Saturday, September 5, 2015

The fons et culmen of the Church's life. . .

Prior to Vatican II, it was common thinking among any and all involved in liturgical renewal that the people in the pew were too distant from the action of the liturgy and their piety too distant from the liturgy which was supposed to be fons et culmen (source and summit) of their life as the baptized.

Such thinking gave birth to Novus Ordo for Roman Catholics and the Divine Service options born of ILCW for Lutherans.  These rites were seemingly designed to incorporate and expect more from the people in the pew -- both for leadership and for participation.  Strangely, they have largely succeeded in the leadership and participation aspects while the liturgy, specifically the Eucharist itself, has not prevailed in the minds and hearts of the faithful as the source and summit of their spiritual lives and the shape of the church's life.

You can blame it on individualism or the flourishing of a spirituality which does not have its source or norm in the means of grace but the sad reality that still prevails is that typical Roman Catholic and Lutheran piety draws upon resources outside the liturgy and the presence of Christ in His Holy Meal more than upon the Divine Service or Mass. 

For Lutherans the appeal to the Word, to rational explanations and propositional truth remains attractive but this has also given way to the enhanced role of sentiment and desire as starting points or judges of spirituality.  For Roman Catholics the appeal is less to the Word but to the same often trivial and shallow ideas of spiritual that works for me.  In the end, other things have become more important in life than the liturgy. It does not come first and last in the hearts of our people and it's calendar does not take precedence for shaping our days, weeks, years. Lutherans and Roman Catholics come to church on Sunday morning to encounter a liturgical year that is strange, odd, and irrelevant to the calendar that governs their lives and they do not see Sunday morning belonging to the faith.  So the worship life of the people assembled around Word and Table competes with all sorts and kinds of other activities that contribute to quality of life if not to a spiritual element of the daily life of the baptized.

The life of the average Christian has become a a potpourri or hodgepodge of personally meaningful practices completely subjective to their wills and desires.  Maybe this is a reflection of the scattered, isolated, excessively busy nature of modern life or of the modern mindset in which few things are endowed with objective and eternal existence or truth.  In any case, we seem to be perfectly content to find place for church and worship if it gives us something we value and desire but even Christian people seem content with the idea that nothing of God is worthy of any real sacrifice or devotion that might require giving up something desired or valued.

So it is easy for our people to drift in and out of church, missing more the fellowship of people than the Eucharistic fellowship of Christ's table and hard-pressed to explain how being part of the assembly of the baptized is more than a choice for those who find it meaningful (for now).

Such is the fruit of our attempts to make Christian life manageable for our people.  Reducing doctrine to the realm of preference, our people have significant problems explaining what they believe or reconciling conflicting and opposing beliefs.  Perhaps they feel no need to deal with such conflicts.  The failure of catechesis has left our people without an eternal reason for Sunday morning and without the capacity to know or define why they believe what they believe (if they believe it at all).  The surprise of the the post-Vatican II era has been the increasing distance from the doctrinal truth and practice of the faith while at the same time having access to more roles of leadership and expecting to participate more in what happens on Sunday morning.  While the answer is not simply restricting such participation, the need for re-instilling a sense of the holy, for a greater sense of reverence and awe, and for the integration of church life and individual piety is greater today than it was before the liturgical movement and post-Vatican II versions of the Divine Service/Mass had become commonplace among both Roman Catholics and Lutherans.

Even more strange is the fact that younger folks tend to reject the entertainment ideas of worship in search of exactly what we lost -- a sense of the transcendent in which signs convey what they sign and symbols bestow what they symbolize.  In other words, as the pendulum has swung from transcendence to realism and eternity to the moment, our youth have grown up with a hunger for transcendence and the eternal so often mission in the liturgical life and preaching of many churches.  Could it be that they will require us to explore some of the answers to this crying need (even if we seek them for all the wrong reasons)?



Ted Badje said...

So, pastor, the TLH is more in your line of reasoning for liturgy? I like most of it, especially the offertory prayers, but you have to be an opera singer to sing the Gloria et Patri.

David Gray said...

Our church uses TLH and I must confess I don't find my lack of experience as an opera singer to be an impediment. My kids are even learning it.

Unknown said...

Oh, I guess Lutherans don't like opera because it comes from the Latin root than means, 'works?" I don't want an opera singer as presider, I want Christ's representative. As to whether a person needs to be an opera singer in the pew, I believe joining with other voices smoothes out a lot of screechy, gravelly, and off key voices.

Fr. Peters is right about the fact that many young people want that source and summit. They have not grown up as those of us who remember the 50s as the "good old days." They have suffered through divorce (often multiple), day care, being latch-key kids, etc. They were surrounded by the obviously shallow, while we were only beginning to find life so.

Ted Badje said...

Oh, opera is works righteousness, Latin, Italian, RC. No wonder I don't like it ;-).

Let me just enjoy my pizza.