Friday, 5 May 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter Year A 2017

As the Irish "hello" goes, "What's the story"? 

Well, the Gospel carries a rather straight-forward story of two dispirited disciples distancing themselves from what they felt was death's defeat. They probably harboured some militant expectations since they viewed Jesus as a liberator of Israel from the Romans. As to His Resurrection, they exhibited a little incredulity. For them, the "missing" body was not proof enough of the Resurrection and clearly, they were not expecting Him to rise let alone recognise Him.

However, embedded within this narrative one encounters a profound description of the Mass that the Church has been celebrating since Apostolic times. In short, without making it so obvious, Luke captured the importance of Christian worship through a narration of despair. The story can be divided into two parts which corresponds to the two liturgies we have--word and sacrament. Crucial to the liturgy of the Word are both Sacred Scripture and the homily. The second part is denoted by four verbs. "Now while He was at table with them, He TOOK the bread, and SAID the blessing; then He BROKE it and HANDED it to them. These four verbs are rhythmically ritualised at each Mass through our Presentation of the gifts (TOOK), the entire Eucharistic prayer with the Institution Narrative (SAID the blessing), the Fractio Panis at the Agnus Dei (BROKE) and finally the giving of Holy Communion (HANDED it to them).

In other words, the Mass is not a "Catholic" invention. It belongs to the Living Tradition of the Church since the Apostolic era. This belonging is not accidental. Instead, it is at heart of the Church for the source and summit of Christian life rests on the Eucharist. As the Jews are taught the centrality of the Shema, "Hear O Israel", Christians are taught that the crux of remembering (the Anamnesis) is that we may recognise Him at the breaking of bread.

In the organic development of the Roman rite, for the longest time, both belief and practice remained constant in the sense that for as long as 1950 years or thereabout, the practice had remained unchanged. Even if there were changes, they were incremental and organic. However, with Vatican II, practice took a major turn from ad orientem to versus populus--a change which has unintended consequences for the Church. The result today is an attempt to reconcile both practices of the Mass--known as the Extraordinary Form or the Traditional Latin Mass/Usus Antiquior and the Ordinary Form or the Novus Ordo Missae (NOM). To ask the question of which form is better is to enter the territory of hostile polemics. We find supporters and detractors on both sides and the Catholic cosmos is somewhat rent by the fractured discussion on which use is the better one. Sadly, that which is a source of unity has become a source of disunity.

According to Immanuel Kant, "De gustibus non est disputantum", meaning that in the matter of taste, there can be no disputes. The absolutisation of individual taste as a personal right has protagonists from either sides imprisoned within their echo chambers shouting out to a non-listening Other. The truth is, the NOM is here to stay. One cannot “unsee” what is seen so to speak. Thus, there is no turning back the clock. Neither is there doubt that Vatican II was a gift of the Holy Spirit for the Church in the modern world. There is no questioning of whether or not NOM is valid. The wisdom of the Church is far greater than what anyone feels.

However, what is of interest here is the experience of the "pray-er" at the pew with regard to some "innovations"[1] of the Mass that he encounters. Whilst the "what" has remained central in our worship, the "how" has been subjected to variation-fatigue. In fact, there are, if you count, more than 5000 variations in the manner that Sunday Mass can be celebrated. These allowed variations may just obscure a pathology which is the idolisation of personal choice.

A source of pain is not so much caused by the allowed variations but rather the unmandated addition or omission in the celebration of Mass. A particular blight on our ecclesial landscape is the scandal that came to light in the 80s: the sexual abuse scandal. The word "abuse" has become rather restrictive because of its sexual connotation, meaning that, abuse is often understood as sexual abuse. In fact, one school of thought even tries to link the prevalence of sexual abuse with clericalism failing to recognise that liturgical abuse too is a form of clerical abuse for it does not take into consideration the right of the laity to the celebration of the Eucharist as intended by the Church.

The issue of liturgical abuse will not go away. In trying to understand liturgical abuse, I am reminded of a paragraph in Deus caritas est.

"When we consider the immensity of others' needs, we can, on the one hand, be driven towards an ideology that would aim at doing what God's governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolving every problem" (#36).
Apparently God is incapable and our job is to supply for Him. And this particular "hubris" seems to inform our notion of mercy. We have to a large extent, dissolve the embrace between mercy and justice, and as a result mercy now becomes an expression of "clerical" largesse. At first it might come across as mercy but a closer inspection reveals a prodigality which is but an expression of the Nietzschean will to power: "I have the power which God does not seem to possess and here I am a dispenser of mercy so much more than God can".

Rubrical obedience[2] is a sign of clerical humility and also a powerful antidote to the clericalism which we are trying ever so hard to eradicate. Jesus bequeathed the Eucharist to the Church so that we may gain strength from the bread of angels; strength needed for the journey home. The Eucharist is God’s covenant with us sealed with the Blood of His Son and so, whichever form we choose to celebrate, we pray that the celebration will always be reverential as befitting a Sacrament that is the source of unity and the summit of our Christian life.


[1] Under the aegis of progress, innovation appears to be chic and constancy staid and therefore in need of “updating”.
[2] Quite simple: Do the RED and say the BLACK.