Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mass Confusion Some people are bored out of their minds when they go to Church. What they experience in the Mass seems to be completely unrelated to the experiences of life in "the real world." They read Readings, pray Prayers, offer Offerings, and "take Communion." Often it seems they're just going through the motions of a conversation that's uninteresting, but obligatory. Like when you were a child, visiting "older people," and you had to sit in the dining room with them. Now we know from those trusty polls that Church attendance has dropped, belief in the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has dwindled into a foggy, half-mumbled ascent, and faith in Church leadership has been deeply wounded by recent and ongoing scandals. Not a very comforting picture. For many living in our fast pace, gimme'-something-worth-my-time culture, the kind of experience of Church as a seemingly dry repetition of words and gestures just doesn't "do anything for me." This conclusion has led some in the Church to want to jazz up the Mass. Make it more "exciting" for people. Reach out to the youth with a different kind of music, something they can feel. Getting faith means getting funky, loosening up, changing stuff around.... improvising. "Oh we love Father Soandso, he comes down from the altar and walks around and tells jokes... and stuff." A few years ago, I found myself at a national meeting of diocesan staff who were all in the field of Catholic Evangelization. There were priests, deacons, sisters, lots of laity, and even some bishops. The burning question was "How do we get them back?" We prayed together, and the prayer laid out was supposed to be a model for us leaders to bring back to the parishes. The theme was "multicultural." Here are some snapshots of our time together: - processing two by two towards a large clay pot filled with sand, each of us holding a lighted incense stick which we were to place in the sand, after a short bow. - singing a song whose lyrics included the phrase "free us from dogmas that bind" - watching a young Vietnamese deacon burst into the circle where we were praying, leaping up and down, swirling a stick with a ribbon on it (like one of those Olympic sporting events) - tamborines, remember those? - and finally, after our closing Mass together (which was led by one of the bishops), it got really crazy. People were clapping and the young deacon was grabbing random people (not the bishop) and dancing with them in the middle of the chapel. One elderly nun in full habit (yep, full habit) was pulled bodily out of her chair to join in the dance. That's when the congo line burst out. It snaked around the room, stilted and dizzy, looking like a wedding reception gone awry; where the open bar should have been closed, awhile ago. During all of these multi-cultural activities and prayers, I would glance from time to time over to a little shelf in the chapel, off to the left of the altar. There, in a niche on the side wall was the tabernacle, in shadowy stillness. (Sigh...) The Presence was there, drumming on, a throbbing Heartbeat that seemed to me to be keeping a different time, another Rhythm. It was the same beat that Abraham stepped to, over countless Mesopotamian miles. It was the same pulsating power that Moses kicked up his heels to, throwing off his sandals in absolute adoration. And before this Presence, David danced with wild abandon. I looked back at the congo line, now forming a grand circle. Everyone was turned in on themselves, smiling and satisfied that at least "we" get it. But did we? I think for too long we have been a circle, looking at the Church as if it were all ours, as if it were our job to keep the thing moving and growing and maintaining itself. Better music, more programs, rockstar priests! And all the while, Jesus waits... like a young man at a dance without a date, sitting in the shadowy stillness of an empty church that seems to be emptying still. What would happen if you and I walked over to Him, and took His hand? What would happen if our eyes met? Would we take the lead, or would we let Him take us? What if we stepped to His Rhythm for a change? I wonder what would happen?
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