As we listen to the readings from Revelation through the Easter season, I find myself focused on that heavenly liturgy they describe. I also look around and see how little we focus on the mystical union we on earth have with that liturgy, and how little we act like we are, somehow, already there.
I speak of the influence that the surrounding culture has had on general behavior – etiquette in the broadest sense of the word – at Sunday Mass. I see this manifested in the lack of respect shown by tardy arrivals, inattentiveness to dress, and general rudeness to others at the Mass.
Whoever is calling on the cell phone is more important than the people I am gathered with: not a good value for liturgy. Both at restaurant dinners (even though it’s harder and harder to find a place to dine without TVs in the room) and at my house last Thanksgiving, I made people at the table put away or silence their cell phones when we sat down to dinner. (Exceptions made for those who might be called to perform surgery, or had left an infant with a sitter). Most everyone looked like I had just suggested they choose a hand to lop off before eating. I have witnessed the folks at Mass who need to check iMail during the homily, and a father and son who were either surfing the web or playing a video game during the Eucharistic Prayer, oblivious to the saints gathered around them.
There are numerous reports about clothing stores, especially those that sell suits and ties for business men, going under as the society continues its idolizing of “casual” in everything. And the “family” metaphor applied to Sunday eucharist can’t be used in this area, since fewer and fewer households gather at table regularly, and certainly don’t dress up to do so, even on “special” days.
At the movies people are still trundling in after the movie has begun, in spite of it beginning 20 min. or so after the advertised start time due to commercials, previews, and the accommodation of societal tardiness. In Chicago, both the Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Shakespeare Theater have started delaying their start times for the same accommodation. However, folks ARE at Wrigley Field 4 or more hours ahead of the Cubs opener.
There are plenty others: music, instrumental music in particular, is now a cue to begin talking, since it is just “background”; the idol-ization of solo singers (vs. the white-robed choir singing around the throne); the ascendancy of individual taste over the group; the 549 trillion served at the worst nutritional place on earth; the exaltation of often-ephemeral youth culture over against the gifts and wisdom of age … the list could go on.
I offer all of this as a lower-case “l” liturgist, not as a curmudgeon.
We’ve spent most of the past generation taking the values of the surrounding culture, embracing or aggrandizing them, the behaviors, and vocabularies (verbal and non-verbal) that come with them. We can’t be surprised as the process we started begins to happen even more aggressively on its own, and we’re no longer the gate-keepers. The world around us has done more to transform liturgy than the other way around in the past few decades. There’s a bit of culpability lying at our own feet, it seems to me.
The Sunday liturgical community is, I guess, a “family” gathered for a celebration; it is also a body, the Body of Christ, there to surrender itself in sacrifice once again. So we might want to really look at proposing the liturgy as a counter-cultural place, not apart from, but distinct within [God is in the prepositions] the world around it.
Our communal actions tell others – and God, loudly and clearly – what is important to us.
Senior Editor, World Library Publications