict are only allowed to do so kneeling and on the tongue. The norm for centuries is to receive kneeling and on the tongue. To make this posture more accessible for you all, we've moved the kneelers in place. The flight plan will be a bit different. The two lines of communion will still come up, but instead of coming forward one by one, three from each side will come before the kneeler on their respective sides, while another three will stand behind to replace them once they move on. We've added the kneelers so that you may kneel. For those of you who can't receive the body of our Lord, but can receive the blood, please come at the end and I can bring the chalice for you.
The priest did not consecrate a separate communion cup this time, but distributed under one species, simply leaving a little bit of the Precious Blood in his own chalice after receiving just in case there were any celiacs in attendance (in fact there weren't; they're much rarer than the paranoid over-sensitive hype recently would lead you to imagine).

And when it came time to distribute, the choir demonstrated how the flow was supposed to work and...people fell right into it. Only one middle-aged man defiantly received standing and on the hand. Everyone else knelt and, in the kneeling posture, naturally received on the tongue, with the paten held under their chin by the server. Distribution went, if anything, quicker than usual, an it was all very orderly and efficient.

No one complained. In fact, many people complimented the priest on the change afterward. Brick-by-brick, I suppose. Of course, this was a Latin Novus Ordo, so one should assume that people are more open to such things in the first place (all the more reason not to fear any sort of backlash), but I think priests will find that if they try something like this at any Mass, no one is going to make a scene during Mass, and most people will conform just due to the direction of Authority and peer-pressure.

If only priests would assert their authority, a lot could get done, the boat just has to be rocked a little bit.

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