With Corpus Christi fresh in our memory

A number of years ago I found myself in one of our major cities on Corpus Christi Sunday. I decided to participate in the celebrations at the local Cathedral.  On my way there, I walked by an Episcopal church. The service was in full swing and revealed great dedication to the liturgy. At the Catholic Cathedral, the celebration was even more magnificent. It was truly a beautiful event, a liturgist’s delight.

As I made my way back to the hotel I stumbled over a man who was sleeping in the street. Only then did I notice that several large cardboard boxes lined the avenue. A man crawled out of one of them and asked me for money saying he was hungry. The pathway connecting both churches was dotted with these makeshift shelters housing many hungry people. Blinded by the splendor of both liturgies, I had not noticed them.

That afternoon two protestant friends invited me to accompany them to their church for the celebration of what I experienced as a liturgist’s nightmare: bad music, horrible décor, poor preaching. One thing I will never forget though: at the end of communion the minister placed all the remaining pieces of bread in the hands of the man who had asked me for money. He sat down and ate all of it. When finished he looked to see if there was more, but there was none.

That image is for ever burned in my memory. It reminded me that as John Paul II wrote in Mane Nobiscum the Eucharist calls us to share “not only in spiritual goods but in material goods as well”. Indeed, it is our mutual love, and in particular our “concern for those in need which is the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration is judged.”

The celebration of the Eucharist invites us to become the One we honor with our song; the One we raise up in a blessing; the One we carry in procession. That very One lived a humble life of love for the poor and of service unto the cross. He is the One we are to follow, to imitate and to become. He is the one we carry in procession. These processions are not only to be processions WITH the Body of Christ they also are a procession OF the Body of Christ.

In a way, by walking with the Body of Christ we rehearse in our own bodies the path Jesus took and takes today.  This path is not one of pomp and circumstance, but rather a path of humility and service. This path is one that leads to the cross and from there to life everlasting. Those of us who take part in the celebration of the Eucharist as well as in Eucharistic processions should ready ourselves to pick up that cross and follow him wherever he may lead us.

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22 comments

  1. I think that’s what Catholic Stewardship is trying to revitalize in the Church, the connection between worship and service and certainly a big part of that liturgical connection of life and worship is protecting the poorest of the poor from choices that will end their lives, feeding the hungry, educating the ignorant, caring for the sick and providing for the poor. In a nutshell, it’s what parents do for their children and what we should all be participating in doing for the general public in need, hopefully not only through the Church but a just society built on just principles. The worshiping Church and the secular state should work mano a mano in this. It really is about the consistent ethic of being pro-life from womb to tomb and care for the innocent and not so innocent.

  2. At our diocesan gathering several years ago, we had a lengthy period (2 hours or so) of exposition to the Blessed Sacrament, followed by Benediction, followed by the large host used for this being visibly broken up into many smaller pieces and taken for distribution to the sick and housebound in the surrounding area. This was extremely powerful, and showed the ‘pastoral Church’ as opposed to the ‘devotional Church’ in a concrete way that most of those present would never have envisaged.

    We need many more instances of this kind of thing, not just us talking about the connection between liturgy and life.

    1. “the ‘pastoral Church’ as opposed to the ‘devotional Church’”

      They can be the same Church. There needn’t be anything unpastoral about devotion, nor undevout about pastorality.

  3. How can you call this ‘liturgy’ when none of you have mentioned ‘cappa magna’ or ‘maniple’ even once?!

    (Rhetorical question, Jeffrey)

    1. “Rhetoric” is basically just a transliteration of a Greek word, and it’s too big a word for me anyway. Could you provide a translation instead?

      Non-rhetorically, why stop at the maniple and cappa magna (the latter of which is not a liturgical vestment, anyway)? Why not obliterate the alb (since it’s covered by the chasuble)? Why not obliterate the amice (which is practically the case already)? Why not get rid of all liturgical vestments?

  4. Our Divine Liturgy (in which we focus upon the love of God for us and our love of God) and our many Human Liturgies (in which we focus upon our love for one another) are deeply interrelated even if we often do not formally recognize their unity.

    Although on Sunday we see readers, servers, choir and Eucharistic ministers around the altar, the reality is that there is at least as many people involved in various service ministries just at the parish level. Beyond them are the many charitable church ministries which we maintain through financial contributions. And beyond them are the many public and civic charitable works which we support through our taxes, and contributions of time, talent and treasure.

    Many of our Human Liturgies are also structured around meals. This past week our county celebrated the annual dinner of its mental health board (where I worked before retirement). It celebrates all the caring people (the mentally ill themselves, their family members, the many volunteers, as well as the many dedicated staff members) who together try to improve the quality of life for people with mental illness.

    If we extended our Divine Liturgy from an hour to two or three hours, we could probably celebrate more fully the love for one another that is present in our parishes and communities. In another post, I suggested using the time before and after Mass for a lot of these activities which we sometimes want to associate with the Divine Liturgy.

  5. This reminds me of Jon Foreman’s song “Instead of a Show”:

    (verse 1)
    I hate all your show and pretense
    The hypocrisy of your praise
    The hypocrisy of your festivals
    I hate all your show
    Away with your noisy worship
    Away with your noisy hymns
    I stop on my ears when you’re singing ’em
    I hate all your show

    (chorus)
    Instead let there be a flood of justice
    An endless procession of righteous living, living
    Instead let there be a flood of justice
    Instead of a show

    (verse 2)
    Your eyes are closed when you’re praying
    You sing right along with the band
    You shine up your shoes for services
    There’s blood on your hands
    You turned your back on the homeless
    And the ones that don’t fit in your plan
    Quit playing religion games
    There’s blood on your hands

  6. This piece is very unclear. It might be taken to mean that we shouldn’t have pomp and splendor in our worship. First it blinds, Dr. van Parys, then he finds, true charity in a place where it is absent, then he says that the way of the Christian is not a way of pomp and splendor.

    But, in fact, he doesn’t come out and say we shouldn’t have pomp and splendor in our worship. It would be better if he explained his position more fully so we didn’t have to guess.

    1. I didn’t take it that he was against “pomp and splendor” either, unless it prevented people from being the “Church in miniature” at home and the Church in the world.God knows that the Church of pomp and splendor in the past produced great saints, religious orders and religious who founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities, hospices and social service agencies. I know of many parishes that are very “low Church” and have a despicable lack of awareness and good works for the poor at home and in the world. That’s a two way street and we all know it. So if a bishop wears a cappa magna but still has a diocese he encourages to serve the poor and the poor are not just those without material goods, than more power to him. What’s the big deal?

  7. The cappa magna is a smokescreen.

    Old men wearing yards of fabric (usually, these days, like at the recent event at the National Basilica in DC, much longer than allowed by ecclesiastical legislation!) are nowhere near as much of a problem as clergy who spend inordinate hours blogging, or commenting on blogs, about them.

    1. Interesting comment. Does that include those clerics who provide the blogs? I guess we shouldn’t worry about those who in their humble simplicity wear their symbolic cappa magna that flows out into the streets!

      1. Your first question is answered in my earlier comment: ‘inordinate hours blogging, or commenting on blogs’

        The only cause for ‘worry’ is allegedly ‘tranditionalist’ and ‘faithful-to-the-magisterium’ bishops (and cardinals) who have taken to wearing the cappa magna of a length which was abolished by Papal authority in the 1960s.

      2. In 1969 it was modified, not abolished and then made optional, which of course then means in the Reformed Mass that the bishop who wears one wears it because of a personal proclivity to wear it. In the “unreformed” Mass, it is prescribed for the bishop at certain solemnities and the 1969 guideline does not apply, so it is not a part of the dictatorship of personal preference and thus a personal idiosyncrasy. I might add that there is nothing wrong with not liking it.

  8. The Vibrant Parish Life study of 129 parishes with 46241 respondents ranked “Masses that are prayerful, reverent and spiritually moving” #1 in importance and “The parish as a supportive, caring community” as #2 in importance among 39 items. So people really understand that Christianity is about love of God and love of neighbor.

    People ranked the “Masses” item 24th in being well done, and the “caring community” item as 20th in being well done, so people have high standards about both areas and aren’t self satisfied.

    “A church large enough for worship” and “Well-maintained parish facilities and grounds” were ranked first and second in being well done. If we Catholics just did liturgy and community as well as we do buildings we would be in better shape.

    So if we want to talk about misplaced priorities, we should be talking about the materialistic satisfaction that a fine church building means we have good liturgies, or that facilities with many programs mean we have a supportive caring community. People know better. Often our parish leaders including our lay leaders don’t. “Parish leadership that listens to the concerns of parishioners” was rated 30th out of 39 items,

    P.S. My hunch is that out of all the respondents to this survey you would be lucky to find 4 or 5 who know what a cappa magna is.

  9. If the point is just to “do good things” for others, then why bother with worshipping God at all? There are many philanthropic atheists after all…

    Faith withour works is empty; but works without faith are still works, and to the person benefitting from them I doubt that it matters why the benefactor gives to them. We do the good works because of the depth of our devotion and worship of God, not as a condition of our faith but rather as a result of it.

    I find the references to the Cappa Magna and Maniples to be insulting… are we to believe that one can’t be committed to beautiful, elaborate and fully celebrated liturgy AND service to others? Do advocates of the Latin Mass ignore the poor, devote fewer hours to volunteer service, give less money to their parishes… I think that some critical research into this might reveal some very telling facts, which is exactly why no such studies will ever be undertaken.

    I have to agree with Jack R. above… if you want to build a parish’s sense of caring and concern for their neighbor, build their sense of devotion and worship of God… that’s what drives us to serve after all.

    In other words – We aren’t good Catholics because we serve our fellow man, we serve our fellow man because we are good Catholics… sometimes I think we (as a Church) end up chasing our tails on this issue…

    1. Jeffrey, I too find it insulting to make fun of all that paraphernalia, and I intend not to do so. But, I have two observations. First, this tells us what some people out there in fact are saying. Some people find it overdone, and they mock and ridicule it. It is a hindrance to the Church’s credibility. Second, the teachings and actions of Our Lord provide almost zilch justification for self-aggrandizing pomp and splendor, and Our Lord said some pretty clear things about humility and service. Renaissance court splendor obscures the face of our humble Savior for many people. Important questions are raised about the Church’s faithfulness to Jesus, and they won’t go away.
      awr

      1. If I could add to this: if one’s intention in these externals is to point to the eschatalogical dimension of the Liturgy that is a foretaste of the glory that will be the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb (which I think *is* worthy of the liturgy), getting attached to a specific era of worldly communication of that glorious dimension is an obstacle, not an asset. When the liturgy begins to acquire a dimension of historical re-creationism (I imagine the yet-to-be filmed HBO series “Rome: 1200/1575/1870]”), then one may be tripping on this wire.

  10. I think we need to be careful or at least consistent in criticizing “self-aggrandizing pomp and splendor” since the criticism can be redirected to any number of the aspects of the liturgy that could qualify as such and certainly not of Jesus’ humble regard for simplicity. Many Christians of the reformed tradition don’t like vestments of any kind whatsoever and think they look just as silly as the cappa magna. Incense drives others to distraction. Gregorian chant and music in general are seen as superfluous. I’ve heard complaints about the priest singing his parts of the Mass, i.e. the collects, preface, Eucharistic prayer and anything else that is otherwise spoken. Music with all kinds of triumphal instruments, drums, trumpets, cymbals and the like are the cappa magna to the ears what the actual one is to the eyes. Did Jesus really foresee this kind of music in the celebration of the Mass on Holy Thursday? Many think this is self-aggrandizing splendor. I’m not a fan of the the cappa magna but the narrowness of criticism that is so one sided is astounding at times. There is plenty of room to criticize many post Vatican II innovations that have no basis in the liturgical books but are commonly employed and open us to mock and ridicule also.

  11. Nice piece, Fr. Anthony. Thanks to you and to the writer, van Parys. I think I would have had more to say in another time, but for tonight, I think less is more. ☺ Thanks.

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