Monday, November 26, 2012

On Being Catholic

This morning, I read Little Catholic Bubble, the blog of Leila Miller, mother of eight children and a conservative Catholic blogger.

She re-posted her conversion story, or rather her re-conversion story, tracing her path of indifference to the Catholic faith, her consideration of joining an evangelical church, and her way back to an authentic Catholic faith. She is an interesting person, unafraid to engage with anyone on her blog and ready to discuss matters of faith, morality, and politics with those who have similar or completely opposite viewpoints.

While I can't relate to her story (my own path did not entail the same crises), I do share many of her conclusions.

At the time of Vatican II, my family moved from Sudbury, Ontario to Victoria BC - I was fourteen at the time, and struggling with a scrupulous conscience - and the changes that I saw in our church, I put down to differences in location. I was completely unaware of what was going on in Rome, I just experienced the change from Latin Mass to Mass in the vernacular, and I noticed the de-emphasis on the sacrament of Confession. This I took as an immense relief, as I could put my scrupulous conscience to rest and forget about the ordeal of Confession.

However, within a few years, I could see the toll that had been taken upon the Church. The first most noticeable thing was the de-reverencing of the Liturgy. Along with now hearing all the prayers in English, the music became very user-friendly. Guitars appeared and songs such as "Eat My Body, Drink My Flesh" (how I hate that song) emerged and were sung like Kumbaya. This was a stark contrast to the awe-inspiring midnight Mass in Christ the King Church in Sudbury, where dozens of white-robed children processed to the front of the church singing the traditional hymns of Silent Night, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Oh Holy Night. The Mass was magical, and not just because I was staying up so late. The flickering candlelight, the procession with one young teen girl carrying baby Jesus to lay in the manger, accompanied by the senior choir dressed in red satin robes. The Mass was even broadcast on the local radio station and the announcer, a convert to Catholicism, narrated what was happening in whispered tones. There was reverence so palpable that every knee would bend and every head would bow for the Lord Jesus was coming.

The post-Vatican liturgy seemed dumbed-down by comparison and, as I think more and more about this, I know that it is because the sense of reverence and awe has been pushed away in favour of making everyone feel comfortable and included. The trouble with that is that the celebration of the Mass doesn't seem one bit extraordinary when compared to other events in one's life. Most people now get more "religious feeling" by going to a movie; in fact, I think the modern theatre has taken over the role of the church in many people's lives. They now go to see uplifting or thrilling films in order to get in touch with their inner selves. The trouble with that is that they are being filled with the beliefs of the movie makers, rather than coming to know who they are vis a vis their Creator.

Unfortunately many of the clergy were swept along with the tide of Vatican reforms. But more serious than the change in the forms of liturgy, is the revamping of belief that underlie those changes. As Leila describes, the sacraments were pushed aside and not given importance, in particular the sacrament of Confession. Traditional forms of prayer, such as novenas and devotions such as Benediction, have been abandoned completely or left on the sidelines. Those who practise them are considered a little weird, "too Catholic", too orthodox, kind of not-with-it.

However, for many of us, it is precisely those moments of awe inside a church when High Mass was sung or when large choirs sang beautiful traditional hymns accompanied by the magnificent crescendos of the pipe organ, that brought us into the place where we felt the presence of God, where we willingly knelt and were moved to tears because we could acknowledge that here indeed was God our Saviour, and we needed Him.

Leila's story is well worth reading and I will reread it, because there are many things in it to think about. But my first strongest impression is the awareness of having the sense of awe stripped away from me, by the changes in the liturgy that have occurred. Even if they are well-intentioned, they do nothing to bring me any closer to God in liturgical worship. Perhaps they do for others, but I have my doubts.

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