I met with a very special couple on Monday – Mary & Bill from Bishop’s Quarter near Ballyvaughan. They were joined by the First Lady Eileen from Baltinglass. Immediately I felt it was time to retire. This trio were ready and willing to take over the Church. I have had previous with this team. They were overwhelming in their faith and conviction. I felt so inadequate around them. I became instead the devil’s advocate! They are now very concerned for my spiritual welfare!
A dying breed:
That dangerous maverick Diarmuid Martin had upset them. He can do that rather often with his quite daring speeches. I wonder should he be retired from the mundane distractions of Administrations and let run free with those speeches? He wouldn’t have to cope then with the awkwardness of being expected to live out the consequences of such mighty words. The people from Bishop’s Quarters are very much on the side of Bishops which must be why they chose to live where they do. Nonetheless they were thrown by Diarmuid’s words: ‘Those attending Church now are a dying breed.’ I actually think he is right but I can understand why they might be disturbed. Isn’t it good that a bishop has the backbone to speak out and to stir us sometimes?
We then launched into a discussion on Confession. They were all for it. I was rather against it. Eileen was more inclined to get uptight about the clericalisation of everything. She felt that the ‘guru’ priest or ‘bishop’ always has to take over everything as if no one else had any experience or anything to offer. It rather sounded like the ‘divine right of kings.’ (Or priests or bishops or even men!)
My line on Confession was to accept that instead of advocating Confession that we needed to revamp the whole idea. We had made such a mess of the Sacrament with our ridiculous obsessions and sexual hang-ups. Augustine (from long ago) had some hang-ups himself but his idea of Confession was very much of the view that we come before God; to acknowledge the wonder of what God is doing and has done through us; humbly and in gratitude then to pray that we might let God work through us more and more; that we might be the ‘minister of grace’ that God intends us to be. ‘God delights in us’ (as the children sing). God is lavish. Is flahulach. Grace is graciousness; being touched by God.
God is missing but not missed:
And then I began to wander down the dirt-tracks and boreens of life. I spoke of the experience and the Reviews by the Parish Pastoral Council and Parish Team here in Rivermount, after the Christmas Celebrations. Everything was most reflective, celebratory and evocative. But the numbers overall were poor. In Diarmuid Martin’s words – ‘a dying breed.’ Or rather it seemed that most have actually died off. God clearly is missing in most people’s lives and definitely not missed. If Christ/God is not Celebrated at Christmas; our God is dead and with it any sense of Godliness has been buried in the dust of life.
We can find reasons or excuses or even blame. However, I think it is different. I think Faith hasn’t ever matured for many. It is childish. It is passive. It is irresponsible. And the ‘gurus’ were the supposed Responsible Adults or rather those who indulged themselves in that role. Is it any wonder we were called Father or Mother or My Lord? I also can even somewhat grasp why so many young fogies dress up as if they were escapees from an ecclesiastical museum. The smoke, the dress, the Latin mumbo jumbo creates an atmosphere of magic which has evaporated in the familiarity of present day attempts at Liturgy.
Mass is getting fat:
As we enjoyed our Nasi Goreng, we rambled into a dietary discussion. My outrageous summary was greeting with shock. I said Mass is obese. It is flabby. It lacks the right diet or hasn’t done appropriate exercise for too long. The New Missal sums it up. Clumsy. Ornate and archaic. Crispian Hollis, Thomas McMahon and John Crowley have come in with their ‘Apologia pro vita sua.’ They are right. Even if the rest of us were heretical when we said it. But now the ‘retired bishops’ are saying it even if the ‘active ones’ haven’t got that far yet. How is Mass obese?
Liturgy is very sophisticated:
Liturgy is a very grown up type of celebration. Much of Liturgy has evolved from the Monasteries. It has grown fat with the accretions of history. It has become something to endure or admire or look at. Despite all the changes of language; it can still be so passive as a Celebration. The dressed-up-man at the top orchestrates everything and but there is no Orchestra. All the members of the orchestra haven’t been given their instruments or called into song by the conductor. The congregations are ‘children’ (or treated as such) down there outside the rails even if the rails are gone. (At least here, there is congregational singing at every Mass and sharing. Many have the Magnificat and have prepared but not everyone. We all say the prayers together even the ones that are rubbish. We drop the Confiteor, Gloria and Creed – too many lumpy words).
Is it possible to pray at Mass?
Is Mass a prayer? Is God found at Mass? How many come ‘to get Mass’ rather than come with their own ‘story of faith’ and their own experience of God? I love Scripture. However, how many come to Mass and have thrown the life of their week, into the Readings? It is not possible to arrive and to listen to three Readings and make a home within them. The psychological reality is that there are too many words hurled at us. Any real psychology of praying is absent. There is no space for quiet; for sharing; for being still. There are two Collections dumped in the middle of it all. It is all a rush and a muddle. And then it needs to be over in 40 minutes or so. It is impossible.
Someone has to shout stop and strip off the accretions and reduce the Mass to its essentials and make space for God to speak and for us to be part of it. It is all noise and fuss and rush. Even the singing so often is done for us. I would think one Reading is as much as any of us can take. And then together we must help each other to relate it to life.
We come to Communion then – and is it Communion? There is another dangerous question. Burke et alia may wish to keep the divorced away from Communion; Francis wants to see our celebration as a field hospital. But if we don’t make room for the divine to touch us or make us conscious of each other quietly and peacefully; how can God break through? It becomes Holy Bread as the children call it rather than Communion. Augustine says that our Amen has to be made to those around us and has to make us conscious of a bigger world and others before we can Yes to Jesus Christ in Communion.
Grown up faith:
‘Those attending are a dying breed.’
Those poor unfortunates who dumped the Missal on us or who allowed the Missal to be foisted on us cannot have had any sense of what Liturgy is or what the Mass means. ‘God is missing and not missed.’ There now is the task and challenge for all Church people not to make Mass less boring or more entertaining but rather how to help that ‘dying breed’ to meet God when we come together. The others are lost. They have to become adult and find their own need for God or their own experience of God.
Blessing and anointing people in Baptism or in Holy Communion or in Confirmation or at Weddings will not do it. It is not that type of magic. We have to help people (and of course ourselves) in the noise of life to find the God who still speaks. It may not be in the thunder or the lightning or the earthquake (1 Kings 19) but rather the quiet breeze. Unless we can take off our shoes at the burning bush, no tinkering will cause it to happen. People have stopped coming to Mass because they haven’t met that bush (Ex 3); haven’t found God in this place as Jacob did (Gn 28) or realised their foolishness like Job (Ch 38) or even sulked enough when the shade of the castor oil plant was taken away like Jonah.(4.10).
I think our chat was a Confession. Mary, Bill and Eileen may not recognise this report of banter together but some of it did happen. It was all Diarmuid Martin’s fault.
Seamus Ahearne osa