"But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you." 1 Peter 3:15
These words have been buzzing around my head, and those nice people at Gloria TV have reproduced my words too, it always sounds different when other people quote you, and a conversation I had with an old Irish man some years ago came back to me. He said he stopped getting up on Sunday mornings, "when I realised Mass was about our community, I didn't think it worth getting up for that", he was talking about the time of the liturgical changes and they had recently knocked down and rebuilt his parish church.
The Mass is not about us, it always has been about Jesus and giving us glimpse of heaven, "and so with Angels and Saints we sing...", it is a vision of the triumph of the Lamb, it is about our ultimate re-orientation, the end of our earthly pilgrimage. Frankly, some liturgies I have attended speak more about Hell than Heaven. I really do think if we have nothing to say about the world to come, if we do not have answer for those who ask of "that hope which is in you", we have nothing to say, because it we are ultimately hopeless.
When thinking about liturgy we have to ask whether it does point us to heavenly realities, or does it merely say, "this is it, there is nothing more", is it hopeful or hopeless? Does it point to something the mysteries of the Life to come or is it merely about earthly realities.
Buildings music, words, actions, vestments, community life, everything are supposed to deepen "that hope which is in you". Our work as local churches with the sick and the poor, for social justice, they too are supposed to speak of that hope, so too our prayer, our devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the Angels and Saints.
The big question about liturgy and the life of a local church is surely is this worth getting out of bed for, and having done so, does what is happening at the local church offer anything different from the type of experience found in the local pub, or football match, or shopping centre or the other events that are available as an alternative to Sunday Mass? If we only have "community" then this can be found in a so many alternative places today.
One of my parishioners is dying, she is young mother, pray for her, she has deep faith, and therefore hopes: she told me she felt surrounded by love but actually this love comes from her young son, her sister, her extended family, her neighbours, her work colleagues and her carers, it does not really come from fellow parishioners but her faith comes from the Church and her attendance at Mass.
I wouldn't enter into a discussion about which form of the Roman Rite speaks more clearly about the heavenly mysteries, the things we are called to hope in and for but the ars celebrandi should point to these mysteries, in either form. When the Mass merely celebrates us, "the community gathered", when music is about community singing, or is trite and sentimental, when participation is more about action than interiority, when as Joseph Ratzinger says we "form a closed circle" or a "significant absence of silence", then there are problems with the Eternal. The loss of hope in the Church does seem be related to how the liturgy is celebrated when it is done badly it destroys hope.
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