Idolatry or Sanctity?

I hope everyone had a great Independence Day…might be the last one.  I tease, I joke.  But they say the comedians are the first to be sent to the gulag.  My luck I’d be bunking with Bill Mahr.  But dispensing with further flippancy: I’d love to get some thoughts back from out there on what I’m about to share.

The latest Catholic Answers magazine has a letter to the editor by a deacon who questions the motives of Catholics who take Communion on the tongue (The Eucharist gets dropped more often that way and is it yucky), genuflect to take Communion (surprises the Eucharistic minister and causes fumbles), bow deeply to take Communion (he’s nearly knocked heads with people), wear chapel veils, and other actions that are out of the norm that would on the surface suggest greater reverence.  He even suggested that some of these practices are motivated by showiness, and at worst may stray into idolatry.  In talking about taking Communion for example, he says canon law allows for a slight bow, and taking it in the hand standing up, so he feels we should all be doing it that way.  He would have not liked the lady who came into the chapel at St. Paul’s Cathedral for 0630 Mass Monday, who got down on her hands and knees and touched her head to the floor for a good 90 seconds in front of the altar: you seldom see that degree of reverence even when the Presence is exposed.  And I must admit, I felt a degree of “Aw c’mon!” when I witnessed that.  Then afterwards I felt a degree of shame for my “Aw c’mon-ness”, that I shouldn’t be thinking such thoughts.

My take on this is that over-reverence in the sanctuary is generally not the problem, that it’s the other way around.  But my sense is that the Church allows a range of comportment at different moments before, during, and after Mass to accommodate not only one’s physical state (e.g. bad knees), but one’s spiritual state in life.  My own personal journey of the last 4 years is an increasing awareness of what is happening at Mass (the altar in Heaven descends to the altar on Earth) and Who is present; i.e. the King of the Universe, which is even bigger than Secretary of Transportation.  If you saw “The Tudors” and watched how people comported themselves in the presence of King Henry VIII, you have to agree the majority of us are pretty cavalier in the presence of Jesus Christ.  I’m not throwing stones at anybody: I was attending morning Mass not so long ago wearing Hawaiian shirts and shorts (Take me as I am Jesus – be damn glad I’m at least showing up!).  Thankfully I’ve had an attitude adjustment since, but I’m a long way from anything approaching perfection.  I think I heard something in a homily this morning that may be pointing in the right direction, that anything you do you should be doing for the love of Jesus, and repeat that prayer all day long: e.g. “I’m mowing this lawn for love of you Jesus”; “I’m eating my mother-in-law’s rubbery lasagna and smiling for the love of you Jesus”; “I’m viewing porn on the internet for love of you Jesus”……..hey, wait a minute!  So I think you can do a Dirty Harry “Just ask yourself…” if what you are doing – wearing a veil, genuflecting, etc. – is being done for the love of Jesus.  If the honest answer is “Yes”, and is the bounds of canon law (Jesus did say if you loved Him you would obey His commandments), then no worries.

Another facet of this is that I am process-oriented, a particular kind of IT nerd that thinks processes – everybody doing things the same way – is the key to success.  That this leads to some of the other IT nerds holding me upside-down and taking my lunch money because I am stifling their creativity is a subject for another time.  But I have in the past felt a degree of irritation that a Mass can have the degree of variability it has, often at the discretion of the priest.  But (V-8 moment), I think this variability is again conducive to the varying states of life of those attending.  Because God gave us free will, life itself is variable.  So if one priest likes to use incense for a Mass during ordinary time, and another doesn’t on a solemnity, part of the journey to sanctity is taking one’s personal likes and dislikes and put them aside (discipline), and not grousing about the perceived inconsistency, perhaps laying those negative feeling at the feet of our Lord.  Or if the person down the end of the pew has their hands in their pockets and is staring zombie-like into space during the Lord’s Prayer, I should accept they are in a particular state in life that “that’s where they’re at”, be happy they are at least there, and not “I throw this Missalette at him for love of you Jesus!”

Hmm, rereading I guess I didn’t quite dispense with all of the usual flippancy.  (All my flippancy is for love of you Jesus!)

Subject of my next post: “Babies Crying at Mass: The most blessed of the Kingdom, or 35 lb. toothless agents of Satan?”

God bless us all, and everyone get out there and vote in November!

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