Thursday, 29 March 2012

Charismatic Reconciliation Service

I was really quite taken aback by James Preece's recent blogpost on the Flame Congress event, a Catholic youth rally at Wembley Arena. The YouTube video of the charismatic performers is a real sight and a real sound to behold. From what circle of Hell does this cacophany come?!

From the Flame Congress, well attended though it was, you would get the impression that the charismatic-pentecostal direction of parts of the Catholic Church is really very popular indeed with the young. Perhaps it is with some, because it 'empowers' and gives people the opportunity to be part of a 'youth ministry'. I don't doubt for a second, however, that the charismatic movement in the Church is a little dangerous and perhaps flammable.

For a start, apart from Eucharistic Adoration, what does the Flame Congress really teach young people about the Faith. As James says, real Catholic teaching seemed not to be on the 'set list' and he claims that some of the worst things he has heard about it are from people who were actually there - you know - the young people themselves. Last night I attended a local Reconciliation Service which certainly had 'charismatic' elements which I personally found off-putting. The guitar strumming was inoffensive, the hymns were mostly modern and a little on the over-sentimental side. I like Gregorian Chant because it puts you in the frame of the liturgical season, at this time Passiontide, without being totally 'in your face'. There was an overhead projector linked to a computer beaming the words of the hymns onto a screen, something I haven't seen in a church since my Baptist days - days I thought were long behind me in the Catholic Church.

Along with the guitar and piano hymns there was a talk, which was actually excellent, about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, by a monk of Worth Abbey. We were told that Priests would be sitting in various posts around the Church to hear Confessions. Excellent. Not only that, but it seemed that virtually everyone went for Confession. Perhaps, for most, that was the only reason they had gone, which is a good sign of Faith in the Church. Apart from the guitar, which I personally do not think is suitable for Church music, all this was great. Before Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Confessions, however, was a small drama-play in front of the Tabernacle in which two young people came up with signs saying, 'Pride', 'Lust', 'Deceit' and 'Greed' which were then given to a man acting as Our Lord with extended arms to receive these sins and comfort the young people.

And, I guess, that had this been in a school or something, that it would have been an effective way of showing young people that the Lord Jesus is the 'Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World'. Is it suitable in a Church however? Well, we might say that it is or could be, if the Church was packed out with young persons with no understanding of Confession or repentance.  However, aside from the young people singing, playing guitar and doing drama, there were very few young people present. The overwhelming majority of those present were adults, and most seemed to me to be senior adults.

After all, a Benedictine monk had literally just given us a talk on our need for repentance in this holy season of Lent and God's infinite loving mercy. What troubles me about these kinds of services is the sentimentalisation and self-indulgence of the service and, as James says in his post, it ends up treating grown adults, who require an 'adult faith' to be treated like children. I know what Our Lord said about how necessary it is that we become 'like little children' if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but I'm quite sure that while Our Lord wishes for us to be open to Him and trusting in Him as children are of parents, that He does not wish us to actually be infantilised. It is this infantilisation of the liturgy and of the People of God that personally makes me want to run for the hills.

Then arose a wonderful opportunity for prayer before Our Blessed Lord in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar while Priests compassionately heard Confessions around stations in the Church. However, the Lord Himself had not yet been placed on the Altar before we were told that 'Prayer Ministry Teams' were also in stations of the Church to pray for people who needed 'healing'. Most of these teams appeared to be comprised of ladies who I thought, once again, I had escaped on leaving my Baptist days behind me. So, while the Lord was exposed on the Altar, to my left were two or three ladies 'praying over' a person who wanted 'healing'. Even if we accept that such things have their place, and I am personally far from convinced that they do, the 'prayer team' beside me was facing the very opposite direction to which the Lord was placed on the Altar, awaiting our prayers, our worship and adoration. To be honest, I found that rather scandalous.

There is God Himself desiring to help us to know His love, to receive our praise, being truly present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, and the prayer teams are ignoring Him and basically suggesting outwardly that their prayer ministry is equal to or as important or more important than the fact that God is literally in the House so that we may come before Him in humility, awe and great reverence. The presence of the 'prayer teams' and a lack of real focus on the Blessed Sacrament seemed to foster a community, some of whom, for instance, would spend ten minutes with the Lord and feel it perfectly appropriate to spend another ten minutes loudly chatting to the person next to them in His Presence. I thought that Catholics kept schtum unless it is really necessary to talk, when the Lord is exposed.

And, while I was trying and mostly failing to pray before Our Lord the sentimental guitar, piano music and modern hymns simply did not stop but for a brief pause of five minutes when they decided to spend some time in Adoration themselves, before returning to strum throughout the rest of Adoration. Perhaps some music was necessary to drown out the sound of people's Confessions, I understand that, but it was my understanding that in order to pray well before our God there is some need for silence or at least, music that aids prayer, rather than distracting us from it. I'm sure I sound like a grumpy old man, but it was really very difficult to pray with the loud, sentimental pap going on in the background.

I don't know what other people thought of the whole thing, but from what I could see, it appeared that as it drew closer to an end, that people who made their Confession seemed to leave rather quickly. Is it really necessary to use such Reconciliation Services to such self-indulgent effect? I was reminded of the new Bishop of Aberdeen's thoughts when His Lordship said that so many distractions are placed in our way to 'seek the Face of God'. He suggested, I think, that some of these distractions were to be found in Catholic Churches, and that it is in silence that we find Him. I know that while people are hearing Confessions around the Church, that this presents a challenge, but I left with the distinct impression that creating an atmosphere of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament was not that high a priority on the 'set list'. It seemed primarily to be about our forgiveness, yes, but not about the One who forgives us - the One on the Altar. I left feeling that I had been to a Baptist service in which the Sacrament of Penance and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar were accepted as valid.


Patricius said...

It all sounds ghastly.
I suppose, though, one has to credit the clergy with making some sort of effort to get people to go to confession. But does it work? Perhaps for some people.
My own preference is for a QUIET church and, I have to admit somewhat selfishly, few other people about. With guitars playing and people doing stuff I'd find it nearly impossible to think let alone examine my conscience or pray.

Left-footer said...

One of the best things I have read in a long time.

Thank you for your vivid description and very wise analysis (and, less importantly)for making me feel less of a curmudgeon.

God bless!

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