Tuesday, March 11, 2014

God is Not a Public Meeting



idlepaddy:

Gladstone and Victoria. Of all the modern relationships of a sovereign and their first minister, none was perhaps as difficult as that of Queen Victoria and William Gladstone. While Gladstone and the Queen enjoyed good relations while Prince Albert was alive, this declined following his death. The Queen found Gladstone laborious and once complained that he; “always addresses me as if I were a public meeting.” Her disdain for Gladstone was only matched by her love for his great rival Disraeli. Of course you’re bound to like someone who makes you Empress of India! When Gladstone died in 1898 the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) acted as a pallbearer at his funeral in Westminster Abbey. Victoria telegraphed her son asking what advice he had taken in performing this action. He responded by telling her he had not sought any advice and did not know of any precedent. One can ponder if perhaps annoying his mother crossed the Princes mind. Victoria grudgingly referred to Gladstone as “one of the most distinguished statesman of my reign” in a letter to Catherine Gladstone. The very inclusion of the word ‘one’ showed how she had failed to see he was indeed the quintessential Victorian statesman. 
I don't do flowery words when I pray, a simple plea. "Have Mercy!", "Give him her/strength", "Forgive me", "Heal them", "Be with them", I think it is enough, the Lord knows better than me what I want, or better still what I or anyone else needs. Perfect prayer is saying and meaning,"Into your hands ...", "Thy will be done ...", "Be it done to me according thy word", that is 'holiness', perfect 'communion'.

I hate praying with Protestant clergy or Catholic charismatics who go on for hours as if God needs a lecture. God is not daft, yes sometimes it is necessary to reason through our prayers, sometimes to actually remind oneself of what has already done. Repetition in prayer is good but God actually hears the first time, the repetition, is any words are about us touching base with God, not the like the priests of Baal trying to attract God's attention.
If I am talking to God to there is reason why anyone else should overhear, unless one is in a sense trying to teach through one's prayer as Jesus does in S John's Gospel. What we call prayer is above all about placing ourselves in God's. It is worth asking why S Paul can identify the number of times he has prayed to be delivered from his 'thorn in the flesh'. I am always struck that in the Divine Office there are a whole series of Collects but psalms, canticles and hymns which praise God reminding us of his goodness followed by the Pater and then a single collect. The life of a monk or nun is not spent in endless cries of "God help Mabel ..." but simple an attempt to dwell in God's presence and to contemplate his beauty. Actual prayer in the Catholic Tradition is short and to the point.

Joe Shaw has an interesting post on the silent Canon, I must say I ask myself what purpose is there in its being said aloud has, except to turn the most sacred prayer of the Mass into a time to edify the the people who are for the most part not edified but distracted or bored by it and to turn the priest into someone responsible for engaging the faithful with not very exciting material, when he should be engaged with God, (if prayers real function is about God and communion with him). In the Canon I speak to God on behalf of the whole Church, not to edify anyone.

I really am at a loss to know why we do it aloud, when it is said silently the people can get on with their chief function as a holy, priestly people, and intercede, bringing the world to the altar, joining Christ his great work of atonement and communion.

Queen Victoria complained Gladstone addressed her as though she were a public meeting, the relationship of the priest with God at Mass is the intimate relationship of Son with the Father, whispering an eternal "Abba".

30 comments:

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Regarding repetition in prayers: should we recite the Rosary or not?

God bless.

hughosb said...

Good evening Fr.

To be frank, I must confess that in days of yore I used to be mystified by the silent canon. But then I am very much formed post-Vatican II.

Now, older (though barely wiser I fear), a little better read on matters liturgical, and with a little experience as a priest under my scapular, I do see its point.

The priest is speaking to God. He is speaking solemn words to perform a solemn, momentous act, to make present Christ's sacrifice for his people. While the priest speaks for the people, he does not speak to them. In fact they should know the words anyway, and could easily follow them in a missal. There is no need for the people to hear.

So I suspect the rash clamour in some quarters for the priest to face the people and to speak up when addressing God is to substitute for true "active participation" a mere occupying of people's attention, as if they were children needing to be entertained lest they get up to no good.

If this suspicion is accurate then the canon barked versus populum is actually a betrayal of Vatican II. :-O

One of my reasons for being glad to see the back of the previous edition of the English Roman Missal was the hatchet job on the collects. Apart from the woeful paraphrasing often employed, collects were split into separate sentences some of which sounded like they told some fact to God of which, somehow, he might not be aware or have forgotten. The reason: they were composed with an eye to informing the people not addressing God. Eucharistic Prayer 4, even in the revised Missal, takes this tendency to an extreme.

Silence is golden. Thanks for reminding us.

Pax.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Victor,
Say it as often as possible, it is Lectio Divina, the Aves act as a safety net but the real aim is contemplating on the Mysteries.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Victor,
Say it as often as possible, it is Lectio Divina, the Aves act as a safety net but the real aim is contemplating on the Mysteries.

lx54 said...

When I entered the Orthodox Church, it was after two decades of active Evangelical Protestantism. One of the hardest practical things for me to learn was to simply pray "Lord, have mercy!", without having to give God a lecture about exactly what it is that needed to be done. I'm better now, but I still have to be on guard against talking AT God rather than talking TO God.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Thanx Father.

God bless.

Aloysius Gonzaga said...

Amen.

Jacobi said...

You touch on a real problem here, Father.

At the Canon of the O.F. Mass in our church, the priest clearly addresses the congregation with eye contact and exaggerated gesture, towards the congregation. It’s not clear what God has to do with things.

I have long since got into the habit of closing my eyes to avoid this, and so that I can better concentrate on what is going on. The danger is, I think I have occasionally dropped off!

At the E.F. Mass one can concentrate, eyes open or closed, on the miracle taking place at the altar, undistracted by any antics.

Deacon Augustine said...

"I must say I ask myself what purpose is there in its being said aloud has, except to turn the most sacred prayer of the Mass into a time to edify the the people..."

I think the multiplication of anaphoras is also symptomatic of this corruption of the purpose of prayer. If this prayer is primarily a communication between the priest and God, then there is no need to have many versions of it because your intent is the same at every Mass. There is only the need for a single Roman canon.

However, once the purpose of prayer was changed into that of being a didactic tool, then of course a whole variety of options became desirable. Thus we have the ridiculous situation in France where over 300 Eucharistic Prayers have received official approval, and each Mass has to be read from inserted scraps of paper rather than a Missal.

GOR said...

I echo Jacobi and find myself buried in my Missal following the Roman Canon while the celebrant ad-libs his way through EP ‘X’ which is hardly recognizable as an authorized version. I only look up at the words of Consecration, trying to focus on Our Lord’s presence in the Host and Chalice and not be distracted by Father’s gestures.

It is a struggle – but it shouldn’t be….

viterbo said...

silence is golden - I wonder who first said that?.
-
p.s. I remember Hannah of the OT scandalised her contemporaries by praying silently (they thought she was drunk). yet Hannah's prayer is the traditional soil from which sprung Our Lady's Magnificat.

viterbo said...

p.s. mass at my ground zero now is pretty much a lecture (sort of like a Sunday school for kids). the sacrifice of the mass is not the 'point'; sometimes it seems barely a part.

Jewel said...

As a Protestant, I always had difficulty praying, because the prayers were all so long and ad-libbed. As a Catholic, especially this evening, when I was able to make a home-cooked meal for my family after a horrible weeklong illness in bed (they had to scrounge), I prayed, "In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thank you for this bounty and the good health to prepare it for my hardworking husband and children. Bless this food to our health, amen."
If I were still a Protestant, I would have had to include a bullet list which would have included all the problems of the world. So I made it a habit never to pray out loud. AND! Until I read this little essay, which cleared up some rather bad misconceptions, I hated saying grace. It isn't because I wasn't thankful. Maybe because my family is not Catholic, and I was only nominally Christian in the past, we didn't ever say it. But tonight, I did, and I shall...with much contemplative prayer...continue to say my short gratitudes.
Amen.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

An Italian priest-friend who belongs to a congregation that ministers to the Deaf told me that he doesn't sign the words of consecration because he wants the Deaf to have a sense of its sacredness.

When after Vatican II, but before the Novus Ordo was introduced, priests were allowed to pray the Roman Canon audibly, in Latin. Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin decreed that it still be prayed silently 'for the sake of uniformity'.

What Jacobi experiences in his parish is something I have often observed, even with some bishops celebrating Mass. However, the only time I look at the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer is when I say 'The Mystery of Faith'. And I often point out to the people in homilies that the Eucharistic Prayer and the Collect etc are addressed to the Father, with some exceptions such as Corpus Christi when they are addressed to Christ.

Cardinal Newman's words in Joe Shaw's video reminded me of my experience growing up in Dublin when churches were packed on weekdays during Lent with workers and school-goers freely choosing to 'actively participate' without anyone forcing them. At those Masses and on Sundays we had a 'memorial acclamation' more real than the three in the current Roman Missal in the form of a 'communal cough' when the congregation released the tension of its awareness of what had just taken place.

In the last three years or so I have often celebrated Mass ad orientem, when it is possible - it's not always so with some so-called 'free-standing' altars - and would love to see a return to that.

But I have seen in my travels in recent years a return to a more sober celebration of the NO Mass, with only the occasional ad-libbing.

Here in the Philippines there's a lot of singing, even at weekday Masses. However, where I celebrate weekday Masses there isn't any and I usually say the Offertory prayers silently.

I would say that most of us ordained around the time of Vatican II - I was ordained in December 1967 - were 'contaminated' in varying degrees by the 'spirit of Vatican II' and the widespread off-the-cuff liturgical abuses of the time. Some were more extreme than others. One might ask why we were so susceptible to that ‘contamination’.

Deacon Augustine, where did you read about France having 300 approved Eucharistic Prayers?

Thank you, Father Ray, for your thought-provoking posts that carry the authority of a parish priest deeply involved with those on the fringes. May God continue to bless you and those you serve.

Savonarola said...

If the people can hear the words of the Canon, is it not more likely that they will be able to pray the prayer with the priest (which is the true meaning of active participation)? Why should they be doing something else while the priest does his separate special priestly thing?
The hierarchisation of the body of Christ (not the same thing as due order) is one of the main reasons for the slow and continuing decline of institutional religion in recent times (not just since the 1960s). Vatican II recovered the authentic Christian vision of the Church as the whole people of God, but centuries-old bad habits clearly will not change very quickly. It may take a few centuries more.

JARay said...

I do indeed agree with what you say Fr. Blake. As I remember it, the way that the ringing of bells during Mass came about because of the silence and the fact that the hoi poloi could not see what was going on so they needed some kind of signal as to where in fact the priest had got to during the canon of the Mass. My source for this observation is that now famous book, "The Stripping of the Altars".

Newefpastoremeritus said...

Sometimes The Prayers of Intercession that I hear in churches where I supply seem to be nothing more than "political claptrap" usually written by some member of a parish liturgy group or CAFOD.

Sean W. said...

"The hierarchisation of the body of Christ (not the same thing as due order) is one of the main reasons for the slow and continuing decline of institutional religion in recent times (not just since the 1960s). Vatican II recovered the authentic Christian vision of the Church as the whole people of God, but centuries-old bad habits clearly will not change very quickly. It may take a few centuries more."

It is a very strange body in which every single member does the exact same thing at every time.

The members of a body are complementary -- they each discharge that function reserved to them and in that way contribute to the effective functioning of the whole. The mind thinks, the heart beats, the lungs breath, the legs stride, etc.

Likewise the priest offers up the sacrifice, the deacon proclaims the Gospel, the laity offer up contemplative prayer, the cantors glorify God through prayerful music, etc. etc. etc.

It seems to me that expecting the laity to pray the Canon is a confusion of the concept of the Church as the body of Christ, not a clarification of it.

Savonarola said...

"It seems to me that expecting the laity to pray the Canon is a confusion of the concept of the Church as the body of Christ, not a clarification of it."
I take the point, of course, that different people have different roles in the mass, but if the body is one then surely everybody should be offering and praying the mass together - in their different ways. The people do not say the words of the Canon, but surely they can associate themselves prayerfully with it, and if they can hear the words they are more likely to be able to do so.
My point was that if they are expected to do something else while the mass is going on (praying the rosary, for instance, as used to happen, or interceding or being contemplative) their part in the body of Christ celebrating the mass together is obscured. Their role is reduced to that of devout spectators, as indicated by the expression assisting at mass (from adstare - to stand by) and the obligation merely to attend. They might just as well not be there if the mass is offered for them rather them by and with them. This is the pagan way of sacrifice, and indeed it is astonishing how much of paganism has survived in traditional Catholic prayer and devotion - in practice, if not in the theology.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Savonarola,
You highlight the problem: what is the real role of the laity in the Canon. Being mere spectators obviously not their role, actively reciting along with the priest again is obviously not their function.
I suspect that there was an age when no-one read silently, people noted that Ambrose read without moving his lips, I suspect that there was a time when no-one prayed silently too..
Is it beyond imagination that during the Canon everyone prayed as the priest does, for the Church and the living, for their own needs before the words of Institution, for the dead and their hope of eternal life after the consecration.
The priest prays in a intercessory manner during the Canon should that not be the model for lay prayer too - in a sense bringing the world, their world, to the altar.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Savonarola,
You highlight the problem: what is the real role of the laity in the Canon. Being mere spectators obviously not their role, actively reciting along with the priest again is obviously not their function.
I suspect that there was an age when no-one read silently, people noted that Ambrose read without moving his lips, I suspect that there was a time when no-one prayed silently too..
Is it beyond imagination that during the Canon everyone prayed as the priest does, for the Church and the living, for their own needs before the words of Institution, for the dead and their hope of eternal life after the consecration.
The priest prays in a intercessory manner during the Canon should that not be the model for lay prayer too - in a sense bringing the world, their world, to the altar.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Surely now that the vast majority are literate they should follow the words of the mass in their missals. It is easy enough to know where the celebrant has got to even if he is praying silently. I find it keeps me from distractions.

Savonarola said...

Is it not strange, Fr. Blake, that the role of the laity should be considered a problem? Maybe it is so because a silent Canon creates the impression that it is a private preserve of the priest which the people are not part of. But if if we are all part of the body of Christ, we all offer the mass together - with the priest presiding.
I often sense that many Catholics do still see themselves as spectators attending mass, or merely fulfilling an external obligation. In my own very large church at weekday masses there is often a small number of people scattered far and wide, with some sitting as far back as they can leaving acres of empty space between themselves, the others present and the altar. They may be very devout and prayerful, but their body language says loud and clear that they are not part of this. We have not got very far with actuosa participatio, and this may be an underlying reason why the reformed liturgy so often seems unsatisfactory - and why people want to go back to the way things used to be, because at least it felt more devout and reverential. If people are not really part of the liturgy, but it is something done for them, then they are not exercising their baptismal role of sharing in the priestly ministry of Christ, which means that the whole life of the Church is impaired. This, I think, is why Vatican II's SC (following the whole Liturgical Movement of the preceding century) says that the liturgy in many ways needs to be renewed and reformed so that the people of the Church can be more truly what they are.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Savon.
That is not my experience of the EF or generally at Byzantine celebrations where not only is the Canon silent but the doors of the Iconastasis are closed and the curtain drawn.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Nicholas,
I think follow the priest with noses in a book seem the least satisfactory way of participating, the laity should be bringing there own unique participation to the Canon.
Reading books seems contrary to the whole concept of Liturgy, whilst praying is real participation. I am sure a clue is in the introduction to the Sanctus.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Nicholas,
I think follow the priest with noses in a book seem the least satisfactory way of participating, the laity should be bringing there own unique participation to the Canon.
Reading books seems contrary to the whole concept of Liturgy, whilst praying is real participation. I am sure a clue is in the introduction to the Sanctus.

Nicolas Bellord said...

And just what would be my "unique participation to the Canon"? There are two ways of following with a missal - one is just reading the text; the other is praying the text and/or reflecting on its meaning. If I do not do that my mind just wanders.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Nicholas,
If it helps you pray read it, but merely using the text so you know what the priest is saying , so you can be a non-participating witness, isn't liturgical.
It is the same as understanding the vernacular but not engaging the soul. 'Participating' comes from the heart, not just the head or the body.

Sean W. said...

"The people do not say the words of the Canon, but surely they can associate themselves prayerfully with it, and if they can hear the words they are more likely to be able to do so."

I don't see any reason to believe that is necessarily universally true. Certainly it may help in some cases.

"But if if we are all part of the body of Christ, we all offer the mass together - with the priest presiding."

No one disputes that the Mass is a corporate action of the body of Christ. What is disputed is that this entails all of us doing the same thing at the same time.

"I often sense that many Catholics do still see themselves as spectators attending mass, or merely fulfilling an external obligation."

Then clearly a vocal Canon is not helping things, is it?

"If people are not really part of the liturgy, but it is something done for them, then they are not exercising their baptismal role of sharing in the priestly ministry of Christ, which means that the whole life of the Church is impaired."

This is a good example of the very strange dynamic that people evince when it comes to discussions on liturgy. What evidence is there that a silent Canon et al. "impair the life of the Church"? By all accounts the Mass of Pius V nourished the faith of generations of saints during a very turbulent period in its history. By all accounts getting rid of that liturgy in favor of one invented to accord with the dictates of a theological fashion scarcely 80 years old at the time has been disastrous.

If the Mass ought to be the way you say it ought to be, how is it no one for the entire history of the Church noticed until five minutes ago? Is it possible that you are smuggling modern prejudices into your evaluation of the Mass, rather than evaluating it on its own terms?

Savonarola said...

You might equally ask, Mr. Sean W., how come most people, including most Christians, did not notice that racial prejudice is wrong, indeed most unchristian, until five minutes ago? The fact that something has persisted for a long time in itself may not mean all that much. Is it possible that you are smuggling antique prejudices into your evaluation of the Mass, rather than evaluating it on its own terms?
Christianity has had 2,000 years to transform the hearts and minds of people and the world, but we are hardly much further along in that way since it started - largely, I think, because most of its adherents are content with being merely religious and are not much encouraged by the forms of their religion, including its liturgy, to be anything else. 50 years is not very long to undo attitudes that are centuries old.