Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mass for the Primitive Pagans Today

I recently went to Mass in a Christian community emerging from a pretty entrenched pagan culture. It was primitive and there were some (less than Christian) parts of the culture that shone through in their particular celebration of the Mass...but on the whole it was actually pretty beautiful to see that many of them were using the faith to christen their culture, themselves, and their children.

Mass was in the vernacular with a few Latin parts (just Agnus Dei, actually). I admire these people for learning even little bits of a language that must seem totally foreign to them.

The church building was no classic European cathedral, that's for sure! I would criticize them for their very mediocre architecture, but that probably wouldn't be fair to the people actually worshipping in the space. They probably don't have as rich a patrimony as Michelangelo! So yes, the Church was all brown and plain, but that's not the most important thing, no?

The music....well, it was no Gregorian chant. There was quite a bit of percussion with instruments native to the people, as well as some strings and lots of voice. It's very important to this society that each person has an equal dignity, so everyone in the congregation sings and says as much as possible in the Mass (they might have stuck in an extra "Amen" in the Eucharistic prayer?). This includes the hymns, so sometimes quality is sacrificed for participation. Theologically, there's better stuff (Adoro Te, Christus Vincit, O Sacred Head are some favs of mine) and even musically, there's better stuff, but they use hymns written by their people and I think they might be better for it, at least until they grow into the Chuch's rich musical heritage.

The people sit in family units, which I think has to do with this culture's historical foundation on the family in agriculture. Or maybe they sit in family units just because they travel to Mass that way from home. Who knows! But either way, it's a quiet and helpful way to reinforce the sacredness of the family.

Also of note, they exchange an already culturally-established sign of peace. (I've also seen a Korean community give peace by bowing. That was really fun. Do Europeans kiss?) They also do this at the Our Father with their neighbors, even though it isn't in the Ritual. Is this bad? Not could argue that they're adding to the Mass, which not even priests should do, but you could also arguing that they're Christianizing an otherwise secular gesture.

There is a great understanding of the sacredness of space in this culture, so it's natural for them to have LOTS of space between the people and the altar, and for this to be totally cool. (In contrast, some Africans or Hispanic cultures love to go right up to tabernacles and monstrances to touch and pray.) Here, there's a definite "holy of holies" and something untouchable about the Blessed Sacrament. That attitude in their culture (that everyone has their space and you don't trespass) is probably from their history, but it's serving them well at Mass!

Everyone is quiet during the homily. Academic achievement is prized in this culture, and I suppose that's probably helping them. On the other hand, they love partying, so perhaps a third of them are dozing off or distracted, bored. I wonder which one will win out as this little community continues in faith!

Hmm, there are female altar servers and women on the altar. Don't get me wrong, I love women. But I don't think this culture has a huge understanding of priestly celibacy and the otherness of Holy Orders as alter Christus capitis. There hasn't been much interest amongst the young men in vocations to the priesthood, either. Could it be that the female presence on the altar is a sign or symptom of this misunderstanding? I hope the gentle teaching of the Church can help the whole community understand the value of celibacy and the value and uniqueness of the priesthood.

Although there is much singing during the Communion of the faithful, almost everyone is reverent. There is no altar rail in this church and the people mostly receive in the hand, although some receive on the tongue while standing. Almost everyone receives communion. Maybe this is a childlike trust; possibly, some are receiving our Lord unworthily, but who am I to judge? I leave it in the hands of the pastor of this young little flock. There was a great deal of singing (even by the people) after all had received--which is not ideal, since some moments of silent communion are appropriate with the Divine Guest--but this is a child's form of prayer, so that might be the intention and the best thing to do. Some of the people abstained from singing and were silent.

After Mass, there was an enormous hubbub as everyone talked about life, children, schools, activities, and everything else. What a vibrant community! There are flowers at statues of our Lady, the Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, and St. Anthony. I think I'll go back soon.

This might not come as a shock to you, but I am describing my home parish in the post-Christian west. Does your home parish impress you when conceived of as a small and newly-converted community in a deeply pagan culture? In some ways, that is what we are. So two pieces of advice:

  1. To traditionalists: do not worry. Our culture is now mission territory; don't be shocked that we have primitive churches. Instead, sweetly nurture the poorly catechized and see the good in them to help increase it.
  2. To those who have no idea what a "traditionalist" is: you might also not know how amazing the Church's history, liturgy, and theology can get (not to mention the art). Strive for maturity in the faith and dig into the patrimony of our Church.

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