So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Disorganized Religion

You've probably heard this comment before: "I'm spiritual... I don't believe in organized religion." Use of the term 'organized religion' is usually code for "I don't like others telling me what to do." Then comes the tagline: "All that matters is that someone is a good person." Those are not arguments, they are the excuses of adolescent-minded adults who have a problem with authority. Those same folk who reject 'organized religion' tend to canonize a dead relative or a Hollywood celebrity whose behaviour has been anything but exemplary. Adulterous behaviour and fornication is overlooked with ease these days. Except, that is, by the spouse who has been cheated on. Apparently, the definition of 'good' and 'nice' applied to cheating spouses and adulterers really means 'as good as' or 'as nice as' me, which  is really an indictment of the person praising another while ignoring the physical, emotional and eternal consequences of serious sin. Those who lack religion also tend to lack a sense of responsibility to pray for the dead who, having lived lives of obstinate sin, surely need our prayers.

Those who practice the Faith with any sort of vim and vigour, i.e., those who love God and the Church and who strive to live the fullness of the Catholic Faith, know full well that the Church is more disorganized than organized, at least in terms of a typical day in any parish. If by 'organized religion' we mean the structure of the Church given by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit—priests, deacons, religious and laity gathered around their bishops who are the successors of the Apostles—then, yes, we belong to an organized religion. The "order" of the Church reflects the order of God's good creation. If by organized one means committed to Jesus Christ and His teachings and trusting that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then, yes, we belong to an organized religion. We belong to the people of God, a people with a code (of conduct), creed (of divinely revealed content) and cult (of divine worship). We are not drop-in disciples at a local yoga studio.

The Catholic Church is, at once, extraordinarily organized—the family is the domestic church and bedrock of the parish that is in communion with the bishop who leads the diocese in communion with the Bishop of Rome—and messy. We are quite the collection of sinners huddled on the Barque of Peter. God has raised up in this same huddle mass countless saints who have founded hospitals, schools and universities, for starters. The same glorious collection of oddballs, misfits and saints has given the world the greater share of great scientists, poets, artists, musicians, doctors, comedians, etc.

If we look at the Liturgy in our day, we might clearly see the Church's disorganization. We need not rehash the debate concerning the causes of the current pandemonium. Suffice to say, the Liturgy—the Ordinary Form—as celebrated in most parishes, is an unholy mess. Unholy, that is, referring to the character or quality of the celebration, not the action of God in the Liturgy nor any genuine reverence shown toward God. Disorder occurs when musicians ignore the Propers or when priests unlawfully insert foreign elements or remove parts of the Mass. Such callous or indiscriminate actions harm the integrity of the Mass and thus harm the integrity and transmission of the Faith. Disorder ensues when lay people perform functions reserved to the clergy. The disorder enacted in most sanctuaries each Sunday tends to obscure the view to the sacred. Serious liturgical abuse attacks Christ because the Mass is Christ. We can only hope that religion, or at least the Liturgy, could be more organized!

Many, many people still wrongly think order squelches the Holy Spirit. That is, too many people think order and its sister values of reverence and beauty will spoil their misguided attempts to shape the Liturgy in the image of some worldly agenda, some personal agenda alien to the mind of the Church. One would be justified by responding to the agents of liturgical chaos with "Give us the Liturgy, whole and undefiled!" We may not see a complete restoration of order for decades or perhaps a century or more. Nevertheless, we must still call for order and continue to insist that beauty and goodness are essential, not peripheral, to the celebration of the Liturgy.

The Council of Trent strove to order the celebration of the Liturgy during a time of great upheaval. Earlier, Pope St. Gregory The Great organized the Liturgy to provide continuity and clarity in a way which strongly influenced Western civilization for centuries. In our day, the Mass is, with notable exceptions of course, hardly what the Second Vatican Council envisioned. Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI gave great impetus to the restoration of order. His actions were often challenged and frequently ignored. The advent of many reform-of-the-reform movements in the Church and the rise of liturigcally minded younger priests who love Jesus Christ and His Liturgy is evidence that authentic liturgical renewal, i.e., renewal that is faithful to the Council and harmonized with the older Form, is well underway and cannot be stopped.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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