Sunday, March 03, 2013

An Ecumenism of Time

You may remember last week at our school Mass we were led in praise music led by P.J. Anderson. I was thinking, as we sang, how it gives us a very different experience of the Mass than when we sing more traditional hymns.

There are some people that like singing praise music better and tell me “We ought to be doing that all the time for Mass.” There are others that prefer more traditional music, and really don't like the praise music. 

One of good things that Deacon Edwards does here is he exposes us to the many varied traditions of our faith.  You may remember that three years ago, we had a Tridentine Mass here. The Tridentine Mass was the Latin Mass that all Catholics attended for nearly four hundred years, from 1570 until 1962, until the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, which allowed the Mass to be said in the country of origin’s native tongue. Those of you who were here three years ago remember how oddly different that Mass was, not just because of the Latin, but because the priest had his back turned to us most of the Mass.  And yet as uncommon as the Tridentine Mass is within Catholic circles today, Pope John Paul II said that “respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition,” and urged bishops to allow the Tridentine Masses to be said in their dioceses, if people desired it.

There is great broadness to the treasury of liturgical practice and piety in the Christian tradition, a treasury borne out of many musical traditions, but also a treasury that is the result of a two thousand year old history of different peoples, through different ages, worshipping the Lord together.  Whatever our personal preferences, the mistake is when a pastor or school chaplain elevates a portion of this tradition as the only form of authentic liturgical practice for his Church or school, robbing his people, in my view, of the richness and fullness of this broader tradition.

George Weigel, in his recent book entitled: Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church, says that an authentic faith is one that acknowledges an “ecumenism of time,” and by that he means a faith that is open to its own history, avoiding the twin mistakes of what he calls “antiquarianism” and “presentitis.” A faith that practices antiquarianism believes there was some “Golden Age” to which we should return if we’re going to restore the faith to its rightful place, whereas a faith that practices “presentitis” seeks to be relevant before all else, watering down the demands of the gospels to shibboleths from pop psychology, often ending in relativism. In contrast, Weigel argues that authentic, evangelical faith gathers together the fragments of our past, our present and our future in such a way as to lead the Church to holiness.  The Church’s witness, in faithfulness to its founder, Jesus Christ, ought not be judged by the question “Do we like what the Church is doing in our liturgies?” but instead “Is it true? Is it beautiful?” and “Does it inspire us and others to holiness?”

In the end, that's the most important question. It’s the same question that Jesus asked his disciples in a different form, and the same question the Church has proposed through the ages since. Jesus asks  us “Who do you say that I am?” May our liturgies and religious practices help shape us, so that we can say with courage, as Peter did, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

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