The Catholic Academy of Liturgy, made up of the Catholic members of NAAL, met Thursday. Bishop Douglas Crosby of Newfoundland reported on the work of ICEL with much charm and good humor. He brought down the house with his explanation of “And with your spirit” – it’s not dualistic and it certainly refers to the whole person, like when we say to someone, “Get your butt over here.” [Your editor has lightly edited that last word.] Msgr. Tony Sherman from the BCDW reported on the amazingly extensive catechetical resources being developed – e.g., by the Leeds group and FDLC.
I thought the mood of the room during the discussion was not so much angry as serious, resigned, and sad. Though the new missal is a done deal, several rose to say what they wish had been possible with greater consulation, open discussion of the basic principles of translation, incorporation of the gains of the 1997 ICEL sacramentary, and so forth. Fr. Bob Daly, SJ rose to say that, in bleak times in the liturgical life of the RC church, maybe the hopeful image to embrace is that of sowing seeds for the future in fallow times.
The mood got even more serious as talk turned to the future work of CAL. Over and over people raised the issue, Where are the young people? Why are our churches emptying? We can have the most elevated language, the most beautiful rite, the most profound mystagogical catechesis – what’s it all worth if the Catholics aren’t coming to church anymore? Sobering stuff.
The opening liturgy Thursday evening, ably planned by Steve Janco, Fred Holper, and Todd Johnson, brought together the entire membership of NAAL, many Christian traditions and also Jews and Muslims. The interfaith service began with Sr. Delore’s Dufner’s well-known hymn “Sing a new church” – here altered slightly for inter-faith reasons to “Sing a new world.” Throughout the service, God-language had no male pronouns. Quite moving was the remembrance of the NAAL members who passed away in 2009. Six priests, five RC (Ellis DePriest, SM; Mark Garrett, OSA; Jerome M. Hall, SJ; Conrad Kraus; Jovian Lang, OFM) and one Episcopal (Marion Hatchett), were eulogized, and each time we all sang Steven C. Warner’s lovely refrain from Julian of Norwich, “All will be well, and all will be well, all manner of things will be well.”
The text of the closing hymn, “In star and crescent, wheel and flame, in rugged cross and empty tomb…” was by my friend from the Hymn Society, Mary Louise Bringle. The poetic imagery is so creatively well-done, I hope she doesn’t mind if I try to be a systematic theologian and raise a few questions.
“Though different cultures, tribes, and lands / use lenses ground to differing sight, / each color of the prism’s bands / refracts from one all-dazzling light.”
Some hold that all the various world religions mean the same thing, but use different words and rites to express it. Is that what this hymn is suggesting? Others hold that the religions of the world are intractably diverse and shouldn’t be thrown into one melting pot. George Lindbeck and Stanley Hauerwas are in the second camp. So is the Second Vatican Council, in a way, with its resolute proclamation of Christ as the world’s only Savior, and its welcome call for greater respect, understanding, dialogue, and cooperation between Christians and those who do not yet know Christ.
“With varied hopes and dreams and creeds, / all tiles in one mosaic whole, / we serve our God in faithful deeds / on pathways to one common goal. / No Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, / no male and female set apart / but all are one, as family held close within our Maker’s heart.”
One feels a bit small-minded and ungenerous raising questions about poetry this beautiful. But if I understand the Second Vatican Council correctly, the appropriate image might be, rather than tiles in a mosaic whole, concentric circles, with ever greater humility and self-questioning on the part of those whom Christ has called to be in the circle at the center, which is Christ himself.
But of course one can’t use an inter-faith service to proclaim Christ, however humbly. Mel Bringle, faithful Presbyterian, is hardly bound to my understanding of the Second Vatican Council. These problems and challenges are inherent in interfaith worship. This was a service for faithful believers of all three Abrahamaic traditions, and this was the right hymn for the occasion. The questions I raise are bound to go through the mind of a Christian at interfaith worship. Finally, above and beyond all our inadequate images (circles or tiles or anything else) for things divine, let us give the last word to Julian of Norwhich. “All will be well, and all will be well, all manner of things will be well.”