Friday, June 21, 2002

Life is full of surprises. One of the things that I find surprising is this blogsite. The things that I write about are things that I have never given much thought to. They are not the things that I find really interesting about my Faith. They are things that I have more or less taken for granted. Quite as interesting to me (although probably not to you), is the realization that I have no desire to write about the aspects of Catholicism that intrigue me. Yet I feel compelled to highlight the most mundane aspects of my faith. Perhaps, it is because I feel that this is the aspect of my culture that is currently under siege.

A while ago, I quoted Pope John XXIII's reflection that " the Catholic Church is set apart and distinguished by these three characteristics: unity of doctrine, unity of organization, unity of worship. This unity is so conspicuous that by it all men can find and recognize the Catholic Church." To me, each of these aspects of unity serves a distinct and necessary purpose. The concrete forms of both our worship and our organization are structures that guard our authentic freedom. Our doctrine identifies the very purpose of that freedom. Of course, I'm speaking in purely anthropological terms here.

At a more fundamental level, the Mass is the very essence of Creation. It is the point and purpose of creation. It is "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed [and] the font from which all her power flows... ". But this is true regardless of the rituals that surround the Mass. It is true in the simplicity of the Last Supper. It is true in the agony of the Cross. It is true in the mystery of the Tridentine Mass.

When I say that our liturgy guards our freedom, I mean something different. The form of the liturgy is important because it speaks to our innermost being. Anne Muggeridge states that "in a cosmological religion, the central act of worship embodies in symbols the community's understanding of the nature of God and of existence." She goes on to say "No significant change can be made in a rite without endangering the belief the rite expresses... [Equally true,] no significant change is made in a rite unless the men making it has experienced a serious change of belief in what the rite formerly expressed to them..."

It is this rite of worship that guards our interior life. This structure of intuitive knowing creates an interiority within which God can act and man can be acted upon. This interiority is the soil in which our freedom can take root. Our liturgy is a structure, a garden wall, that protects the soil from which our individuality develops.

At the other end of the spectrum are our communal nature and our exterior freedom. In a purely anthropological sense, the hierarchical and institutional aspect of our religion stands as the guardian of our external freedom. Just think about the role that the Catholic Church plays in the modern world. Think about how She does it. When the Church speaks, the whole world hears. They may refuse to listen, but they can not claim that the message was undelivered.

These same institutions have an even more profound impact on members of the Church. Here too, they act to safeguard both our corporate and our communal being. They create a significant realm of freedom within which Catholics can act, live and breath. They serve as a defense against the tyranny of men.

I understand that the enemies of the Church would attack Her structure, Her hierarchy, Her form of governance, Her rituals, Her traditions, Her very Heart. I do not understand when sincere and believing Catholics echo their sentiments.

The Church is not an idea and she is not an ideal. She is, in Her own way, an Incarnation. Her forms are Her particular forms because they are the expression of Her Incarnation and Her pilgrimage through time. Her forms are not eternal, but they are Her embodiment. They reflect her movement through time in the same way that the human body changes and develops over time. The gradualism of authentic change should be honored but the arbitrary mutilation of institutions should be avoided at all costs. Otherwise, our children will be trying earnestly to rebuild our institutional Church. They will probably resent our vandalism with the same ardor that is now directed at Liturgical Reformers.


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