Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summertime Catholic

The summer is sad time to be a Catholic. Perhaps this fact stems from the re-classification of the season into "Ordinary Time" from what used to be called simply the time "After Pentecost," but all the order of the year and the faith seem to fall away for a few months. One feels as if the faithful would like to hang a "closed for vacation" sign out front. What gives?

First, many priests take their vacations during the summer. I understand that they need rest like anyone else, and that many priests laudably forego their vacations some for years on end, but it seems that the regular, predictable disappearance of priests at a certain time of the year has an insalubrious effect on the parish. This is especially the case when priests announce their departure.

Second, summer is also the time for priests to go visiting and doing their missionary work around the world. This is laudable and necessary, but its concentration in the summer tends to create disorder, less due to their variety than for two other reasons. First, they often make an additional speech besides their homily, ignore the day's readings to focus on their special message, or make two distinct sermons back to back. Second, visiting priests often have some difficulty with English pronunciation. Neither of these problems are insurmountable, but when they occur regularly they become disruptive. I've also heard priests with relatively poor English speak fluent Latin. Just saying.

Third, the choirs go into summer mode too. Various people are away, and out come the same staple tunes which the rag-tag band of whoever shows up sings without much practice.

Fourth, parishioner dress goes to the birds, which is an insult to what seems the most fashionable of earth's species. We find shorts offering varying degrees of coverage, sandals, t-shirts, tank tops... it's a carnival of horrors so grotesque that any sensate individual must be distracted by the colorful vomitus of tastelessness and skin.

Fifth, everybody complains about the air conditioning. It's too hot, it's too cold, it's blowing on me, it's too loud. Is it working? Did they turn it off? They're so cheap. We need to toughen up just a bit, not just because air conditioning is a luxury and not just because so many of us are slumming dregs of style, but because of the occasion's gravity. You don't need to read about the deaths of too many martyrs to get a little context, either.

Finally, mass simply takes a back seat in the summer. Yes, dutiful Catholics still go, but the event slips from the crescendo of the Lord's Day to something which we can "get in" at any time. If we go to the early mass we can still make the mall. Better yet we can go on Saturday evening! Sure the Saturday evening mass is legit, but it doesn't really seem in the spirit of the Christian day of rest and prayer.

I understand that priests need to say mass at various times throughout Sunday and I don't see any way around that, but the necessity seems to invite if not abuse, neglect. If it is easy to shunt mass to an earlier or later time, people will. Everybody's done it, but who hasn't felt a little guilty going to the very last mass on Sunday night?

These absences seem each to be slight, but combined they wound the corporal worship of the church. St. John Chrysostom writes,
You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests. –De incomprehensibili 3, 6: PG 48, 725; quoted from Catechism of the Catholic Church, s.2179, p. 526
The "golden-mouthed" father of the church has identified here the communal nature of joyful worship at mass.

All of these problems seem to have a denominator, if not common cause, which is that the calendar of the church has been supplanted by the calendar of the world. Sunday has been graded down to just mere bump above the rest of the week.

In light of modern man's dependance on the written word and modern Catholics' dependance on the missal, it's curious that a most useful part of many missals goes unknown: instructions for preparing oneself for mass. My Baronius 1962 missal has in its preparatory section several psalms, an explanation of the four dispositions for mass–Adoration, Praise and Thanksgiving, Reparation, and Impetration–as well as the Asperges me and Vidi aquam. There is also a most rigorous section about one's fulfillment of the third commandment in the examination of conscience:
Have you kept holy the Lord's Day, and all other days commanded to be kept holy?–Bought or sold things, not of necessity, on that day?–Done or commanded some servile work not of necessity?–Missed Mass or been willfully distracted during Mass? Talked, gazed, or laughed in church?–Profaned the day by dancing, drinking, gambling, etc.?

These questions are of course not chastisement, though in embarrassment we take them that way. Nor are they an incitement to a game of pious one-upmanship, with one seeing who can out-do the other. Instead they are an invitation to the weekly asceticism without which one cannot cultivate virtue. Benedict XVI writes of how the absence of activity,
relativizes work and directs it to the person: work is for man and not man for work. It is easy to see how this actually protects men and women, emancipating them from a possible form of enslavement. Sacramentum Caritatis, s. 75.
It is a concept paradoxical to the modern age: fulfillment through abstinence.

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