Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Lord's Supper

"Grant me, O Lord, admittance to your eternal banquet."
This is just a small invocation that I've been praying lately, throughout the day or at the conclusion of prayers. I thought I'd share it with you.

Lately, I've been coming to appreciate more and more the social dimension of Catholic Christian belief. In one sense, the nostalgia for a Christendom is not entirely misplaced. Catholic belief demands a laboring towards "the good society", so we shouldn't cease to imagine it. Nothing expresses the communitarian nature of Christian belief better than our image of heaven which, perhaps, was far too long imagined as a set of pearly gates ontop of clouds where individuals get to, or don't.

In many of the world's religions, say like Buddhism and Hinduism, salvation is a release of individuality into the Absolute. It is a mystical thing, beyond words, beyond images, beyond selfhood. The Heaven of Christianity is so perfectly ordinary as to be almost shocking to the religious mind: a banquet table, a wedding, a dinner.

If ever you've treasured sitting with your family around the table, laughing and drinking wine and reminiscing or singing, you've probably satisfied, even for just a few hours, the most ordinary of human urges: To enjoy good things with good company (or mixed company!). In the end, this is the secular heart of Christianity (or the trasncendent core of the immanent, whatever one calls it), I think, that it makes something so mundane so heavenly.

So maybe our legitimacy as Christians really depends on our ability to make good banquets here, in the image of the eternal banquet to come. That doesn't really mean saying a pretty Mass. By good banquet I don't mean "good party", but "good community" on which a truly good celebration depends.

Maybe here is the charybdis and scylla that we have to navigate through. The secular world is all about throwing the best party, about intoxication and deadening the sense of the sorrows of our social loss through sex and drugs. The temptation on the part of Catholic leaders today is to throw the best ceremony in its stead. To make our refusal of the secular temptation so adamant as to become merely its opposite. This is the danger of making the heavenly banquet "too heavenly", so heavenly that it's just a dream beyond us, and our ceremonies are more a lamentation of what we don't have here.

I think if we're really to be loyal to the beauty of the Mass in all its traditional splendor, that loyalty depends above all on the ability to make its meaning real for the lives of those around us. In this sense, too much emphasis on correct liturgy can be in danger of elevating the sign above the signified (in the words of a wise friend).

How can we make our communities better, in these times? It seems so difficult. It feels like we have so few tools, so few footholds to start from.

Gay Christians maybe have a calling here, because we do tend to be an image of "the outsider" and many of us are very shaped by our outsider experience. We're such a cause for division. But the place where we divide and distinguish ourselves is also the very place where we are to reconcile ourselves amongst one another. This is the image of the meal. Where one sits, who is admitted- it all says something about social caste and membership. It is also the place where Jesus does radical things, like invite the "wrong people".

"The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully... God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor. 9:6)
We will receive in proportion to what we gave. So if we pray "Admit me, O Lord, to your Supper", we should also be admitting people to our own supper. And I am finding this is a very difficult thing!


6 comments:

  1. Of thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, today admit me as a communicant. For I will not tell of thy Mystery to thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief do I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in thy kingdom!

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  3. Okay, I decided I'm going to post what I wanted to post earlier, even though some might find it offensive. Be forewarned.

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    Jordan: "I think if we're really to be loyal to the beauty of the Mass in all its traditional splendor, that loyalty depends above all on the ability to make its meaning real for the lives of those around us. In this sense, too much emphasis on correct liturgy can be in danger of elevating the sign above the signified (in the words of a wise friend)."

    An emphasis on "correct liturgy" cuts across all liturgical ideological lines. I've found that a good number of "liturgically progressive" Catholics are very hostile not just to Latin liturgy but even voluntary education in liturgical Latin. For a number of liturgically progressive Catholics, vernacularization is not just a didactic aid but an ideological road towards an eventual all-vernacular liturgy divorced from the Missale Romanum. Here liturgical Latin is an atavism best viewed as a predecessor to a new genus of worship.

    The "liturgy queen parade"* on NLM (meters of brocade and lace, a fetish for monarchical ritual, an obsession with altar plate and vestment) strikes me as a mirror of the progressive Catholic hostility to the Latin in worship. While progressive and traditional liturgy can be quite different externally, both seek to evade the ethical, moral, philological, and social reality of the liturgical Latin tradition. On NLM I often read that the traditional liturgy provides a "sense of the sacred". A "sense of the sacred" is not found in impressive ceremony but the Latin text and Latin spoken prayer. The baroque period's tendency to plaster arias and polyphony over the Mass (think Mozart's Krönungsmesse and the epistle sonata) degraded, rather than uplifted, the prayer of the celebrant and congregation. I am greatly disheartened when NLM focuses on the musical accompaniment and not the propers of the Mass.

    * "liturgy queen parade" is derogatory. Being in the tribe doesn't get me a "get out of jail free" card on derogatory remarks. Maybe it's my internalized homophobia. It's just that traditional Catholic websites which focus on the theatrical/musical aspects of traditional liturgy in my view tend to accentuate gay stereotypes, consciously or not. I don't actually know the sexual orientation of NLM contributors or readers, but still I would hope that ceremonial wish-fulfillment would be balanced with a greater appreciation for Latin philology.

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  4. Actually Jordan, you're perfectly right to point that out. Progressive abuse and manipulation of the liturgy is also rampant, and can be merely the inverse of the conservative camp's instrumentalization of the Mass for their reactionary aims.

    Often, in the midst of all this, the common person is deprived of a solid, dependable communal prayer life because everyone in their respective ideological camp is so busy trying to tell him what his actions "really mean"- all the while, he probably never even implicitly attached said meanings to his ritual actions in the first place. I favour a kind of open ended model, conservative in form, but much more fluid in content, where we are happy to permit others to read a variety of meanings into shared symbols that themselves change only by their law of organic growth. I suppose this would give nod to the fact that no one camp within the Ecclesia actually owns the "true meaning" of a given symbol, since they are shared between us and have different nuances and significance for us. (If that makes any sense?)

    Perhaps one is most inclined to criticize the temptation to which they are most likely to succumb. For my part, because I tend to prefer a traditional liturgy (even its monarchical aspects), I find myself most fighting this battle within myself. I could see myself getting caught up in the "liturgy queen" game precisely for my own heavy baggage. I can feel and know all the poisons of nostalgia, cravings for authority and the need to distinguish oneself from the masses of spiritual consumers that so often feed the revival of the traditionalist aesthetic. So I am therefore adamant that the crux of the mystery can not depend on this. Nonetheless, I support and do hope to see more availability of the Church's traditional forms of worship.

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  5. Jordan: "Perhaps one is most inclined to criticize the temptation to which they are most likely to succumb."

    I agree, definitely. An ambivalence/fear about "liturgical effeminacy" (whatever that is) has held me back from enjoying liturgical aesthetics. Despite my culturally-ingrained Irish-style pietism, I should let my inner liturgy queen out of the closet every once in a while. Heck, I should just let the queen out of the closet sometime. That's very hard for someone who was brought up through prep school ueber-hetero crushing conformity. I'll save the remainder ego-dystonic hysteria for the shrink.

    Jordan: "I favour a kind of open ended model, conservative in form, but much more fluid in content, where we are happy to permit others to read a variety of meanings into shared symbols that themselves change only by their law of organic growth."

    I also favor this model. Pope Benedict does as well. However, a middle ground organic development isn't possible when the progressive and traditional hermeneutics diverge to the degree found today. Catholic liturgical progressivism is thoroughly deconstructionist: the liturgy not only interprets itself, but carries out its deconstruction with minimal and selective reference to past precedent. Progressive patristic ressourcement bypasses the medieval and early modern liturgical traditions in order to repudiate the traditional liturgical insistence that all liturgy descends from the complete Catholic liturgical tradition. Progressive liturgical innovations are not patristic but merely leavened by vague ideas from that period. PTB articles demonstrate the way in which patristic ressourcement serves as a disguise for liturgical deconstruction. Ideological agenda, and not historical precedent, drives progressive Catholic liturgical change.

    That's all he wrote.
    other jordan

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  6. "the conservative camp's instrumentalization of the Mass for their reactionary aims."

    I wouldn't be surprised if you were right, but you'd have to specify what you imagine these reactionary aims to be other than traditional liturgy and doctrine itself. Because it would be silly to accuse people of "instrumentalizing" the Mass for a "reactionary aim" if the reactionary aim in question was nothing other than more traditional liturgy itself.

    I have no doubt some of these people have reactionary aims outside the liturgy themselves (political pipe dreams of monarchy, women confined to 1950s gender roles, etc). But I'm not sure how much or how little their liturgical preferences touch on these directly (as opposed to merely being correlated.)

    "Often, in the midst of all this, the common person is deprived of a solid, dependable communal prayer life because..."

    I have to think there are a lot of "becauses" here. I don't think this is a common complaint of the "common person" as I understand "common person." But if there is a lack of dependable communal prayer life, I have to say that it's much more because of a lack of community in the first place (and of anything other than attending Sunday Mass anonymous in a crowd being regular or possible for most people).

    "everyone in their respective ideological camp is so busy trying to tell him what his actions 'really mean'- all the while, he probably never even implicitly attached said meanings to his ritual actions in the first place."

    This is odd to me. I am not a "common person." In fact, I am one of the liturgical literati. But, while I do know there are rubrically correct actions, as well as a certain historical logic regarding things origins (which are simply a matter of historical fact)...I've never encountered the phenomenon of been told what any gestures of liturgy "really mean." The prayers themselves express the "meaning." I think you're just reading a little too much PrayTell and then generalizing the experience.

    "I favour a kind of open ended model, conservative in form, but much more fluid in content, where we are happy to permit others to read a variety of meanings into shared symbols"

    What symbols? If you're saying people should be free to see the chasuble as EITHER the "breastplate of salvation" OR "the seamless garment"...fine. I've never experienced ANY sort of "dictatorial" attitude regarding what symbolism I impute (inasmuch as I ever do) to this or that gesture, garment, or object.

    So I'd need to see a concrete example here, because I can't fathom what the heck you are specifically talking about.

    "I can feel and know all the poisons of nostalgia, cravings for authority and the need to distinguish oneself from the masses of spiritual consumers that so often feed the revival of the traditionalist aesthetic."

    You say poisons. Why? I'm not saying these things are necessarily good, but why must they be bad either?

    Last time I checked the 10 Commandments, there was no commandment against nostalgia, a craving for authority, or a need for the intellectually active and aesthetic sensitive to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi.

    It sounds like you are creating sins where there are none based on modern pseudo-psychological values (as well as valorizing a sort of populism that, in reality, patronizes your imagined "masses of common people.")

    "So I am therefore adamant that the crux of the mystery can not depend on this."

    If it's all about "ordinary life," aren't nostalgia and a craving for authority part of ordinary life for most ordinary people? Why shouldn't liturgy fulfill these psychological (and, indeed, very much communal/social) needs for us?

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