Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Ethos of the Sacred Liturgy and the Apostolate of the Laity

This is a long post. Please be patient and let me know what you think. 

The Ethos of the Sacred Liturgy and the Apostolate of the Laity

Christ is alive and dies no more.  His Resurrection from the dead is not only a gift to us, an assurance of his power over death, it also deals a deadly blow to worldly thinking.  The secularist culture increasingly demands that we ignore God’s commandments.  We grow sad watching the world destroy all life and love.  In the hearts of our fellow men the allure of the world is so strong.  One would think, having suffered time and again, people would see the futility of the world apart from God.  But there is a spirit at work in the world that always twists, always deceives, always produces things that masquerade as the pearl we constantly seek.  Can one even argue against the judgment that vast majority of members of the Church accept the ways of the world as if the world provides no obstacle to their salvation? Being accepting of “all that is in the world” (1 Jn 2:16) they reject the truth that comes from God. Obviously, we are faced with a deep spiritual poverty.

Many today, in the media and even in the Church, make the mistake of thinking that when the Holy Father, Pope Francis, speaks about the worldliness affecting the Church, he is speaking about decorum, style and modesty with regard to liturgical matters and, for lack of a better phrase, ecclesiastical decorum. I do not doubt that this is part of what he has in mind since his own style tends toward a certain kind of material simplicity.  But there is a far more insidious danger that he is referring to and it is a deep-rooted problem among Christians today.  His message, like that of his recent predecessors, warns more of the embrace of materialistic viewpoints, far from the genuine spiritual treasuries of Christ and His Church. This is why the pope who wears black shoes also does not back away from reform of religious communities or calling out supporters of abortion and same-sex marriage. This assault on worldliness has consequences for what could be called the ethos of the liturgy.

In the life of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel by one’s way of life should flow seamlessly from one’s participation in the sacred liturgy. This is but a practical conclusion consistent with St. James’s fundamental moral maxim:  Faith without works is dead. (James 2:26) This principle applies to the Church’s mission and evangelization, as well. Today, the people of the world need the witness of a living faith, a faith in which the works of the Spirit are visible. We are not permitted to excuse ourselves from the works of God. If we do, it will be on account of ourselves that the spiritual famine continues to get worse.  In fact, we can say that in contrast to the weak and watered-down faith which has been so characteristic of these post-conciliar times, the Second Vatican Council called for--and expected of the folk of the Church--the enkindling of the exact opposite, an outpouring among the Christians living in the world of a dynamic missionary spirit founded upon the truths of the faith.  As it is articulated in Apostolicum Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, there is no call for the laity to abandon their service to the Gospel in the world in order to take up roles in the liturgy, rather to intensify their witness in the world.

They (the laity) exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ. (AA, no. 2)

The world and its people are to be enlightened and transformed by the witness of faithful Catholics at school, at home, at work, at the market, and so on.  Instead, we see all kinds of activity of laity inside the Church, where a certain witness is easy and comfortable, and many instances of ambiguous, at best, corporate and individual actions in the public arena. 

The relationship between faith and works has particular importance for the sacred liturgy and the lay apostolate.  There ought to be a relationship between the liturgy and the lay apostolate that reflects the order of faith and works, in other words, integral faith that is visible through lives that glorify God in the world.  The liturgy should lead to the action of the laity in the mission field of the world.  However, our current model of so-called participation in the liturgy is working against the true vision of the Second Vatican Council for the lay apostolate. We continue to push this to its extremes with novel approaches to so-called lay ministry.  This exacerbates the confusion that is diminishing the Church’s authentic witness in the world.  Apostolicum Actuositatem has a clear vision of this participation and it seems to have nothing to do with doing works at the liturgy.

Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity's living union with Christ, in keeping with the Lord's words, "He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is nourished by spiritual aids which are common to all the faithful, especially active participation in the sacred liturgy.(5) These are to be used by the laity in such a way that while correctly fulfilling their secular duties in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate union with Christ from their life but rather performing their work according to God's will they grow in that union.  (AA, no. 4)

Unfortunately, by failing to focus upon the concept of participation as a growth in spiritual union with Christ, the lay apostolate suffers.  The clericalization of the laity is the troubling result of this failure to properly adhere to conciliar thinking, thinking which is much in line with earlier magisterial thought.  (I cannot go into it here but read, for example, Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno.) This clericalization might also be tied to another development of post-conciliar times. Was it unlikely that one would have foreseen that replacing the liturgical duties of major and minor clerics with the lay ministers in the liturgy would weaken the true apostolate of the laity? The right response requires a kind of prudence that, I admit, I do not possess.  I, for my part, think we spend so much time training laity for formerly clerical roles in liturgical ministries--something that we do not do that well, either, and the liturgy suffers for it--that we do not have time to form them for their true apostolate.  Granted, there are plenty of people in the Church who, if engaged, could take care of both areas, liturgical and apostolic. However, the most important question that needs to be asked is how the prevailing liturgical ethos can be justified if it is inhibiting an authentic implementation of the Council’s vision of the lay apostolate?  Something is not working.  The lack of authentic liturgical formation of clerics and the efforts needed to form laity for the roles abandoned by clerics result in considerable confusion and take up so much time that the vision of the Second Vatican Council for the apostolate of the laity is constantly in peril.   

Clearly, the spirit of the liturgy at work in the world through authentic lay apostolates should not look like secular social work that can be accomplished by professionals with the right training.  Even more so, the apostolate of the laity should not be marred with loud voices who, while claiming the name Catholic, do so only to exploit it, not further the mission of the Church. While we expend considerable effort on a vision of lay participation in clerical roles in the liturgy, we have made no cohesive effort toward spiritual and moral formation of the laity for the authentic apostolate. Properly formed lay teachers could be used much more effectively in catechesis, especially in handing on the tradition regarding family life, but we find it opportune to send them off for liturgical training so that they can learn how to lector or serve as an extraordinary minister of communion. At the same time, we have contented ourselves with the praxis of social works that any “nice” atheist could agree with. Another consequence of all of this is that it is far from unusual that we have those serving in liturgical roles who are living in circumstances that are objectively immoral. The children of this world are eager to capitalize upon this failure, but they do this to mock the faith, certainly not because they love the truths our faith.  They mix and match what they like of our holy teaching with their own perverse sense of what they call justice, not accepting that justice requires personal conversion. The works of the Spirit bring life and cannot be mistaken for all that is in the world.

The question is, how soon can we expect the kind of dramatic reorientation of activities in the dioceses of the world needed to escape the hold of this materialism?  Who can say? (We are seeing changes.) In my appraisal, the Holy Father is prodding the whole of the Church he shepherds to put aside excuses and do what needs to be done.  I am no prophet. I want to say, however, that I believe that Pope Francis is showing us how to be true missionaries.  He understands as well as anyone the impoverishment that is perverting the spread of the Good News.  If we follow his teaching and learn to focus more on authentic union with Christ and a genuine missionary spirit, perhaps there will be some corrections.  In him we see another great dimension of the papacy, following in the line of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Hearing the magisterial teaching of each of these teachers and becoming doers of them is what the papacy is challenging us to in these days.  This is where Pope Francis is building on the foundations and legacies of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. 

I have one more question that intrigues me.  Could this papal assault on worldliness in the Church be tied to the restoration of the traditional Mass?  I believe it could be.  The reemergence of the traditional Mass, especially with its devoted youthful following, holds up a page of our history that demands an examination of conscience regarding the way the world has made its way inside the Church.  This worldliness is just as present in the typical parish liturgy as anywhere else, perhaps even more so.  The proper role of the lay apostolate cannot be fulfilled if the expectation is that they must make themselves available to perform the work that clerics should do by virtue of their office. Our lay faithful need to be formed by the liturgy, not simply instructed to perform clerical roles in it. (Clearly, active participation does not mean the contrary of what I am saying here.) More importantly, in no respect should worldliness be forming the shape of the liturgy. The liturgy is the immediate preparation for the works of the apostolate. It is a dubious practice to place expectations for ministries upon the laity that are obstacles to the lay apostolate. We need to regain this equilibrium in the ethos of the liturgy. 

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