Cleansing Fire

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The Loss of the Unifying

November 20th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

The deterioration, degradation, dumb-ing down, localizing and secularizing of Catholic liturgy over the last 45 years, in the Rochester diocese, in the United States, and indeed throughout much of the world, has removed the major unifying factor of the church. Some would say that the pope is the unifying factor of the Church, but that isn’t the case. The unifying factor is –or should be– the Eucharistic liturgy. This essential fact to appreciate came to mind this morning as I read the following paragraph in “Byzantine Theology: historical trends and doctrinal themes” by John Meyendorff.

In Eastern Christendom, the Eucharistic liturgy, more than anything else, is identified with the reality of the Church itself, for it manifests both the humiliation of God in assuming mortal flesh, and the mysterious presence among men of the eschatological kingdom. It points at the central realities of the faith not through concepts but through symbols and signs intelligible to the entire worshiping congregation. This centrality of the Eucharist is actually the real key to the Byzantine understanding of the church, both hierarchical and corporate; the Church is universal, but truly realized only in the local Eucharistic assembly, at which a group of sinful men and women becomes fully the people of God.

This Eucharistic-centered concept of the Church led the Byzantines to embellish and adorn the sacrament with an elaborate and sometimes cumbersome ceremonial, and with an extremely rich hymnography, in daily, weekly, paschal, and yearly cycle besides the sacramental ecclesiology implied by the Eucharist itself, these hymnographical cycles constitute a real source of theology. For centuries the Byzantines not only heard theological lesson and wrote and read theological treatises; they also sang and contemplated daily the Christian mystery in a liturgy, whose wealth of expression cannot be found elsewhere in the Christian world. Even after the fall of Byzantium, when Eastern Christians were deprived of schools, books, and all intellectual leadership, the liturgy remained the chief teacher and guide of Orthodoxy. Translated into the various vernacular languages of the Byzantine world–Slavic, Georgian, Arabic, and dozens of others–the liturgy was also a powerful expression of unity in faith and sacramental life.

The arrival and proliferation of ‘liturgy committees’ with their silliness of the week programs has done much damage to the unifying nature of the liturgy. I remember a visiting priest in a parish I belonged to being asked by the reader and announcer “What is the theme today?” The priest asked “What theme?” The person explained “The theme of your sermon and Mass”. The priest answered “What it always is, The life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

The typical Catholic Mass in the United States always seems to be about something else.

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6 Responses to “The Loss of the Unifying”

  1. avatar JLo says:

    Just before reading your post, Bernie, I read an article about the actor Bill Murray missing the Latin Mass, so that’s what came into my mind right away. It would have anyway, I’m sure, because though I’m certainly okay with a beautifully said Novus Ordo, they are few and far between, and I believe all the “creativity” came into churches when the language of the people was employed, so I agree with Bill Murray. I miss the Latin Mass, too, as it left no room for employing the nonsensical… given human nature, there’s been no end to all the terrible nonsense all over the world, and most of those architects actually believe THEY can improve the perfect .
    +JMJ

  2. avatar Bernie says:

    If I were a bishop I would insist that my priests begin celebrating at least one Sunday Mass facing liturgical East, people and priest facing the same direction, toward the Lord. That, I believe, would put an end to at least some of the silliness some priests engage in. I would also require all priests to use incensing at any Sunday Novus Ordo Mass they celebrate. Banning liturgy committees from doing anything more than purchasing and arranging flowers appropriate to each season would also be one of my directives, as well. 🙂

  3. avatar Bernie says:

    Someone needs to take the bull by the horns when it comes to weddings and funerals.

  4. avatar Sid says:

    Weddings and funerals are the worst. When did priests first allow eulogies at requiem Masses? Those are unbearable.

  5. avatar Soldato di Dio says:

    I want to make a comment on a serious error made by one of your writers who said, “Some would say that the pope is the unifying factor of the Church, but that isn’t the case.” I was surprised to read such a gross error on this website, especially since one member of that “some [who] would say that the pope is the unifying factor of the Church,” is the Church Herself. It is a basic teaching in fundamental Catholic theology that Peter and his Successors are the point of unity in the Church. The “Keys” are exercised by Peter and the bishops in union with him. However, remove Peter, e.g. the death of a Pope, and the power of the keys is put on hold until a new Pontiff is elected. (CCC 883) Read the Church’s teaching on this topic:
    The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” (CCC 882)
    Out of justice to the writer who was making the point of how the Sacred Liturgies of the West and East are points of unity — I only skimmed through the article, so if I’m mistaken please forgive me — the Catechism, in speaking of the Church as One “because of her source: ‘the … unity in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit’.” (CCC 813), does mention the “common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments,” as one of the points of unity that makes the Church One. It also mentions “apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.” We know that the most important in the line of Apostolic Succession is that of Peter’s Successors, because Peter has not just our Catholic family to tend, but the entire world. He is the point of unity for all, since Christ’s teachings apply to all people and not just Catholics; we know this since He came to save all people, and so His Vicar must seek out, not only Christian non-Catholics, but non-Christians as well.
    Therefore, even though Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of the Holy Sacrifice as a means of unity, that unity was limited to Catholics, while Peter’s unity is extended to Catholics and those who are not Catholic. He is the visble point of unity for all people just as Jesus is the invisible point of unity for all people.

  6. avatar Bernie says:

    “Some would say that the pope is the unifying factor of the Church, but that isn’t the case.” This comment was made from an Orthodox point of view which theology places unity squarely on the liturgy.”Some” in this case refers to the Catholic Church. I was advancing an Orthodox view (John Meyendorff is Orthodox) in discussing a Catholic problem; that the current disunity in Catholicism was brought on by the collapse of the unifying aspect of liturgy. Papal primacy has not prevented the disunity in Catholic belief. In the Orthodox Church it is the Traditional Liturgy that is the unifying factor which is why the Orthodox deny communion to Catholics and forbid Orthodox from receiving communion at a Catholic liturgy (I think I have that right). Yes, the pope and the bishops are the unifying factor of the Church –some would say.

    At any rate I apologize for the misunderstanding. I should have made the distinction clearer in my post. Thank you for your comment and bringing the problem to light.


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