Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Good Friendships and Inaccurate Assumptions

I am generally pretty astute when it comes to social situations (like most women, I consider a million details all the time), but I have my moments.  There was a dance in college to which asked a guy friend (we'll call him J) on a date by accident.  That is to say: I didn't realize until during the asking that this was obviously a date.  He was very good about it, and picked up all the chivalrous things guys do just as if it'd been his idea.  Needless to say, I was mortified!

Relatively new to the idea of gender-appropriate behavior, I quickly grabbed a mutual guy friend and told him the whole story, asking whether I'd made a huge misstep.  He told me I was fine, that sometimes it does a guy good to have a woman make a move every now and again.

He had taken for granted that I had a crush on J.  I had no such feelings; J was merely a great guy who liked to dance and was always great company (and in my collegiate cheapness, saving that extra dollar on the dance ticket seemed to be worth so much!).  All the girl friends to whom I told the story in the days until the dance also took for granted that I had a crush on him.

There is some reality to your friends knowing your feelings for someone before you're willing to admit them.  However, I will insist to my dying day that the crush I developed on J at and after that dance was precipitated by my friends' unanimous belief that I already had a crush on him.

This is not an isolated incident (the friends perceiving crushes where they were none, that is.  I haven't accidentally asked out /too/ many guys since then).  When I first started telling stories to friends from college about my musician friend back home, they all thought I was in love with him, though I was not.  His music uplifts my heart, and his friendship is a delight, but there were no romantic feelings there.  However, I learned to rarely speak freely about the joy his music and his friendship brought to me, because I just didn't want to have to explain that he was not the new romantic interest (and, of course, denying a theory like that only gives credence to its likely truth)...

I have to be careful when telling stories to friends outside of here, even.  Mention the same guy's name in a funny story more than twice, and the other person is already suspicious that I like him.  Conversely, if I mention a visitor before his arrival to friends here, the sentiment (dare I say the hope?) is that perhaps this one might do as more than a friend...

I have long been aware of the phenomenon wherein a girl discovers that a guy whom she only likes as a friend likes her as more, and then she develops a crush on him.  The phenomenon wherein a girl's friends think she likes a guy because he's fodder for funny stories, and she consequently develops a crush on him?  Much less documented.  No less real.

I take great delight in God's creation of human persons.  He really did an excellent job all around, and one of the most fulfilling -- and, thankfully, most consistent -- ways I experience his love is through discovering the personalities and idiosyncrasies of other people.  And I like to tell stories.  Heck, the bedrock of my friendship with Anne is that we both show love for people by telling them stories about other people we love!

What am I getting at here?  I don't know.  Perhaps all I've done is reveal one of my own weaknesses.  Still, it brings me much joy when people accept friendship at face value without suspecting other motives.  C. S. Lewis calls friendship the "least natural of loves," because it is not essential for the survival of the species (as is affection, to keep us from killing each other, and eros, for reproduction), and perhaps it is this very unnaturalness that causes us to infer eros where he is not present.

Crushes are not fun, (well, they may have an element of fun, but they're usually more trouble than they're worth).  As with many of my musings, these thought processes are not new.  But there's nothing new under the sun, eh?

Monday, January 25, 2010

On Mass Versus Populum, and Watching the Priest

When I first started going to the Traditional Latin Mass on a semi-regular basis, one of my favorite things to do was simply to watch.  Sure, I'd read through the proper chants for the day, but I knew the gist of what was going on without reading along, and I could instead watch in rapt attention as the servers genuflected in perfect sync, as the priest made deliberate, measured motions, as everything proceeded like your proverbial well-oiled machine...

Learning to pray the Extraordinary Form of the Mass taught me much about how to pray the Ordinary Form: it taught me how to insert my heart into the prayers, to really offer the Lord my whole being; it taught me the best bits of the sacred attitude by which things had been done (more or less) for centuries; it taught me to quiet my mind and pray in silence with others.

The more I came to learn about the liturgy and its rubrics, the more difficulty I had praying at most Masses, because of the unfortunate reality that liturgical abuses abound, largely out of cluelessness.  A popular coping mechanism was to look at anything other than the priest.  One spiritual director actually suggested that I close my eyes at certain times.  This is nothing unusual, in our current day and age; many of my peers have shared with me similar experiences.  We just close our eyes when we can, at first to block out what is probably going wrong, but after a while it just becomes habitual: I just don't watch the priest, save perhaps when he's preaching.

And on the rare occasion when I do watch the priest, I usually spend the entire Ecce Agnus Dei wishing that I didn't have to try to mentally block out the priest's face, directly behind where he's holding Our Lord, in order to properly adore my God.  This does not encourage me to change my ways.

Many excellent books and articles have been written to address the question of celebrating Mass ad orientem.  I think it's a fantastic idea for many reasons, and wish it were done more frequently.  That being said, I have little power to effect such change from my pew, so I don't lose sleep over it.  Instead, I have to pray with what I have available to me.  And when the EF is not reasonably available, that tends to mean that I have to offer myself to the Father even though the priest is looking at me.

Several weeks ago, this strange inspiration struck me, and I looked up to watch Father as he prayed the Eucharistic prayer (I honestly can't even remember if it was the Canon).  The OF may have removed many of the signs of the cross and other reverential actions of the EF, but there is plenty remaining for displaying love of and devotion to Our Lord, and this priest certainly displayed that.  I was spellbound: here was a man offering to God this perfect sacrifice, paying no attention to me, attending carefully to every detail.

His very ars celebrandi lifted my soul up to God.

Is this not what proponents of Mass versus populum intended?

Since then, I have made a concerted effort to watch the priest, to unite the movements of my heart to his ritual actions, for those actions were placed there deliberately by Mother Church and have great meaning.  Sometimes it's a bit like listening to a reading proclaimed in a thick, unfamiliar accent: you can understand, despite the difficulty, but it takes some effort.  In analogous cases, what we often perceive as a lack of reverence on the part of the priest (thereby making it hard for us to pray, because we in the pew feel like we're taking the sacred action more seriously than that man in the sanctuary who, though ontologically configured to Christ the Priest, seems to be just going through the motions for the end of having Communion to distribute)... this is more likely just an indicator of a different spirituality, a different brand of reverence from our own.  How judgmental we humans can be when life is not how we expect or want it to be!

Remember that story of the two bishops walking down the street who see a prostitute?  The first bishop averts his eyes to keep himself from lustful thoughts, and the second simply looks at her with great love.  When the first bishop rebukes the second for not protecting his innocence, bishop #2 cries with sorrow: "How sad that such beauty should be sold to the lusts of men!"*

I don't know about you, but I want to be that second bishop, no matter what it is I'm observing.

Jesus, mitis et humilis Corde, fac cor meum secundum Cor Tuum.

*The prostitute converted and became St Pelagia, in case you were wondering.  :)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On Liturgical Vernacular, and Listening with Reverence

Fr Z recently posted a poll about one's language preference for the Mass (i.e., Latin or vernacular), so these thoughts seem timely.

I grew up with the novus ordo in English (with the occasional Spanish Second Reading at Midnight Mass).  When I first fell in love with the Traditional Latin Mass, one of its strongest draws was precisely that it was not in English, that I had to put forth some effort in order to pray it effectively.

Just over a year ago, I posted about the perks of praying in Latin.  My arguments basically boiled down to the fact that we fallen humans just don't listen, so Latin (with translation provided, of course) would be a way to wake people up and help them to enter in.  (Leaving aside entirely the theological points of universality through space and time, and of undoing both the Babel event and the fall.)

But, as my regular readers may remember, I have recently had to reexamine how I look at things in light of the huge blessing that is my opportunity to study the Sacred Liturgy, for the service of Holy Mother Church.  So I have found myself wondering.

For this was one of the major aims of the Liturgical Movement, to have the Mass in the vernacular, and since I seem to be continuing in their footsteps, I thought I'd best address our major points of divergence (the other being Mass celebrated versus populum, which is a forthcoming post).

I began to wonder about the mother of the young child, who knows what's going on in the heart of the Mass, but cannot pray the propers or orations (or, in some places, even the readings) because she doesn't have the time to open her missal and read them.  About the old man who's losing his sight.  About the foreigner who has no missal.  About the illiterate man who sits in the back.  About the child.  Sure, all these people can pray, principally through the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy.  But how can they enter deeply into the liturgical prayer of the Church, as their baptismal priesthood both entitles them and calls them to do?

Certainly /I/ prefer Latin, but I'm an intellectual and an avocational linguist.  My mother, on the other hand, is put off by it.  If Jesus Christ descended to become incarnate as man so that we could know Him on our own level (if you will), then why can the Sacred Liturgy not speak our own language, so that we could know Him there?

This blog is aptly titled, for I find myself musing here with greater frequency.  Not concluding, mind you, merely musing.  When all is said and done, I don't know which is "better."  I know which I prefer, but is my preference a devotional-like attachment to praying the Mass the way I want to pray it, rather than how God has asked me to pray it?

Considering that Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, has asked that we continue to pray in Latin as well as in the vernacular, and that modern popes and magisterial documents have requested that every Catholic know at least the Ordinary of the Mass and common prayers in Latin, my desire is clearly not contrary to God's perfect will.

Still, these objections must be considered.  Were I to simply voice my assent for a universal application of what practices I find beneficial in my own spiritual life, I would be a poor scholar, and perhaps even poorer a Christian.

Even more practically: I do not have the option of going to a Mass where everybody does everything the way I want.  The very concept is laughable, and selfish.  My responsibility as a Christian is to offer my heart to Our Lord at every liturgy I find myself attending, to always place myself upon that paten to be offered up as a sacrifice.

When I'm at a Mass in English, that means listening.

I've always been bad at listening, but my listening skills do seem to have deteriorated over the past year or two.  Admittedly, I was spoiled at Steubenville by dynamic, intellectual homilists.  But even back home (especially at my EF parish) I heard my fair share of excellent homilies - and still had to keep mentally slapping myself to attention because my mind had wandered off several sentences ago.

As I summed above, we fallen humans just don't listen.  But, by virtue our very participation in the Sacred Liturgy, we are called to rise above the fallen state of our humanity and enter into the heavenly worship.  By our offering of ourselves upon the sacrificial altar, we are called to let go of our sins and weaknesses.  By our sharing in this our wedding banquet, we are called to intimate Communion with our divine Bridegroom.

We are called to listen.  And not just to listen: to listen with reverence.  We are called to make that listening our prayer, just as we make prayers of our standing and sitting, our signs of the cross and bows of the head, our dressing in finery and speaking of the assigned responses.

We are called to listen to Him, as He listens to us.  Regardless of the language of the liturgy (but especially so when it's in our native tongue): listening to Him in the liturgy can be the first step to listening to Him in our hearts. 

Domine, exaudi orationem meam...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Liturgical Conformity

Shortly after my arrival here, I was given a copy of Liturgiae Celebratio: The Celebration of the Liturgy at Mundelein Seminary.  It's a very thorough (and well-footnoted) little book, covering practical details of liturgical celebration without glossing over brief moments of theological explanation.

So that you can see I don't exaggerate when I say it is a thorough book, I reproduce here its table of contents.  It has particular instructions for: Assembly, Celebrant, Concelebrants, Deacon, Acolyte, Lector, Psalmist, Musicians, Master of Ceremonies, and Sacristan; it also contains a chart for progressive solemnity, a section on the Liturgy of the Hours, and, in closing, some spiritual and ecclesiological perspectives.

Naturally, most of those parts don't apply to me.  But I thought it only fair to read the bit on the Assembly, since I was given a copy, and I do form part of the assembly.  Most things I read were familiar enough, but the last bit of the "Sign of the Cross" section quite upset me:
Note that the General Instruction provides for no Sign of the Cross during the formula following the Act of Penitence. The priest's absolution in this instance "lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance." (Liturgiae Celebratio, p8, cf. GIRM 51)

I was absolutely floored by this!  Sure, I could see that it'd be important to train devotional habits out of future priests, who will be in the sanctuary, easily visible by all, and an acute symbol of Christ the Head.  But me!?  Why couldn't I be that little lady who sits in the congregation with her old-fashioned piety and worships Our Lord in her own little way, without detracting from the Holy Sacrifice taking place at the altar?

Some semblance of decorum prevailed, however, and so I refrained from making a noticeable sign of the cross at this point.  Not quite what's asked of me, I confess, but I have a strong attachment to this pious act, learned in childhood at my parents' fairly typical Catholic parish, an act which now reminds me of the EF liturgy that I hold so dear.  It's difficult to let go of a beloved tradition when a non-binding rule asks you to without explanation.

When Fr Martis first mentioned in class that we're supposed to shun all displays of individualism in the liturgy, I was taken aback.  I immediately considered defensively the hardly-discernible devotional actions I make during Mass, and the prayers from other liturgical traditions that I have incorporated into my private preparation for the Eucharist.  Then I recalled a more reliable source than my own sentiments: our holy father.  He explicitly commends beating the breast at the Agnus Dei (not a prescribed action!), to keep in mind the sacrifice of the Lamb Who was slain for our sins (cf. Spirit of the Liturgy, p207).

The subject fell to the back burner, but Fr Martis mentioned again at the Triduum conference yesterday that we are not present at the sacred liturgy to pray how we want to pray but how God wants us to pray (my paraphrase, his ideas).  This does make sense - the whole reason we have rubrics to follow is because the liturgy is not our own creation but something that Our Lord has handed on to us, something that we must do in a certain way simply because He has asked us to.

Not that I ever doubted Fr Martis's scholarship, but a rule feels more binding if you see it in print yourself.  And sure enough, clearly stated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
The faithful [. . .] are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other. (GIRM 95)

Shun is a very strong word for the Magisterium to use in a document.  Have you ever noticed that Rome kind of stays away from particularly strong words, that every Decree ends with the phrase, "Everything to the contrary notwithstanding", that most scheduled events can be pushed to a different time if pastoral judgment requires it to be so?  And yet here, Holy Mother Church asks us to shun individualism, and anything that might even look like individualism, in the context of the liturgy.

That's a big deal.

I should be so united with the rest of the congregation in my liturgical prayer that you would hardly be able to pick me out from the crowd.

Certainly, our hearts should all be upon the Paschal Mystery, upon the sacrifice taking place at that altar.  And it is perfectly understandable that our bodies should show a certain degree of uniformity.  For we are not acting as individuals in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; rather, we are entering into the Body of Christ and speaking with one voice as His Bride.  Still, because the liturgy is my nuptial union with my divine Bridegroom, I want to have a satisfying emotional experience.  Oops.

The deeper in I get to the Roman liturgy, the more deeply I notice its essential differences from the liturgies of our Eastern brethren (in this case: the demanded uniformity of the faithful's exterior participation).

And the more I wonder how much of my attachment to various liturgical forms is due to devotional piety, rather than to that piety proper to the sacred liturgy. Expect more on this in the weeks to come.  It scares me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On Scandalizing Moments, and the Abolition of the Minor Orders

One of the more inspiring (if crazier) stories I heard in college was about Pope Paul VI.  I don't remember all the details, but apparently he'd called together a group of advisors in the late '60s and had them evaluate various aspects of sexual morality.  The advisors unanimously reached the conclusion that contraception was totally fine.  Paul VI thanked them, and then promulgated Humanae Vitae anyway.

I was thumbing through Anibale Bugnini's Reform of the Roman Liturgy the other day, and happened upon the section that dealt with the minor orders.  Some background is in order:  Before Vatican II, there were nine minor orders, steps on the way to the priesthood - kind of like a religious taking temporary vows before taking perpetual vows (the minor orders no longer exist in the Roman Church*).  In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council Fathers called for some changes and simplifications in the liturgical and paraliturgical rites of the Church, and Bugnini's book is intended as a memoir (but sometimes feels like a tell-all) about the Consilium, the Sacred Committee of Rites, and the process of the revision of the liturgy.

So I was reading with interest about the whole process, and was surprised to hear that both the Consilium and the pope wanted to keep a few of the minor orders.  They all wanted to cut out the ones (like porter) that no longer really exercised their functions, but they agreed in definitely wanting to maintain lector, acolyte, and subdeacon.**  (I'm simplifying here, but not a whole lot.)  No consensus was reached, and discussions were tabled for a while.

When discussions were picked up again six months later, the pressure was intense.  Bishops, priests, and seminarians the world around wanted answers.  They didn't just want answers from Rome, though; they wanted a specific set of answers.  The nail in the coffin was a group of German seminarians, who quite simply refused to be ordained to the minor orders, "claiming that they are 'absurd and not fulfillable'" (Bugnini 741).

That is to say: Some seminarians wrote to Rome and said, "Look, you'd better ordain us some other way, 'cuz we're not doing that," AND ROME LISTENED!  Holy Mother Church caved to the demands of a class of impatient seminarians.

I am just about scandalized!  I take comfort in the fact that this was not a matter of doctrine (as in the Humanae Vitae story above), but still: an ancient, laudable tradition of the Church, important though non-binding (much like the celibate priesthood) was just chucked out the window because the people rebelled.

Little wonder people seem to think the Church is a democracy!

*I know, I just made a dangerous claim there.  While the minor orders do seem to exist in many fantastic traditional communities, they remain a juridical reality more than anything, and unless those communities have an exemption to the current Code of Canon Law of which I'm unaware, treating their seminarians as clerics before diaconate is not technically correct (but is grandfathered in because of the wonderful tradition).

**These are pretty much what they sound like.  The lector reads, the acolyte serves at the altar, and the subdeacon assists the deacon (much like an MC or a really good main server).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Early Marriage - and Early Divorce

This week I learned about the first "Steubenville divorce" of people I knew before they were married.

Now, early marriage can be controversial, insofar as many people think it unwise precisely because it often leads to divorce.  Unfortunately, those figures count "early marriage" as anything from 14 to mid-twenties.  There's a lot of growth in those ten years; those figures are pretty skewed.  (Here is a long but insightful defense of early marriage).

Then, of course, among those who desire an early marriage, there are many for whom that's simply not how the cards play out.  Whether your focus is waiting for the one God has prepared for you or choosing someone based on practical qualities that will make them a good spouse and parent, the fact remains that we can't always get what we want.

Of these who are not able to marry as early as they'd like, there come, of course, the unmarried woes (in women, at least, these often begin in the late twenties; I've no experience of men facing such, though I'd imagine they do): a loneliness mixed with despair at an ever-shrinking pool of applicants (if you will) and fear because of decreasing fertility.

None of these fears justify "settling" in the contemporary mind: tying the knot with someone you don't /really/ love, just to have the security of being married (unless you're open to things like adultery, divorce, etc).  Of course, it is possible to have a good marriage in such a situation, but it requires a lot of self-discipline, and pushing forward just as strongly as if one were "in love with" one's spouse in the first place.  (This is entirely doable, cf. many centuries of arranged marriages, but very foreign to the modern mind.)

I didn't know the couple in question well at all.  I knew her, mostly by association, and I had wondered that she had matured and been tamed so entirely as to be entering into marriage with such fervor and purity as they displayed (as most all engaged couples at Steubenville so piously display).  Trouble is, some people are inspired to virtue by the fact that everyone around them is striving for holiness out there, but others lose discipline because they no longer have to fight for their faith, and still others seem to be completely oblivious to the campus-wide peer pressure to be holy.

So I can't say I'm any more surprised by their divorce than I was by their marriage, especially since I keep hearing that the divorce rate from Steubenville is the same as the divorce rate for the rest of the country (though usually those divorces are blamed on the couple's loss of faith that resulted from the loss of community upon graduation).  And, from what little I know about them, he should have little difficulty obtaining an annulment, and should probably be able to win custody of their child.

But just imagining this poor man, whom I could hardly pick out of a crowd, divorced with a daughter after just two crazy years of marriage...  he can't possibly be older than 27.  I have a hard enough time being single and post-college, and everyone I know has had a hard time making that transition from college to adulthood.  How much more difficult will it be for him!

Please pray all those involved in this sticky situation.  Yet another reason to be careful before settling for someone who may not be motivated to work as hard as you to keep the marriage going.

And another reason to remember that marriages don't make themselves.  Keep in mind, my fellow singles, that life does not actually get easier upon making those vows.  What struggles we have just change.

Sancte Ioseph, ora pro eis
Sancta Maria, ora pro eis
Sancta Familia, orate pro eis

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Moment of Inspiration

This afternoon I made the acquaintance of one of the custodians here.  I didn't know who he was, but I'd seen him around the chapel occasionally, and he didn't seem to be a student, and no one ever seemed to note his presence as out of the ordinary.  So when he walked out a doorway and on to the path I was walking along, I slowed down and introduced myself.

I like to pray Vespers with you guys, he informed me, a few minutes into the conversation.  It's important, you know?  He went on to tell me about how he used to work at a cemetery, because burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy, but now he's here (which is a bit more lively anyway), and it's good, and he likes to pray with us, because it's important.

From what I learned in one conversation, I wouldn't say he's a simple man, but he has a deeply simple spirituality.  He comes to Vespers regularly, just because he can, to pray.  Not because he's canonically bound to it.  Not because he's studying it.  Simply because it's a good prayer.

Why do I go?  Because I'm supposed to go.  Because I'd really ought to be praying the liturgy while I'm studying it.  Because it's beautiful.

Why does he go?  Because it's important, because prayer is important.

I have so much to learn!

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