Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Purposes of the Mass

With 38 comments and counting, its all kicking off on the blog of Fr Ray Blake as the parish priest of St Mary Magdalen Church, Brighton, asks whether the Charismatic expressions of the liturgy witnessed at WYD 2013 are 'from God'.

One interesting thing is that if you type into Google an image search for 'Charismatic Catholic Mass' or 'Charismatic Healing Mass' all you really find is a great deal of images of people with their arms in the air.

This seems to me to be instructive of the tendency of the Charismatic 'form' of Mass (even if, in terms of the Church's liturgical instructions there is actually no such thing) to emphasise the community or congregation's celebration or style of worship, over the Mass itself, or the centrality of Christ in the liturgy.

An image search for the traditional Latin Mass, since it would appear that these two 'forms' or 'styles' of the Mass are polar opposites, brings up entirely different images in which the community are nearly absent.

Yet, even if we were to discuss the ordinary Novus Ordo Mass, celebrated by a Priest according to the liturgical instructions of the Church, with the attending Gregorian Chant advised by the Roman Missal, in contrast to what some would call the 'abuses' of the liturgy apparent in the 'Charismatic Mass', we would still come up with huge differences in a Google image search.

In discussing these two 'forms' of Mass, these two 'experiences' of  the Church's liturgy, the real theological problems raise their heads when we ask whether they are equal in dignity and reverence.

I know one or two people who are 'as happy' to be at a Charismatic-style Mass as they are to be at a Mass in the Extraordinary Form. It's unusual perhaps but it happens. A Charismatic Mass has me running for the hills. It all feels a bit too 'cult' like for me and I had had my share of happy-clappy celebration in my Baptist and Pentecostal days which, while short-lived, and before I was by the Grace of God brought into the fold of the One True Church, made me quite 'hyper' and not in a good way.

I just ask myself and others, what are we meant to be doing at Mass? The Charismatic style of worship really begs the question, 'What is prayer?' I fail to see how the Charismatic style of Mass can lead someone into serious prayer which, if it is to be prayer, surely requires sobriety and for us to be collected so that we may raise our hearts and minds up to God.

The purposes of the Mass in the Catechism are quite clear, as illustrated at the top of this post and in order for us to hear Mass faithfully, to hear Mass fruitfully, we must surely need quiet - and if not quiet - music that facilitates prayer.

So we then come to the question: Is charismatic prayer (with its attending bodily gestures and strange gurning) equal to the prayer of one who kneels in adoration and silently prays? Who is our model for prayer? Our Lady and the Saints or the man or woman stood next to us with their arms in the air? Call me a 'traditionalist' if you must, I just think that the general attitude and posture of prayer that dominates charismatic style services is a little presumptuous and lacking in humility.

Which one has the 'charismatic style' of worship to a tee?
 Of course, we can all be a little presumptuous and lacking in humility at times, but I really think that if a Mass is promoting a form or style of worship that means that the community are unable to concentrate on prayer and contemplate the great mystery of Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that it is likely to be a distraction set up in the Sanctuaries of the Living God by the Devil, to dissipate among the Faithful the love and adoration of God and instill in the Faithful the love of something else entirely.

Are charismatic Masses aimed at the glorification and worship of God, I wonder, or the glorification of the feelings that we associate with the worship of God? Our Lord commended the prayer of the sinner rather than the prayer of the 'virtuous man' in terms of worship. Our Lord says...

'And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

Are we losing sight of just where we are when we are at Mass? Surely, the Church has until relatively recently, when liturgical abuse became a fire too big to put out, sought to dilligently safeguard the liturgy so that we are encouraged to examine our consciences, ask forgiveness for our faults and dispose ourselves with humility before the God who raises us up and Who alone is worthy of our worship and adoration?

The more the Church goes in the 'charismatic' direction, the more sinners will leave the Church, either because sinners cannot bear to be in the company of so many righteous men and women, and the humble prayer of the sinner is not welcome, or because sinners no longer believe they are sinners and simply 'rejoice' in the celebration of the senses and feelings associated with the love of God, but still end up leaving the Church in their hearts because they can neither seek nor find the Lord.

Saints and Doctors of the Church warned us of the deceits of the Devil in terms of 'feelings' in prayer and that they are generally to be distrusted. God's action on the soul is invisible but does the Holy Spirit not do His work best when we are humble enough to be unaware that He is acting upon us at all? Docility to the Holy Spirit requires us to be collected and prayerful, mindful of the great mystery of the Mass at which we are present when we attend it. To say therefore, that the 'Charismatic' Masses, the basis for which are to be found in no Church documents or instructions from Rome whatsoever, are equal in dignity to a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated according to the Roman Missal, or the Mother all Masses, the Mass of Ages, is patently absurd. Why the Church's bishops and priests continue to delude themselves that the contemporary man needs the spiritually dangerous Charismatic Masses in order to grow in holiness is beyond me.


Richard Collins said...

Thank the Lord for priests like Fr Ray! They are truly our 'salt' during these strange times.

BJC said...

Its beyond me as well. I know people who like this sort of stuff, but I can't see the attraction. The Holy Sacrifice of the mass just gets overshadowed by everything else (or put on a par with everything else) rather than being the center-piece and where everything in the liturgy is leading to. When I was a teenager I hated this stuff, it was so out of place. Being a Vatican II baby we were the first group to get it and I hated it instantly.

Genty said...

Couldn't agree more, Richard.

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