Friday 23 November 2012

Failures With The Vernacular

We are often told that we understand Mass better when it is in the vernacular. I certainly believe it can help, and I support its use in accord with Sacrosanctum Concilium 54 (hence I have vernacular readings at our EF Mass) but I suggest we do not understand the Mass better simply because it is offered in the vernacular. Indeed, I think it is possible to say that use of the vernacular can have its problems, namely, superficiality, automatic pilot and lack of understanding. Some examples are necessary...

(1) Superficiality. At Mass last weekend I noted that week by week we request one another to “pray for me to the Lord our God”, and asked how many times we have lived this out by offering –in charity- a prayer that our neighbour be forgiven. A number of parishioners told me they had “never thought about it” and consequently, never really prayed for the forgiveness of our family, friends and parishioners. This is but one example of how we can recite the texts of the Mass by rote rather than consciously and actively.

(2) Automatic Pilot. We have probably all, at times, heard congregations displace the “Amen” into the middle of a Preface when the phrase “Through Christ Our Lord” is used. We have probably heard a displaced “Amen” when the phrase “forever and ever” occurs during a reading too. This is indicative of being on automatic pilot, and worrisome because it suggests there can be little awareness even of which point one is at in the Mass.

None of the above are the result of the new translation; the same problems were present with the former translation too.

(3) Lack of understanding. Occasionally, when I am haughtily confronted with “people understand the Mass better in English” I ask, “Can you tell me the significance of the change in the consecration from ‘for all’ to ‘for many’; or the significance of the change from ‘everlasting covenant’ to ‘eternal covenant’; or the significance of the change from ‘fountain’ to ‘fount’ in Eucharistic Prayer II? Can you tell me to whom the Kyrie is addressed, and to what purpose?” It is surprising how many people cannot answer the first three questions and give an erroneous answer to the fourth and fifth. One can legitimately conclude then that understanding is not necessarily gained by using the vernacular; that what is gained is but ease of response and word recognition. Conscious, active participation is far more than reciting by rote, and understanding far deeper than word recognition.

In case you are waiting for answers: the change to “for many” follows scripture and liturgical tradition, and articulates that while we are all redeemed, not all will be saved; the change to “fount” from “fountain” has a profound significance because a fount is a source, a fountain is not. The change from “everlasting” to “eternal” is also profound: “everlasting” indicates salvation going on into the future; “eternal” indicates it reaches backwards to Adam as well as into the future. As for the Kyrie, this is addressed to Christ alone, and its purpose is to praise Him for His work of Redemption. It is not only surprising but perhaps disturbing when clergy address the Kyrie to Father, Son and Holy Spirit and, at the same time, turn it from giving expression to Christ’s Redemptive work as in the Missal to expressions of our sorrow: “You came to call sinners” becoming “Father, for the times we have... Lord Jesus, for the times we have...Holy Spirit, for the times we have...”. How many have misunderstood the Kyrie this way and consequently both wrongly addressed it and altered its purpose?

So, while I agree that the vernacular can be helpful and give it my support in line with Sacrosanctum Concilium, I don’t think we can pretend it does not permit problems: it can become a pathway to automatic pilot rather than active (attentive) participation, and a route to misunderstanding. This is of course a danger in both the OF and the EF, and I think that minimisation of this danger requires catechesis on how to pray the Mass rather than pray at Mass. That said, making automatic, unthinking responses in the vernacular is perhaps less conducive to spiritual growth than is meditating on the Rosary during an EF Mass, which produced many a holy soul.

All in all, I simply wonder if we have taken too much for granted; that we presumed use of the vernacular was all that was needed to facilitate understanding of and participation in the Mass. Evidently it is not, as is demonstrated by the failure to live–out the Confiteor, the displaced “Amen”, the non-differentiation between everlasting and eternal etc, and the misunderstanding and misuse of the Kyrie. 

Monday 19 November 2012

Latin, Ad Orientem and Problem Priests

For the last seven years I have celebrated the Ordinary Form ad orientem, and at our Vigil Mass made use of simple Latin Mass parts for the Ordinary (we have had the Usus Antiquior on Sundays since 2007). Some parishioners, though a small minority, seem to have continued difficulty with the Latin and ad orientem celebration because “they make us the odd ones out; no one else is doing them”. No matter how often the Council documents or rubrics of the Missal are shown and explained in homilies, Bulletins or Hand-outs, the old myths about Vatican II having “gotten rid of Latin” and “turned the priest round to face the people” still retain a hold. What can be done to establish the hermeneutic of continuity in liturgy? As a priest friend said recently, “Change has to come from the top; Bishops, Vicar Generals and Deans should use Latin and the ad orientem posture, otherwise the people will see their parish clergy as an oddity or worse, as “a problem priest”.  

Though I do not suggest that Bishops, VGs, Cathedral Administrators or Deans habitually use the norms of Latin and ad orientem worship, much less that they impose them on parishes during visitations, I would like them to demonstrate these norms for Christmas, Easter, Solemnities and Ordinations. Surely six or seven occasions a year is not too much to hope for in order that we may give the Council, the Missal of Paul VI and the hermeneutic of continuity full backing and liturgical expression? It would certainly give those priests who employ the norms formal support and mitigate against complaints; it will also give those who are afraid of ‘singularising’ themselves -including priests who consider themselves ‘Traditional’- the courage to employ them. There is of course a natural fear of offending the people (and losing revenue or numbers -we often judge ourselves or get judged by the amount of people we retain at Sunday Mass) but if the norms were occasionally employed by senior clergy and confirmed to those who protest their use, parishioners would be far less likely to leave their parish to worship elsewhere or to complain about their priest (some of which can be spurious, ‘displaced’ complaints arising from the complainants subconscious antagonism).

In my opinion, non-use of Latin and the ad orientem posture by senior clergy has several negative effects: it perpetuates a certain loathing for these norms among the people; it places junior clergy who do employ them in an unjust isolation, and encourages dissonance between parish clergy and those people who take any opportunity to complain about their ‘difficult’ priest to Deans, VG’s and Bishops. Seeking to avoid offending  the people is understandable, but by failing to confirm that Latin and ad orientem are in fact the norms, people are being affirmed in their error and resentment while junior clergy are unjustly pressurised to ‘fit in’ with the majority who habitually utilise options rather than norms.

I utilise the norms as a matter of conscience, really. After prayerful study I sincerely believe that we need to do all we can to hold onto our Catholic identity; an identity which has been badly eroded over the years (“we are all the same now Father”) an identity which is closely associated with Latin and ad-orientem worship.

Latin is not only a required element in the liturgy (as decreed by Vatican II), but it has been all-but sacralised by its use over the centuries. It also gives a sense of transcendence (otherworldliness) to the liturgy; demonstrates unity in that everywhere one goes the Ordinary (Confiteor, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei) are recited una voce, and it facilitates a universal participation which is excluded by the vernacular when at Mass in foreign lands. Meanwhile, ad orientem clearly expresses the nature of the Church as a pilgrim people journeying towards God whilst awaiting His return in glory; having the priest face the people images a community closed in on itself. Certainly having the altar between priest and people can be presented as imaging the people gathered around the throne of God, but it is not perceived that way –moreover, this is a flawed image since we are indeed a pilgrim people who have not yet reached the throne of God. On the other hand, ad orientem is always perceived as being less about the community and its affirmation (which is why it is disliked?) than it is about God and worship.

We do, I think, need a renewed catechesis of people and clergy to secure the expression of liturgical continuity, with a clear rebuke of derogatory language such as “the priest having his back to the people” –a statement which betrays a secular, rather earth-bound understanding of the liturgy.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Life with Fewer Priests and More Lay Collaborators

Prior to Vatican Council II there existed, we are told, a ‘ghetto mentality’ in the Catholic Church. This ‘ghetto mentality’ might, it seems to me, be relabelled a strong sense of community identity and adhesion. The Jewish people still retain this; we have disavowed it as wrong. It is perhaps time this canard of a ghetto mentality be exposed for what it is.

It is by no means the only canard about the pre-Vatican II Church. We are also told that the laity were passive in the liturgy and the Church. Yet one need only think of the choirs, the organists, the servers and the sacristans of pre-Vatican II days to appreciate the role played by laity in the liturgy; one need only think of the charitable work done by the SVP, the door-to-door and street evangelisation undertaken by the Legion of Mary, the youth club work, the work done by the Women’s League, the repairs done by the men of the parish, the support given to the missions, the neighbourhood projects and the work of Catholic schools to realise that the laity were very active in Church life before the Council. Yet the canard about laity being passive continues as a catalyst for a new kind of lay activity called ‘collaboration’.

Personally, I rely heavily upon the people of the parish for their collaboration in care of the housebound, the provision of catechesis, administration, accounting, Health & Safety, minor repairs, pastoral planning, financial advice etc., and I venture to say that without such collaboration a parish might well cease to function. But it is not without its problems.  It can, for example, increase the weight on the priest’s shoulders if he has to chase folk up in their tasks or if the Pastoral Council simply determines tasks for him to undertake. The number of meetings he needs to attend also proliferates.

It has, if we are honest, actually created a two-tier laity: those who are ministers (on the sanctuary) or managers (on committees), and those who are not. Lay-empowerment has thus become an empowerment of the few at the expense of the many, created by our pursuance of a collaboration that focuses on committees and liturgy.

More worryingly, modern collaboration has a tendency to devalue the authentic lay vocation as the leaven in the world (cf. Vatican II’s Apostolicam Actuositatem) be that the world of education, health-care, business, politics, the media etc., and devalued long-established lay associations such as the Legion of Mary and the SVP; these are now seen by many folk as second best because they are not ‘power-sharing’; they are ‘pious associations’, not committees. We might even say we have swapped piety for power.

It has also, I suggest, eroded priestly identity: priests are now formed (we were told in seminary in the late eighties/early nineties) as co-ordinators of the laity. By this our vocation as men consecrated to be sacrificing priests who teach, sanctify and govern in the person of Christ as fellow workers with the order of Bishops (cf. Vatican II’s Presbyterorum Ordinis) is depreciated in the eyes of the people and, perhaps, even of the Bishops and priests.

Parishes must indeed have some input by the people since they have a duty to ensure their community is holy and operates in a healthy manner -for which reason it is not right for priests to undertake all the administration, catechesis and pastoral care on his own. But ‘Lay-led Communities’ are, I think, problematic, since they promote that which lacks the integrity of the Body of Christ as both Head and Members. As Redemptionis Sacramentum reminds us, “There can be no substitute for the ministerial priesthood. For if a priest is lacking in a community, then the community lacks the exercise and sacramental function of Christ the Head and Shepherd, which belongs to the essence of its very life” (cf. RS #146). As a result of promoting lay-led parishes, it is unsurprising that seminaries are closing –after all, why spend one’s life as a celibate facilitator (priest) when one can be married and a community (lay) ‘leader’?  

Of particular concern in non-mission territories are lay-led Services of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion. These services imply that the community is more important than the Eucharistic Action we call Holy Mass, yet the community springs from that Action as the source and summit of all that we are, so it is essential to be celebrate that Action rather than limit ourselves to hearing the word and receiving Holy Communion. Indeed, correct terminology seems all-but unknown even to the clergy who, when discussing these things, speak of Services of the Word with Holy Communion as “Eucharistic Services” or “Communion Services”, and of Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion as “Communion Ministers” or worse, as “Eucharistic Ministers” (neither of which averts to their being legitimate only in extraordinary circumstances), though use of such titles is expressly forbidden by Redemptionis Sacramentum #156. We should not forget that “Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of fuller participation of the laity but it rather, by its very nature, is supplementary and provisional” (RS #151). That these ministers are used every Sunday and even at weekday Mass is a clear sign that this role is misunderstood and being used in a manner inconsistent with its ancillary and extempore character. I suspect Bishops are simply not being well informed on these matters, rather than unwilling to limit how these ministries are used, but it leaves informed and loyal priests to uphold the norms exposed to bitterness from the people, who complain to their Bishop that their priest is “not collaborative”.

Perhaps to help re-dignify the authentic lay and priestly vocations –and restore the Mass to its central importance- we really do need to amalgamate parishes. No one likes to see churches closed, but the benefits are that local areas with one centre of worship thus retain the authenticity of the local community as head and members and, let’s not pretend otherwise, gain much needed revenue from the sale of property. Costs are, after all, constantly going up, and the number of laity contributing to finances is constantly going down. Hopefully, as the Culture of Death destroys modern society and the Culture of Life grows in the Church, we will be brought to a future where we can rebuild both the Church and society.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Considering Youth Ministry

It always disappoints me to hear the youth described as the Church of tomorrow when they are the Church of today as well as tomorrow. Sadly, despite all the work that goes into ministering to the youth, we seem unable to stem the tide of lapsation, which seems to be a problem across the denominations. I recently came across the Mars Hill Church website where I found the following:

“DOES THIS CHURCH HAVE A YOUTH MINISTRY?” I hear this question all the time... What’s really being asked is “Does this church gather all its teenagers on Wednesday nights, have monthly lock-ins, go on summer mission trips to Mexico, and have attractional, flashy, and really expensive winter and summer retreats?” The answer is a gentle, but emphatic, “no.” Not anymore. Why? Statistically, it isn’t working [and] Discipleship as seen in Scripture is minimal.
The term “working” might be a little nebulous, but youth pastors know those stats. We know that somewhere between 60–80% of teens who are active in churches stop going altogether in their twenties. Yet many churches still cling to this model created decades ago, hoping they will be the exception.
These ministries eat up huge chunks of the budget, their pastors are under immense pressure, and at times, their satisfaction in Jesus varies with the number of teenagers that show up on a given Wednesday night. I know because I’ve been there.

The core of the difficulty is that attractions of the world are powerful and distracting many young people from the Lord, especially those youth whose judgements are subjective and informed by relativism. The above quote indicates that another reason we are not holding on to the youth is the way we minister to them.

Speaking of the Catholic situation, literally thousands of youngsters have been ministered to by youth ministry teams and schools, led by dedicated folk who give generously of their time and energy, but these thousands are not coming to Mass and are not taking up a Catholic lifestyle. The majority will enjoy the drama, music and recreation in the immediate; a few may ask to be involved in the ministry team or engage in school-based faith activities, but the vast majority make no lifestyle change. We must then, ask where the vast majority of those thousands are, and what direction we need to take to bring youth to the Eucharist and a solid Catholic lifestyle. As a friend of mine recently remarked, “The success of a programme or mission is not whether it was enjoyed and made an immediate impact -more often than not a merely emotional impact- but whether it brings young people to the Mass and to sound Catholic practice” -a very perceptive remark. Remarkably, a youth minister once told a meeting I was at that “attending Mass is not the criteria to use to judge whether a young person is practicing or has found Christ” -a very strange remark given that Christ is fully and substantially Present only in the Eucharist, which is thus “the fount and apex of the entire Christian life” according to Lumen Gentium #11 of Vatican II.

Who can pretend to have the answer to the loss of young people from the Lord’s House and His Sacred, Sacrificial Banquet we call Holy Mass? Certainly not me, but I would like to suggest five elements that could be usefully included in youth ministry, especially youth camps. Since I see these elements as parts of a whole, I am not enumerating them in any order of importance.

First, prayer experiences with extemporary prayer and scripture texts. Why? Because this could help them to develop personal prayer lives; to move from ‘saying prayers’ to prayer.

Second, we could utilise paraliturgies with their drama, mime, pop-style music etc.. Why? because these can engage and speak to the youth, and have the ability to show practical application of Church teaching to life situations.

Third, we should ensure solemn celebrations of Mass as called for by Vatican II, that is, with retention of Latin (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36) and prime place given to chant (ibid, #116). Why? because the sacred nature of Holy Mass be both displayed and experienced: Mass is unique even among the Sacraments, and needs to be celebrated, understood and experienced as unique, rather than as a setting for drama and dance -sanctuaries are elevated to show we are journeying to heaven, not to act as a stage. Solemn celebrations of Holy Mass, when not conflated with elements from paraliturgies, will widen the liturgical and spiritual experience of the youth, helping them to experience the transcendent nature of the liturgy and the Majestic ‘otherness’ of God.

Fourth, we must make provision for solid catechesis based on the Catechism. Why? Because the Faith is not simply experiential; it is based on revealed Truth. Sadly, the current educational method, i.e., “The Church says (...) Do you agree? Give your reasons” does not facilitate respect for the Revealed Faith: it surrenders it to subjectivism and fuels relativism.

Fifth, we would do well to include spiritual conferences based on the writings of the great masters of the spiritual life, such as Therese of Lisieux; Francis de Sales etc. Why? Because Most of today’s popular writers, popular speakers (and bloggers!) will be forgotten in fifty years time; the spiritual masters will not.

I respectfully suggest that we cannot expect young people to value the Mass and its uniqueness when it is practically a paraliturgy with a homily and Holy Communion all-but tacked on; nor can we expect them to adhere to Revelation when their education is one of “What do you think?” We sincerely aimed at building happy, mature Christians by such liturgies and educational methods, but what we have produced is Catholics who subject Revealed Faith to relativist assessment, expect Mass to be akin to entertainment, and who lapse without informed and considered thought. No matter how much youth ministry is enjoyed in the immediate, it is the after-effects that count. 

Thursday 1 November 2012

The Liverpool Care Pathway and End of Life Issues

I have hesitated to comment on the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) since I am not medically qualified and because, as readers will know from a previous post, end of life issues are a rather emotive topic for our family at present. On the other hand, it is because of family circumstances that I take an interest in the LCP, so here goes...

Five concerns with the LCP have been identified by senior doctors. These are concerns I share but, since I am not a Doctor, I comment upon them with some hesitancy. Before doing so, I feel obliged to point out that there seem to be some common-sense benefits to use of the LCP: its aim of involving the family in end of life discussions; the withdrawal of oral medication (or medication that no longer benefits the patient), the cessation of vital signs recording (temperature, pulse, blood pressure) and making positional changes only to keep the patient comfortable rather than in a regimented fashion, can all contribute to the patients comfort and eliminate unnecessary distress. These however, are practices that were followed by all good Nurses and Doctors well before the LCP was (unnecessarily?) produced, and do not lessen the problems it seems to contain.

1. People have been put on the LCP without the knowledge or consent of their families.
Families ought to be consulted about the care being given to loved ones who are in the final stages of life, since families are involved from day one in caring for one another, and this ought not to be removed from the family as the end of life approaches. My own concern has always been that families are unaware of the effects of care given by Doctors and Nurses, and take their advice on board without questioning it simply because ‘Doctor knows best’. How many families are aware that sedation and increased analgesia can render the receiving of oral fluids difficult, and that if fluids are not then given by intravenous or subcutaneous routes, dehydration may result? How many will know that some analgesics depress breathing, which can cause pneumonia to set in? Thus, even when families are consulted they may still, unknowingly, agree to a comfortable hastening of death. Another possible problem is that some may knowingly consent to a pathway that hastens death because “we wouldn’t let a dog suffer that way”.

2. It is cruel to deny fluids to sentient beings.
Not only is this cruel, but if continued for some time it brings about dehydration, which causes death. I realise that the LCP is meant for use in the final hours where clinical dehydration is not likely, but I have seen terminally ill people, once they have been given ‘extra painkillers and anxiety relief’, quickly fall into a state of reduced responsiveness and then, for some days before they die, receive no fluids, only mouth care.

3. Doctors cannot accurately predict that someone will die within hours or days.
No one can say how long a patient will live or when someone will die. Indeed, an accurate prediction (“I think by the day after tomorrow”) would leave me wondering if the prediction was based on how much sedation and analgesia my loved one was being given, or how dehydrated they were.

4. When doctors withdraw all treatment and nourishment, believing their patients have only days left, the prediction becomes self-fulfilling. This is particularly worrying. Withdrawal of fluids and nutrition simply cannot be justified (fluids and nutrition are a basic human right and not ‘treatment’; we do not ‘treat’ our children when we sit them down for dinner). The withdrawal of fluids and nutrition is particularly disturbing if analgesia and sedatives are increased at the same time, since sedation may well have the effect of preventing a patient from expressing any distress caused by thirst or hunger. I see no circumstances when fluids become an unnecessary burden on the patient. Thirst, on the other hand, is an unnecessary burden.

5. When well over 100,000 are dying on the LCP each year, the suspicion inevitably arises that the pathway is being used to hasten death and free up beds.
I have to say that having spent many hours in care situations and had discussions with Doctors, I doubt very much that the LCP is being consciously used to free up beds.

I close by saying that, since I am not medically trained, my concerns may not be completely justified, but as one whose mother is likely to reach end of life care in the near future I have a right to express concerns which arise from what I have observed over several years and which are not, I think, without some justification.