This commentary by Fr Daniel Donovan is great catechesis in its own right. For our weekly and occasional readers you've arrived at Part II of a two-part essay by Fr Donovan exploring what's gone wrong with the institutional church's capacity to keep people enthused and participating through its liturgies. Fr Donovan argues that the present, expensive changes in train for the celebration of the Mass take us in the wrong direction and are likely to drive more away from participation unless the institution returns to the principles of communication explained in this essay. While this essay will probably not appeal to the audience the likes of Cardinal Pell and Pope Benedict appear to be trying to enthuse, it will have strong resonance with the sort of audience we are seeking to reach through Catholica — those who have largely given up listening to what the institutional leaders are trying to tell us.
Liturgical Books are for Community Worship not Catechesis
The Lectionary and Sacramentary are liturgical books and belong to the community not to the hierarchy. Liturgical Books are designed chiefly for community use in worship. The Lectionary, for example, is underpinned by principles intended to facilitate community participation and to ensure that the community over a Three Year Cycle (for Sundays) and a Two Year Cycle (for Weekdays) of Ordinary Time are able to dine more lavishly from the table of God's Word. The two principles which govern the Sunday Readings are the principles of harmony in the case of the First Reading which is usually taken from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Gospel. The point of this principle is that the community might be open to the God of salvation who in the history of Israel and the mission of Jesus reached out to people and "speaks to them as friends".
Repeat link from yesterday's essay to Tess Livingstone's article in The Weekend Australian "Fresh embrace of everlasting salvation", 22-23 May 2010. Click the image to access the full article. It was the views expressed in this article that became the prime motivation for Fr Donovan to prepare this commentary for Catholica.
The General Introduction to the Lectionary (1981) makes clear that the proclamation of the word in the Christian Assembly is not private reading of Scripture, Bible study nor even exegesis of texts but always proclamation of the mystery of Christ. It is always "...a living and effective word through the power of the Holy Spirit. It expresses the Father's love that never fails in its effectiveness toward us".
Words, gestures, visuals, incense, responses, music and ministers serve the "conscious participation" of the celebrating community in the ritual and facilitate the encounter with Jesus who now addresses his people and challenges them to live the Gospel. So the community greets the announcement of the Gospel with "Glory to you Lord" and stands to indicate its readiness to do the Gospel. Finally, the word of salvation is received with gratitude, "Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ". Praise in this context is much more than simply lip service but it must inform a new way of living "in Christ" (Rom 10:9), this faith is nurtured through ritual participation.
The Second Readings which are used on Sundays (Years A,B,C of Ordinary Time) are organised according to the principle of Semi-Continuous Reading and are from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) but never from the Gospels. Texts are selected from the writings in the Christian Scriptures but not in a continuous mode. Basically, this approach reflects the liturgical practice of using Scripture texts to inspire or to raise hearts to God, common in Judeo-Christian worship. Such a use of Scripture is liturgical and will be presented to the community as "the Word of the Lord" rather than "This is the word of the Lord" so that the immediacy of God's presence is conveyed to the community.
Liturgical books are prayer not theology. Irish Capuchin, Owen O'Sullivan, in The Silent Schism (1997) illustrates the problems which occur when books meant for prayer and worship become treated as a hot theological and canonical medium. The priest's fidelity to the rubrics (which were directions written in red thus rubrics) was imperative and any diversion was serious matter thus O'Sullivan states that a priest while saying Mass could commit "two hundred and sixty" potential sins.
Jesus' Ministry and Rituals
Rituals are symbolic actions and a rite is a collection of these actions. The prophets in Israel ritualised and the people immediately experienced God's effective presence in their history. Jesus followed this prophetic tradition and was constantly plagued by "the theologians" of the day wanting a cerebral response from him.
Jesus himself is the proto-sacrament because in his humanity he reveals the unseen God. John explains that "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14) and "from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing for another" (v.16). Jesus is "Emmanuel" — God-with-us (Mt 1:23). Throughout his ministry, Jesus mediated God through his interaction with the people. The following examples from the Gospels (while not exhaustive) will illustrate this point.
- In Mark 2:1ff, Jesus heals the paralytic with a holistic ritual "your sins are forgiven" and immediately, "some of the teachers of the law" present consider Jesus to be "blaspheming" because "only God can forgive sins" (v7). The physical cure of the paralytic is the explanation of the ritual (v.12) which silences "the theologians" but, more importantly, the ritual invites participation by the crowd in God's saving work.
- Luke reports that John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus does not feel compelled to answer the question directly but continues his healing ritual (Lk 7:20-21). The Baptist's disciples are "...to report what they see and hear (aural/oral): the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Lk 7:22-23). What a "Cool" answer, Jesus work is holistic and nurtures faith.
- John does not include a narrative of institution of Eucharist in his Gospel, but rather prefers the ritual of Jesus washing the disciples' feet (Jn 13: 1-17). Peter insists that Jesus is not to wash his feet (v.8) which eventually leads to the explanation of the ritual. "I ... have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet". Eucharist, for Jesus is not about doctrinal definitions but "service" so those who remember him at Eucharist remember him as Servant and they too, must "wash each other's feet".
- For Luke (Lk 22:24-27) and Matthew (Mt 25: 31-46), the ritual of remembering must lead to action. There is an intimate connection between recognising and serving Jesus in the other and remembering and recognising Jesus in the Eucharist. The interconnectedness of ritual and life is the heart of God's saving work.
Through ritual Jesus expressed God's presence, he made mud and restored sight (Jn 9: 6-7) or wrote in the dirt (Jn 8: 7-8) or allowed people to touch him (Lk 7: 39) and he was forthright in refuting those who took the moral high ground attending to "correct content" rather than "the effect" of the ritual on all who witnessed the event. Jesus' ministry was intended to invite people to convert and to recognise God's presence among them (Mk 1:12-15), he invited his hearers to live the mystery not simply to define it.
Ritual is a Living Medium
Rituals are found in all cultures and among all peoples and are not necessarily religious. Rituals surround those moments in life which are open to mystery and could be termed sacred. Erik Erikson has explored the life cycle and the crises which attend the person's growth from newborn to old age and has explored the various rituals which define this psycho-social development. Interestingly Erikson sees the genesis of faith in the newborn's experience of having a significant carer to attend its needs or conversely deprived of such attention and thereby learning that the world is either friendly or unfriendly.
All rituals teach through effect rather than content. Religious rituals have the capacity to provide access to the living Tradition of the celebrating group long before the person is able to cognise or understand. Rituals also, allow the celebrating community to experience and embrace the Vision which assures that the Tradition is always open to and subject to the critique of the Kingdom thus The General Instruction on the Lectionary correctly, states that when the word of God is announced and proclaimed, there is an awareness of being a new people (effect) in whom the covenant proclaimed in the past (Tradition) is perfected and fulfilled (Vision). Tradition is not the dead faith of the living as some of the hierarchy would suggest; it is always the living faith of the dead who in ritual join in praising and thanking God. Rituals ensure that communities remember their past but also can walk humbly with God and embrace the challenges of God's future.
People and Ritual in 2011
In the immoderate haste to implement the "new" Sacramentary, the Mass has been described as "a means of catechesis" or a vehicle for "theological language" but on both counts those who engage in this line of argument simply display their complete lack of understanding of rituals in general and the Mass in particular. Already the official separation of the divine and human in the Church's Liturgical Calendar has accounted for Christmas and Easter becoming Feasts which have lost their religious pull and impact on people. Frequently, the secular society is accused of "taking Christ out of Christmas" but this is simply not the case. The Church bears the major responsibility for "taking Christ out of Christmas" when it abandoned the wider communal context of the Christmas ritual. Society retrieved those cultural elements of the Feast associated with the family and home and which today are the heart of the "secular celebration." As a result "Carols in the Domain" or the Easter Show have greater appeal to the people of Sydney than the Church's celebrations of these major Christian feasts because the former (rather than the latter) employ rituals which communicate with and involve people. Likewise sporting codes have embraced rituals wholeheartedly to create and nurture identity among fans worldwide. If then ritual nurtures identity, there can be absolutely not any justification for the current tampering with the rite of the Mass. The intended outcome is to destroy the Vatican II identity of "Church in the modern world", to fashion a "new twenty something identity" which despite its enthusiasm lacks experience.
At times of life crises such as birth or marriage or death or national events like the recent Brisbane floods; people turn to ritual. As soon as possible, the people of Brisbane started rituals of mopping, sweeping, feeding, lending a hand to express their solidarity with the flood victims. Perhaps this incident will illustrate the power of ritual in the Brisbane clean up. A television reporter approached a man who was sweeping mud and debris from a home. The reporter inquired, if the man knew the people who lived in that house? The answer was "Who cares!" This worker knew (what Church authorities do not know) that ritual is not about "content" but effect, not about information but transformation.
Life is full of rituals from the morning cup of coffee or tea to the final goodnight kiss. Rituals are that "slipping into something more comfortable" or coming home to the familiar and renewal. Religious rituals function in exactly the same way because rituals are human and "in Christ" conjoin the human and divine.
Toward the Future
This beautiful illustration of the the Prodigal Son story comes from a website entitled "Carry the Gospel with You" which I highly recommend for a visit in terms of its communication style. The site is an initiative of The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America. Click the image to enlarge and for link details.
When Jesus wished to share this experience of a ritual God with his followers, he told the Story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). When the son returns from his wanderings (vv 20-24), the father's great joy can only be expressed in ritual. The father was constantly, at the gate watching the road and looking for his son to return. At once the father recognises his son in the forlorn figure coming toward him and is moved with compassion. The father runs to meet the son, throws his arms around the son's neck and kisses him. As the ritual progresses the father restores the son to his familiar belonging: the finest robe, a ring for his finger, sandals for his feet, kill the fattened calf, there will be a celebration with music and dancing.
The ritual assures the son that he is forgiven and restored to family life. Notice in v.21 the father is not into speeches or words but effective, holistic ritual. The elder brother refuses to join the ritual but raises the issues of loyalty and injustice with the father. The father does not disagree with the elder son's sense of absurdity but this is not a time for argumentation but ritual which integrates all aspects of life even the absurd (vv 31-32). In ritual God is present and the absurd even paradox become the stuff of new beginnings.
The medium of the ritual of the father in the Prodigal Son parable has inspired great artists and provided the courage for many a person to praise God's grace. Unfortunately, today greater emphasis is placed on the printed word and the role of ordained clergy. This has the potential to undermine the effect of rituals by an over emphasis on language and theological perspectives. The ritual is a "Cool" medium more about "conscious participation" than information which does not guarantee real transformation.
Ritual suggests its own questions and the catechesis must address these issues and provide time to break open the rites, symbols, sign, prayers, stories, elements, Scriptures, movements, bodily positions, responses, colours, feasts and seasons which nourish faith and Christian maturity.
It is most concerning that the current crop of bishops (with few exceptions) are unable to distinguish between "ritual" and "catechesis" or between "evangelisation" and "religious education", "religious instruction" and "catechesis" or differentiate clearly "inculturation", "enculturation" and "acculturation". Gone are the days of the Teacher-Bishop who initiated his community into the sacred mysteries through ritual and then provided an ongoing catechesis to foster and support faith.
Marhsall McLuhan described the television as "Cool" because it was low definition and therefore required a greater level of participation by its audience. The audience in fact, became the centre for the action. High definition medium does not require the same involvement and participation from the audience. Thus ritual is "Cool" because God's saving work is NOW transforming this Community. Ritual "expresses the Father's love that never fails in its effectiveness toward us".
The Church will always be a pilgrim people remembering God's fidelity but pushing onwards in the power of the Spirit. The Church therefore must not dither nor hesitate to embrace God's future.
ARTICLE NAVIGATION: <<Part I
Fr D.M. Donovan
07 February 2011
Arbuckle,G.A., (2010) Culture, inculturation and theologians: A postmodern critique, Collegeville, MN: A Michael Glazier Book, Liturgical Press.
Cornwell, J., (2002), Breaking faith: The pope, the people and the fate of Carholicism, Camberwell Vic: Penguin Books Australia Ltd.
Gingras, G. E., Editor (1970), Egeria: Diary of a pilgrimage, Ancient Christian Writers, New York NY: Paulist Press.
Horsfield, P., "The Church and Electronic Culture," http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=160
O'Sullivan, O, (1997), The Silent Schism: Renewal of catholic spirit and structures, Goldenbridge, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.
Quicke, M., "Let Him Who Has Ears, Listen," http://www.preaching.org/features/display_feature/6
 Vatican II, Dei verbum, Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965) DV# 2.This document begins by stressing that the people of God are "hearers of the Word" and through listening to the word proclaimed (not reading) that the community has "fellowship" with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ 1Jn 1:2-3.
 Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, General Instruction to the Lectionary (1981) (LM Intro # 4) http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWLECT.HTM
This document also states in LM Intro #7 that through "hearing the word proclaimed" that the Church is built up and grows, and in the signs of liturgical celebration God's wonderful, past works in the history of salvation are presented anew as mysterious realities." This is the "Cool" medium in which God forms the congregation to evangelise "to exalt God's name among the nations." "Cool" ritual begets evangelisation because "Whenever, therefore, the Church, gathered by the Holy Spirit for liturgical celebration, announces and proclaims the word of God, she is aware of being a new people in whom the covenant made in the past is perfected and fulfilled Baptism and confirmation in the Spirit have made all Christ's faithful into messengers of God's word because of the grace of hearing they have received."
The paragraph finishes by making the exact point which has been forgotten by those who speak of "Tradition" as if the Father's love toward his people was only effective in the past. Such thinking contradicts that ecclesial experience of the celebrating community "...of being a new people in whom the covenant made in the past is perfected and fulfilled." Thus "... the word of God proclaimed in the celebration of God's mysteries does not only address present conditions but looks back to past events and forward to what is yet to come." It is this eschatological (yet to come or VISION) dimension which continues to be overlooked by those who stress "Tradition." Both Tradition and Vision must constantly, be held in a creative tension if the Church is to be an effective sacrament of God's presence among the nations.
 The Book of the Psalms affords many examples of this use of Scripture. Also Jesus' use of the text of Isaiah 61:1, 2 in Lk 4:18-21 to explain his own ministry, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Likewise Stephen's speech (Acts 7:2-53) is a homily which uses the history of Israel, a God who journeys with the people until David (v.46) undertakes to build a house for God who "does not live in houses made by men." But God will built a "house of Kings" for David (v 47). See also, the Letter to the Hebrews 4: 1-13 which develops the theme of "Sabbath-rest for God's people."
 Owen O'Sullivan, (1997) The silent schism: Renewal of Catholic spirit and structure, Goldenbridge, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd, p.111. Ch 6, "From Law to Love" (pp 110-135) should be read by all Catholics especially in the current climate of BXVI imposing a "new" Sacramentary on English speaking Catholics around the world.
This article has emphasised that the current Church leadership lack Vision O'Sullivan has been the first author who has dedicated a whole Chapter (Ch 8 "A Vision of the Future" to this topic pp 161-198.
 See the text of the Prayer over the Gifts for Second Sunday of Ordinary Time...
Father, may we celebrate the Eucharist with reverence and love, for when we proclaim the death of the Lord you continue the work of his redemption, who is Lord forever and ever.
Ritual is unpacked in catechesis not in theology which follows from ritual lex orandi (ritual), lex credendi (theology).
 Jesus was a keen observer of nature and it was the source of much of his visual language. Nature has many rituals which speak to humans and Jesus is not slow to point out to his critics they are adept at interpreting nature's rituals but lack a similar proficiency in interpreting the rituals of the Kingdom (Lk 12: 54-56). Animals use rituals to communicate and personally, I believe that I have learnt more about rituals from pet cats and birds than from theological or catechetical manuals. Rituals are "Cool" and totally embracing. Animals do not need to speak they ritualise.
 In all Masses there is the Memento of the Dead. Jesus stressed that for God "...is the God of the living not the dead" (Lk 20:38).
 See Eucharistic Prayer IV which describes covenant which is itself a ritual.
Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship
You did not abandon him to the power of death,
But helped all to seek and find you.
Again and again you offered a covenant to man,
And through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.
 See note #15 above.
Fr Daniel Donovan is a semi-retired priest based in Sydney who regularly provides critical comment on ecclesial affairs and the direction the Church is heading in.
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©2011 Fr Daniel Donovan
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